And that's probably why I didn't like it. It's a little too safe, and a little too cutesy -- but I guess that's what happens when Spielberg makes a horror movie (and yes, I'm well aware he made Jaws, but that was before he was "Steven Spielberg.") Aside from Zelda Rubinstein's performance, and ILM's excellent 80s special effects, Poltergeist is a vastly overrated film that conjures up just enough scares to pass as a horror film, but takes no risks in the process. It's the kind of movie that non-horror fans champion as a "scary movie" -- a glorified campfire story with a big budget. It may be the first, and only film that I can think of off the top of my head, that could be considered a "Family Horror" film. Those words do not belong together.
"DON'T GO INTO THE LIGHT!!!"
But Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper aren't going to leave it that way. You see, weird things are going on. First Carol Anne talks with the television in the middle of the night. Should it be strange? Kids sleepwalk. Hell, I once hovered over my cousin in the dead of the night for no reason other than I didn't know I was doing it at the time. Next the chairs start to move by themselves, prompting more excitement than terror over this unique gift. It's a parlor trick, tried and true. The thing is that things deteriorate quickly to the point that an old tree outside tries to eat Robbie in a ruse for whatever spirit has infected this house to take Carol Anne to another dimension and use her has their guide into the "light". The remainder of the film revolves around bringing Carol Anne back to the cul de sac.
The question is does Poltergeist classify as a horror film. Or is it a thriller? Or is it social commentary? Maybe it's a hybrid of all those things. Maybe it isn't. The great thing about Poltergeist is that it uses a formula similar to Night of the Living Dead fifteen years before it. It takes the most typical and comfortable situation, this time being the families own home, and sends it plummeting into hell. The supermarket groceries and Star Wars toys are all set dressing as the family is dragged from suburban bliss to pure terror. Poltergeist achieves this desired effect. Your comfort zone is shattered. There is no safe place to go anymore. Hell has entered the front door and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.