Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Poltergeist: It Knew What Scared Me

Here's Part Two of "LowCoolant's" wrestling with "Poltergeist."

It Knew What Scared Me

So there I was. 32 years old, climbing back into the ring with my own personal heavyweight champion of fear. You know what they say about anticipation often being worse than the experience itself? Several moments had me cringing and pushing my lips together because I knew what was going to happen. But in many cases it wasn't that bad. In fact, when the giant head lunged out of the closet I actually ran it back and paused it, marveling at the low-budget embarrassment it really was - a pinata? A giant paper-mache thing with... what is that... a car tail light in its mouth? Seriously, a red light in its mouth?

scary as hell to seven-year-old boys

Another revelation was the tree's arm-like branches reaching in to grab the boy - arms obviously mounted on a forklift driving up to the window. Despite my adult brain deducing these things almost immediately, my child brain remembered the fear precisely. I found myself taking extremely deep breaths and leaning away from the monitor when those moments filled the screen. I can still remember the sounds inside the theater - total hell.

No, I never experienced Vietnam, or the Holocaust, or the mall where parents got trampled trying to get the Cabbage Patch Dolls, but those two hours in that theater were total hell. Dozens of children just like me screaming themselves shitless. Little did we know we would be the last generation to sit through a psychologically-scarring movie like "Poltergeist" before the standards would forever change and force kids to become jaded 13-year-old teenagers before they could see scary movies. Say what you will about 13-year-olds still having the capacity to get scared - there's a world of difference between 7 and 13, and you can go eat a decroded demon clown if you disagree.

The first scene that made me jump, like way back from my monitor with matching verbalization, was the hand coming out of the television. Once my pulse returned to normal I realized that I had no memory of that scene. Either I was covering my eyes when it happened in the theater, or I blocked it out. I'm going with Option B. The music on that scene has to be some of the most disturbing stuff ever. No wonder Jerry Goldsmith got more work. I thought back to Scotty Walsh (also an adult) exclaiming in the middle of "The Changeling" as we watched in 2006, "Why are we DOING this to ourselves?!" I also thought about my friend John pointing out that my sociopathic fantasies all seem to revolve around making other people feel scared.

Much of the terror in "Poltergeist" is compounded by the reactions of the people in the movie. Not just "whoah! a gargoyle!" with crappy acting and all the emphasis on the gargoyle, but "whoah! that guy is so scared he puked and then his head exploded!" For example, when the father screams as the giant head lunges out of the closet, it's repeated from several angles in a rapid-fire style that makes your own scream struggle to keep up. The little girl's scream is particularly piercing. The little boy's scream is coupled with a look of serious fear. The girl's facial expressions, eh, limited at best. But the boy? Those eyes! That mouth! He looks like he's staring at THE DEVIL HIMSELF!

Speaking of the devil, I was too young to know what "the beast" referred to. I now know what it means. It makes the story way more interesting.

ooh! ooh! And when the husband says "Never!" to his wife just before she enters the closet! Doesn't that just make you say awwwwwww? Leave it to Spielberg to blindside the audience with a glowing romantic moment in the midst of dimension-shredding chaos. I bet the new "Indiana Jones" will have something like this. But oh yeah, I totally remembered that line and said it as it happened. And it felt great! I still got it! Of course it probably helped that the father's name was Steven.

"Low Coolant" (aka "Steven") writes at

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