Written by / 12/05/2018 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , , , ,

SEEKING GRINDHOUSE DIRECTOR TOBE HOOPER IN STEVEN SPIELBERG'S SUPERNATURAL HORROR 'POLTERGEIST'

Year of Theatrical Haunting: 1982
One of the most iconic images in horror film history occurs when the little blond-haired Heather O'Rourke's Carol Anne places her hands on the family TV's flashing static/snowy screen after the Star Spangled Banner, and, like in real life back then, televisions would all cease programming for the night: Which is about as unfathomable to Millennials as Prohibition was to Baby Boomers and especially Generation-X...

The latter who grew up with POLTERGEIST... And for the curious, cinema-obsessed few, trying to figure out the difference between the already renown, omnipresent style of producing creator Steven Spielberg to hired director Tobe Hooper, is like imagining the childlike-eerie Jerry Goldsmith score in the hands of Spielberg's usual composer John Williams...

Beneath the hills of Agoura Hills suburbia in Los Angeles
The dark and foreboding main theme doesn't have Williams' deeper, wider scope (which might not have fit here) but there's a similar cadence as things pick up in a more jovial pace: Like when a chubby, beer-handling neighbor's chased by a remote-controlled car to the pivotal, cookie-cutter, sprawling suburban locale...

And a creepy underline remains with both Goldsmith's soundtrack and Hooper's direction: The TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE auteur who's not only underrated for this gig, but is often disregarded as having actually directed this haunted house classic: which was Spielberg's labor-of-love for years...

Great image of the geists gone wild
Maybe it's best not to ask what Hooper did, but what Spielberg didn't or wouldn't do? For one, Tobe's exploitation style makes POLTERGEIST much darker than the usual Spielberg outing. Even the classic JAWS turned the initial gory killings into a triumphant, modern Moby Dick adventure. But as this otherwise conventional horror show progresses into extremely deep darkness, there's far less mainstream-breathing room for the characters and audience...

Before which, the conservative-looking, run-of-the-mill parents liberally share a joint, acting like the sort of free-spirits who'd wind up stalked and hunted in a body count slasher flick as they later "reach back to the past when we had open minds," so that, while being Spielberg's script, doesn't really feel like his usual platform...

Dominique Dunne gives an FU to Sonny Landham and crew
Stuff like that killer bedroom clown little Robbie just can't put away could be something straight out of Hooper's dementedly wicked, thoroughly hypnotic (and under-appreciated) FUNHOUSE. Or the schoolgirl-skirted teenage daughter flipping the bird to a group of lustful construction workers...

Also during the buildup, what really distinguishes a slightly offbeat pace is the 1960's/1970's-style of editing: When one scene feels a half-second from ending in a normal manner, the other begins, already in motion: which derives from the era Hooper was probably influenced by: throwing the viewer slightly askew/off-balance, and...

E. Buzz is named after a Dan Aykroyd original SNL character
In all, Spielberg's touches are too numerous to mention, especially since POLTERGEIST ultimately bears his collective touch: ranging from moving toys ala CLOSE ENCOUNTERS to the camera-gliding flow taking the viewer perfectly along for the ride, like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and even 1941. And that ride begins and peaks at the most entertaining and wonderfully voracious during scenes of initial contact: before Carol Anne gets sucked into the Sony..

Thus the second act goes into full Spielbergian mode, for better or worse, and mostly the latter: with overlong bouts of melodramatic sequences with the family, joined by a trio of paranormal experts led by a somewhat corny and idealistic Beatrice Straight: whose nighttime, living room whispers cram in too much hopeful exposition instead of letting the audience continue to blindly suffer along with the family...

Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina in POLTERGEIST
This kind of optimism should have been left entirely to Act Three in the competent little hands of Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), a different kind of Exorcist and a female version of Truman Capote channeling Peter Falk's Columbo, whose voice is both grating and comforting...

She's JAWS' Robert Shaw's Captain Quint's crazy aunt, albeit "crazy like a fox." Tangina sharpens the plot and its people: especially dad, Craig T. Nelson as Steve. Their heated anti-chemistry is as fun and essential as polar opposites roughneck-Quint and Richard Dreyfuss's rich kid shark expert. And while they don't compare scars, Tangina proves herself by reading Steve's mind... We all know who's in charge now: especially the former "head of the house!" 

They're gonna need a bigger graveyard in POLTERGEIST Rates: ****
Then there's the JAWS-style Murray Hamilton/money-seeking "simple mind over serious matter" mayor in Steve's land developing boss: both meeting above the suburban tract liken to a doomed and dusky Amity Beach. Played by late character-actor James Karen, the greedy Mr. Teaque brings matters back to earth — right when the viewer needs a perfectly mundane break from the ghostly chaos, and...

Basically, POLTERGEIST shines in and out of itself, and works best around and between what are technically more important, plot-shaping elements. Meanwhile, Spielberg's often overwhelming sense of fantastical "aw" (purposely over-saturated in that year's sister production of E.T.) and/or the "deep understanding of what's beyond our limited, living-human knowledge" doesn't match moments of deliciously voyeuristic, formidable menace: the ghost behind the ghost, as it were...

The Spider Beast, which we'll later learn is Reverend Kane
Which could be attributed to Tobe Hooper's blunt, malevolent threat that, while created for audiences young and old, is equally severe for hardcore horror buffs who don't except anything less than pure, unapologetic evil...

Something Steven Spielberg might not have accomplished (or would have wanted to accomplish) if left entirely to his own highly successful devices: So perhaps Tobe Hooper was a director and a device, and, quite possibly, a deliberate, strategic and extremely effective scapegoat as well.
JoBeth Williams shocks poor little Heather O'Rourke in POLTERGEIST
Not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the Hulk on a Horse is indeed quite magnificant
While the maid doesn't do windows, the POLTERGEIST does kitchen tables (JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke)
Oliver Robins and The Poltergeist Clowny that can kick Pennywise's fargin arse
Ask what exploitation king Tobe Hooper provided in the case of Steven Spielberg Presents...
Poltergeist with sexy mom JoBeth Williams as the suburb's dream wife and... MILF
Some say it's just a name on the screen, but the boss knew who to hire
Holiday Inn after the haunting for the Poltergeist cast including a sadly doomed Dominique Dunne
Classic ending, a sort of Twilight Zone but with funny closure in place of a twist in Poltergeist
As big a labor-of-love for Spielberg, he'd dreamed of a haunted house movie since Long Beach State College
"And the home... of the..."
Carefree kiddo Oliver Robins' Robbie Freeling looks forward towards some ominous...
Foreboding clouds of Spielberg's Poltergeist directed by Tobe Hooper in a comparative review/article by James M. Tate
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