Thursday, May 15, 2008

Poltergeist: Of Gods and Clowns

Here is the third and final part of Lowcoolant's re-viewing of "Poltergeist" as an adult.

Of God & Clowns

I probably should have called this post something like "The Final Chapter" because I'm writing about a horror movie. But no.

The most unexpected moment for me - as an adult watching "Poltergeist" with his eyes open - was the mother's desperate appeal to God. Rare in movies. I had to run it back and watch the scene a second time, because I wasn't sure what I'd just heard. But sure enough, when the mother is trying to rescue her children from The Beast in the final scene, she screams "GOD! HELP ME!" begging The Almighty to give her strength. It almost seems inappropriate, like a lens that suddenly focuses all the spookiness into a real struggle of good and evil where a woman is saving her kids from the jaws of Hell. Though I guess it completes the momentum built throughout the movie, hitting you over the head that this is not a joke. This ghost is not a prankster. Look, you're not listening. I'm a bad ghost. I'm not just here to hide your car keys. I'm the devil. The fucking DEVIL! Do you hear me? You people never LISTEN to me! Gosh!

And I guess that's the real genius of this production - that it starts out as a harmless ghost story with humorous family elements, and ends up in a very dark, religious-and-therefore-serious place. The appeal to God drives the point home that this woman is really at her wit's end, she's got nothing left and CAN'T DO IT. Rather than conveniently overpowering evil and saving the day she shows a bit of struggle and weakness. Even though I don't believe in any of it, I felt somehow comforted watching that scene.

Just before the climax there's another pants-soiling scene where the clown doll attacks the son. As in, it comes to life and drags the boy under the bed. Refer to my previous statement about total hell. When we, the audience, saw that the clown's chair was empty and collectively wondered "hey where's the clo-- UH-OH!" the crescendo of fear just made everything worse. We wailed and whimpered while simultaneously wishing everyone would shut up because it was making us more scared. Every second between that sight and the eventual attack was like suffocation, as we watched and waited, too young and stupid to realize we could physically exit the theater. (In fact it wasn't until "Ghostbusters" that I actually did exit a theater. Those hellhounds were just too darn mean looking. I did go back in and finish the movie.)

So the clown attacked. I never saw what happened next because I was hiding my face, which in hindsight was unfortunate, because witnessing the boy's next move probably would have helped my developing psyche. After a good minute of screaming in absolute helplessness, the boy decides he's done playing the victim and channels his fear into a berserker rage, tearing the fluffy white guts out of that clown. It almost looks like the film was sped up to accentuate his anger. "I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU" he screams while shredding the doll to pieces. I really wish I'd seen that when I was 7, so I'd know what to do if I got jumped by a possessed clown doll. Not that it ever hap... FYI, I just looked over my shoulder while I was typing that, I really need more lights on in this room... not that it ever happened, but little boys need all the help they can get fighting evil.

the eternal struggle of man versus clown

Doctors have told us time and again that the scarring situations in our youth are sought out in our adult lives on a constant loop. People who are sexually abused subconsciously seek out more sexual abuse. People who competed with their siblings for the last cookie or greater approval from the parents end up as fiercely competitive adults who just don't get things like sharing or cooperation, or maybe they never feel like they're good enough no matter what they win or achieve.

Those of us who were always scared as children grow up subsisting on fear, surfing on it and wielding it like a flaming sword, I guess. As adults we laugh at the prospect of safety or predictability in anything because we can't control our own fear and can't fathom a world without it. We like reading Nietzsche or Kant, or Revelation. I know I sure do. We like scary movies. We take it in like fuel and serve it up, sometimes artistically, sometimes physically. We like scaring others, because the fear is still with us. Or maybe we're just trying to feel less alone by forcing that fear into our surroundings.

At some point our nerves became overloaded and our circuits fried, maybe due to a low capacity for shock. As adults our capacity is limitless because our meters are busted. It's like the strained emotional transmission eventually faltered and quit, so we've grown into things unable to trust or love, paranoid and nihilistic to the point of suicidal bouts of depression and an inability to understand emotional bonds.

Fuckin' Spielberg. :)

"Low Coolant" writes at, and doesn't care who the harlequin belongs to or how cute it is, it's toast.

"Poltergeist" was written and produced by Steven Spielberg, and directed by Tobe Hooper

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