Vintage Cable Box: “Poltergeist, 1982”

“A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal, I’ve never sensed anything like it. I don’t know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you.”

Poltergeist, 1982 (JoBeth Williams), MGM/UA

I had not intended to cover Poltergeist for a few months, but sometimes the unexpected passing of a filmmaker prompts a publication. Vintage Cable Box started at the end of August, 2015 with a write-up of Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing. Easy Money was intended to be the first article, but Wes Craven’s death changed the schedule. Garry Marshall passed away in July of last year, so I rushed Young Doctors in Love, as did Gene Wilder’s death preceding The Woman in Red. Haven’t we had enough untimely death? Our heroes are dropping like flies!

Before Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper’s main claims to fame (or infamy, as the case may be) were The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 (I’ll never forget the death of Kirk) and an excellent television adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot in 1979. A personal favorite of mine, The Funhouse, was released in 1981. Poltergeist, in 1982, appears in the eye of a visual effects super-storm, preceded by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and enveloped by Ghostbusters with striking, visceral animations created by Industrial Light & Magic and supervised by Richard Edlund. After Poltergeist, Hooper would direct Lifeforce (1985), a remake of Invaders from Mars (1986), and a criminally underrated sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Without the combined elements of Hooper, Steven Spielberg, ILM, and the music of Jerry Goldsmith, Poltergeist would be just another horror movie; a generic hodge-podge of ghost movie tropes, jump-scares, and repetitive horror conventions. The Freelings (JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson) are a good-looking, pot-smoking couple living in a planned community in Orange County; part of a new real estate development bulldozing over an ancient Indian cemetery (always a bad decision, especially in horror movies), and they begin to notice strange occurrences on the property (their property specifically). Chairs and other pieces of furniture seem to move of their own volition. Late one night, their youngest, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), starts talking to the static in the television. Well, that’s peculiar.

“But the mother and child reunion Is only a motion away…”

The next night, Carol Anne disappears and little Robbie (Oliver Robins) is attacked by a monstrous tree outside his bedroom. The Freelings call their friendly neighborhood ghost-busters (Beatrice Straight, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella) who then sub-contract to the diminutive, iconic Zelda Rubinstein to “clean” their house of supernatural disturbances. As with most people, nobody likes to be evicted, and the spirit world collides with the material world with slimy veracity. In the film’s climax, the skeletons in the burial ground come alive and terrorize JoBeth and the children as Craig packs up their belongings so they can get the hell out of there. My only question is why does the spirit world have such a ridiculous hard-on for this family and nobody else?

No screaming in the pool!

The Poltergeist franchise suffers from unfortunate coincidences and controversies. Both Dominique Dunne (who played eldest Freeling daughter, Dana) and O’Rourke died tragic deaths at young ages. Two other actors associated with movies in the franchise also died of medical ailments. Speculation about the “Poltergeist Curse” has led people to believe this was due to the production using real human bones and skeletons during the film’s climax. It’s also rumored Spielberg directed most of the movie because, in an early press release, Spielberg stated Hooper wasn’t “…a take-charge sort of guy.” I don’t doubt Spielberg brought a considerable amount of input to the movie. He co-wrote the screenplay, which was based on his story. He produced the movie, but the shots and set-ups are Hooper’s. Poltergeist is Tobe Hooper’s film, from start to finish.

Tobe Hooper

1943-2017

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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“The Properties Of Terror”

Properties-of-Terror

Written by David Lawler
Additional Commentary by Bronwyn Knox
Notes Cribbed from Martin Grams
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music: “Train Kept A-Rollin'” (Tiny Bradshaw, Lois Mann) by Tiny Bradshaw
Audio Clips: The New Show “Twilight Zonettes” (featuring John Candy and Buck Henry)
Medical Center (a 1969-1976 medical drama series on CBS starring James Daly and Chad Everett), Wings (a sitcom which ran on NBC from 1990 to 1997 starring Tim Daly), Cagney & Lacey (a 1982-1988 police procedural which ran on CBS starring Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless), “Poltergeist” Music Composed by Jerry Goldsmith, “Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery” (a 1997 film starring Mike Meyers), “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (a 1983 film starring Kathleen Quinlan), Family Guy “Believe It Or Not, Joe’s Walking On Air”, The Twilight Zone “Radio Dramas” “A Stop At Willoughby” starring Chelcie Ross, “Nightmare As A Child”, “A Stop At Willoughby”.

Terry Burnham Memorial Fund
*For the record: Morgan Brittany appeared in the prime time soap opera, Dallas.
Story about the real Ms. Helen Foley

Recorded February 5, 2016

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2016 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode.  Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015.  This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate.  Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners.  This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107.  It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well.  If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie.  We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you.  If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind.  I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else. 

Running Time: 38:26 Direct Download