Critics Consensus

Smartly filmed, tightly scripted, and -- most importantly -- consistently frightening, Poltergeist is a modern horror classic.



Total Count: 61


Audience Score

User Ratings: 182,163
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Poltergeist Photos

Movie Info

With Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg had his first great success as a producer. Released around the same time as Spielberg's E.T., the film presents the dark side of Spielberg's California suburban track homes. The film centers on the Freeling family, a typical middle class family living in the peaceful Cuesta Verde Estates. The father, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), has fallen asleep in front of the television, and the dog saunters around the house revealing the other family members -- Steve's wife Diane (JoBeth Williams), sixteen-year-old daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old son Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke). Soon strange things begin to happen around the house; the pet canary dies, mysterious storms occur, and Carol Ann is summoned to the TV set, where a strange shaft of green light hits her and causes the room to shake ("They're he-e-ere!"). As curious events continue, Carol Ann is repeatedly drawn to the television, where she begins to talk to "the TV people." Soon Carol Ann is sucked into a closet, disappearing from this reality plane. Unable to find his daughter, Steve consults Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), a para-psychologist from a nearby college. Lesh finds that paranormal phenomena is so strong in the Freelong household she is unable to deal with it and sends for clairvoyant and professional exorcist Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) to examine the house in hopes of finding Carol Ann. Tangina makes a horrifying discovery: Carol Ann is alive and in the house, but is being held on another spectral plane. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

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JoBeth Williams
as Diane Freeling
Craig T. Nelson
as Steve Freeling
Dominique Dunne
as Dana Freeling
Oliver Robins
as Robbie Freeling
Heather O'Rourke
as Carol Anne Freeling
Zelda Rubinstein
as Tangina Barrons
Virginia Kiser
as Mrs. Tuthill
Lou Perry
as Pugsley
Clair E. Leucart
as Bulldozer Driver
Dirk Blocker
as Jeff Shaw
Helen Baron
as Woman Buyer
Noel Conlon
as Husband
Robert Broyles
as Pool Worker No. 1
Joseph Walsh
as Neighbor
Sonny Landham
as Pool Worker No. 2
Jeff Bannister
as Implosion Man
William Vail
as Implosion Man
Craig Simmons
as Implosion Man
Philip Stone
as Football Announcer
Phil Stone
as Football Announcer
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News & Interviews for Poltergeist

Critic Reviews for Poltergeist

All Critics (61) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (52) | Rotten (9)

  • [It] raises interesting psychological issues in the context of a baroque ghost story. It's a devastating commentary on the tv-oriented suburban lifestyle. Finally, it demonstrates the power and efficacy of the story told from the child's point of view.

    Apr 26, 2018 | Full Review…
  • The film delivers honest special-effects shocks without forfeiting its good nature.

    Jun 1, 2011 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • Given the talents, Poltergeist is an annoying film because it could have been so much better.

    Sep 25, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Though the shocks are well conveyed, it's the sweetness that lingers, making this the first cute and cuddly entry in the genre.

    Sep 25, 2007 | Full Review…
  • It is consistently redeemed by its creator's dazzling sense of craft.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    David Pirie

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Hooper and Spielberg hold our interest by observing the everyday rituals of this family so closely that, since the family seems real, the weird events take on a certain credibility by association.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 3/4

Audience Reviews for Poltergeist

  • Nov 11, 2015
    "They're here." From Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper comes the seminal horror film Poltergeist. The story follows a family that begins to experience strange phenomenon at their house, but when things turn violent they seek out help from a team of paranormal researches. The casting of Heather O'Rourke is inspired, as she has a natural charisma and an innocence about her that juxtaposes the malevolence of the evil spirits of the house. Additionally, the score is incredibly well-done and captures the ethereal quality of the film. And, Hooper does an extraordinary job at creating some frightful scenes that are quite terrifying. Poltergeist is an iconic horror film and set a new standard for the genre.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • Jun 18, 2015
    Short, sweet, and grippingly to the point, Poltergeist still earns top marks as a straight-head haunted house tale told with great humor and verve. Rather than walk out of Gil Kenans C-Grade Poltergeist remake, Tobe Hoopers superior original definitely deserves a revisit. Brilliantly directed and tautly scripted, the film wastes not a second of your time, bringing on the terror early on in the first act and never letting up. Even then (E.T. got released the same year), Steven Spielberg knew the makings of great entertainment and his story connects with the audience on every level. You laugh with the Frelings and laugh often, building a camaraderie that makes their daughters abduction and mothers love all the more compelling. Indeed, even when the cadavers fly at you, Poltergeist feels more like a fun house than haunted house. In this PG-rated classic slice of horror, the Freling family's home gets haunted by a host of ghosts. Building on what made 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so bone-rattlingly scary, Hooper uses tracking shots and oft kilter angles to ratchet up the thrills. With just a PG rating, he amazingly scores some of the most organic boos in cinematic history (it honestly feels R-rated sometimes). Of course, genius casting plays no small part as well. Williams as the mother, Heather O'Rourke as the apple-cheeked daughter and Zelda Rubenstein as the pint-sized paranormal investigator leave such an indelible mark that version 2.0 never stood a chance. Bottom line: The Amityville Honor
    Jeff B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 25, 2015
    I remembered Poltergeist scared me a lot when I was a kid and was awkwardly gory on a couple of scenes too, that are forever burned in my mind. I also remember that there are stretches that dragged on for too long without adding much to the movie. After many years later, I rewatched it and not many things have changed from the original impact. Still great overall, but could use some trimming on the editing amongst other things. But it's still a very fun lil' horror movie for teens, with heart and a good Spielberg message about family unity.
    Francisco G Super Reviewer
  • May 30, 2013
    If Halloween is the holy grail of slasher movies, this surely is the holy grail of haunted house movies. None are close. There are always three things I think of whenever I watch Poltergeist. First, I am always stunned that this film somehow avoided an "R" rating. You have to wonder if that would have been possible had anyone other than Spielberg been involved. Having Tobe "Texas Chainsaw" Hooper on board certainly couldn't have helped. In any event, this has to be the most frightening "PG" movie ever made. Had "PG13" been around at the time, this movie certainly would have qualified. Incidentally, it was two other Spielberg productions, "Gremlins" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" that caused the MPAA to invent "PG13." 2 years, too late. Second, I always wonder just how good this movie might have been had Spielberg fully committed to it, instead of devoting most of his time and interest into the more dramatic but overall inferior, "E.T." This movie is very good. It's almost great. Regardless, it's a thrill ride right from the ominous opening "Star Spangled Banner" scene. I can't help but think of the opening of this movie whenever I hear that song now. Oh, and third, this movie contains some of the scariest scenes ever filmed and THE scariest scene ever involving a clown doll. (See "Amusement" for the second scariest). This movie is what Hooper's "Funhouse" should have been. Fantastic score by Jerry Goldsmith.
    Mark H Super Reviewer

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