Poltergeist is proof that, no matter what level of input you think Tobe Hooper had on the movie, due to him possibly, allegedly, being coked up to his eyeballs, the film industry doesn’t give this horror master his dues.
The major success of Poltergeist is that it’s a ghost story set in a very normal (if spacious) modern home. It’s also very successful at setting up a normal family dynamic, with an older daughter that rebels, a younger daughter who makes a lot of trouble and wants attention, a son who is obsessed with Star Wars (the extensive use of that brand is an especially effective touch that adds great realism), a hardworking father, and a fun mother. There is nothing gothic or ghoulish about this lot and none of them are even remotely ‘the chosen one’.
When youngest daughter Carol Anne is sucked into limbo by a malevolent spirit however the whole thing seems to be handled very naturally. What works really nicely is that after the initial major poltergeist chaos the film is patient enough to let the Freeling family live with it for a while. They develop habits around their spirit locked daughter, making the situation really relatable.
It’s for this reason that the film has such ferocious impact in its further haunting scenes. It all seems very Spielbergian and PG rated haunting until one character starts ripping off his own face to reveal the skull and gore underneath. The most memorable scene in the film is deservedly so, as the Freelings wrestle with a rope into the abyss, only to be confronted by the most frightening giant demon head bursting out this side of Evil Dead II.
Poltergeist is an absolute classic, possibly the ultimate haunted house movie, and deserves a place in your collection.