keep this thing in the family
I was thinking about trying to turn Poltergeist into a metaphor for marriage, but then the film just prominently started with the "Star-Spangled Banner" playing over a black screen and I'm wondering if there's not something more interesting going on here. I mean, as I remember the film--and I last watched it last year or the year before--is that there isn't much metaphor to it. The married couple are doing fine; they even smoke a joint together which is a nice cinematic visual for them being quite comfortable in their situation. The family is doing okay more generally. If anything, there's something about the cemetery property getting built on, or something about the ubiquity of television... That last thing would fit with the national anthem starting the film because the opening is actually a TV network going off the air for the night.
You know, when they still used to do that.
Maybe this is about the family idyll breaking. It starts with the daughter talking to the static on television and snowballs into a nightmarish existence for everybody and near death for her and an expert who comes to help. Drug addiction metaphor maybe? Except Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) is a bit young to be the child you pick for that.
There's a nice bit when Diane (JoBeth Williams) finds her kid's bird dead, she doesn't immediately assume it's dead. She instead looks around the room for a bird on the loose before leaning closer to find the body--she doesn't assume the worst.
Next potentially meaningful bit: the dueling remote controls. These men would rather fight over changing the channel remotely than put their remotes down and change the channel manually. And, there's also maybe something about what they're watching--football versus Mr. Rogers. Sports draw the man--it's 1982; we can just be sexist about it--and his interests away from the home, Mr. Rogers comes in and shares his home with the viewer.
Maybe it's about the ex-hippies turning conformist, buying into domesticity, but domesticity isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's just a facade that disguises all the real problems in the world.
Or, yes, maybe it's just a horror film.
National anthem again after twenty minutes. Network goes off the air to static. This time, though, no one was watching the TV, as far as I can tell. Before, the father, Steve (Craig T. Nelson) was asleep in the chair by the television.
This time we see the television reach out and touch Carol Anne then the project... something into the wall above the bed. Itself, or themselves--"They're here" and all that--I guess. At breakfast, another television, and no one's paying any attention to it; it's just on. (Until Carol Anne goes to it and changes the channel to one with static; then she stares at it.) This film is obsessed with television sets. And, Carol Anne calls them "the TV people."
Weird moment, when the workers come on to the older daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne) and Diane laughs like that's perfectly acceptable and normal. But then she also seems amused by the dog offering his toy to the blank wall and the dining room chairs being rearranged by nobody. When she shows that off to Steve, she tells him to go back to when he had an open mind--when they were using more (and stronger) drugs back in the sixties, I'm guessing... hell, as she's demonstrating this stuff to him, Carol Anne keeps saying she's hungry. Maybe it's the parents who fit the drug addict metaphor, neglecting the kids over some crazy shit.
The biggest hindrance to any suggestion of metaphor here is just how readily the film embraces the weird. It doesn't keep things subtle for two acts and then gradually build to something big. Half hour in, the creepy tree grows an arm, the closet opens up and the former tries to take Robbie (Oliver Robins) while the latter successfully takes Carol Anne.
Yet the family remains calm when investigators come. Putting on appearances? Hiding the fact they killed their daughter in a drug-filled rage?
Some of the dialogue--especially the mother's--makes total sense if you imagine her as being high. "She went through my soul" indeed.
Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), the investigator lady, too, with that speech about what happens after you die. It's like religion being invented on the spot.
Then Marty (Martin Casella) gets into the parents' drugs, obviously, when he gets the munchies and imagines peeling his face off.
An hour and nearly fifteen minutes in, we (and Steve) learn about the cemetery, and then we are introduced to Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein). Time for the third act.
I am trying to remember what movie uses the Indian (Native American) burial ground, because if this movie used that, the national anthem bit, the planned suburban neighborhoods, all of it would make sense as some sort of metaphor. But no, it's just a regular cemetery. There's still something there, building society on the graves of those who came before, but it's not particularly profound or interesting.
Movie's still good. It's just doesn't hold any good metaphors through from beginning to end. It's just what it is.
Which is kind of refreshing, I suppose.