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Poltergeist

“Do ya’ll mind hanging back? You’re jamming my frequencies.” Thus speaks the psychic medium Tangina (played by the diminutive yet mighty Zelda Rubenstein), who arrives in the third act of the fun and still scary 1982 horror film Poltergeist to vanquish the spirits who’ve been terrorizing a suburban California family. Eight-year-old Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), whose early warning — “They’re here” — went unheeded by her parents, Diane and Steve (JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson), has been snatched into a fourth dimension from which she can be faintly heard, calling for help. Poltergeist, which is screening one time only in theaters nationwide, in advance of a DVD release, is a movie onto which two distinct legends are attached. One states that director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) was a powerless stand-in for the film’s co-writer and producer, Steven Spielberg, while another purports that the tragic deaths of O’Rourke (at age 12), and of Dominique Dunne (at 22), who plays her older sister, are the result of a Poltergeist curse. O’Rourke, Dunne and their grieving families deserve better. So does Hooper. While there’s no question that he was following the visual template of early Spielberg — slow, low-ground camera glides toward a source of wonder or danger; a belief that there’s wit and poetry to be found in everyday objects such as toy trucks and TV sets — Hooper surely deserves credit for the wonderfully vibrant performances of his cast, particularly Williams and Nelson, who’ve never been better. Before the trouble starts, Carol Anne’s folks can be found smoking a joint in their bedroom — they don’t scramble to hide it when one of their kids comes in — and later, as Diane is about to leap into the void (literally) to save her daughter, the couple shares a kiss that’s startling in its passion. These are the coolest, sexiest horror-movie parents ever, with a sensibility seemingly born, like that of Hooper himself, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, an era that taught a fortunate few to respond to the unexplainable with awe, not fear. (Thurs., Oct. 4, Burbank 16, Century City 15, Promenade 16)

—Chuck Wilson


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