Poltergeist (1982)


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On the release of Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist in 1982, Roger Ebert wrote, “This is the movie The Amityville Horror dreamed of being”. It is hard to disagree with Ebert’s statement. After all, Poltergeist has since become a cinematic bookmark, with Hooper and Spielberg giving birth to a new kind of supernatural horror. To be fair, The Amityville Horror had also attempted this in 1979 but ultimately failed to capture the public imagination in the same way Poltergeist would three years later.

When discussing Poltergeist, many like to comment on whether it is a Steven Spielberg or Tobe Hooper project. But in reality, Poltergeist is a mix of both men’s innate talent for fantasy and horror, and the combination of their talents creates Poltergeist’s genius. Here Hooper’s eye for classic horror and jump scares would meet Spielberg’s fierce imagination and creativity in delivering a genre-defining supernatural horror that appealed to horror fans and family audiences alike.


The resulting film is a scary, fun, and unexpected ghost train ride filled to the brim with our deepest childhood fears. Here, toys come alive, a paranormal beast hides in the closet, and a scary tree invades the safety of a boy’s bedroom. Throughout Poltergeist, Spielberg and Hooper play with the childhood fears that lay dormant in our subconscious minds, joyously bringing these memories to the surface in a paranormal rollercoaster ride.

Look closely, and you will find echoes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Twilight Zone and The Changeling (also based on the alleged Cheesman Park, Denver haunting). Many argue Poltergeist’s terror resides in the classic family invasion horror, but at its heart, there are also layers of maternal horror present. Here it’s JoBeth Williams’ who sits centre stage as she fights to bring her child home; the film’s final scenes akin to childbirth. It is within the mother-child relationships at its core that Poltergeist finds a power Amityville couldn’t, as a middle-class American mum fights an unseen force to protect her children at any cost.

Hooper and Spielberg’s movie is the birth of a new era in supernatural horror that continues to grow and adapt today. After all, without Poltergeist, we wouldn’t have the template for The Conjuring, Paranormal Activity or Insidious. But no film since has captured the atmosphere, fun or maternal terror at the heart of Hooper and Spielberg’s film, making Poltergeist one of the most influential horror movies ever made and one of the best.


Poltergeist would spawn several lacklustre sequels and even an unnecessary remake. But I would like to give a brief nod to Poltergeist II. While it may never have lived up to the original, Poltergeist II did provide us with one of the most chilling villains to have ever graced the silver screen; Kane (Julian Beck). This makes it a film worth revisiting just for Beck’s outstanding performance alone.

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