Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Poltergeist: The Original Demon

I read this re-examination of "Poltergeist" (with hands removed from eyes) and enjoyed it so much that I asked the author if I could steal it from him and re-publish it here. With his kind permission, we'll be presenting it over the next three days. Here's Part One.

The Original Demon

As part of a video project, yesterday I had the pleasure... well no, it wasn't pleasure. More like dread and mild nausea. Let me start again.

Yesterday I had the dread and nausea of watching "Poltergeist," a movie I kind of saw in a movie theater in 1982 and haven't seen since. I say "kind of" because there were parts I didn't see - I was too busy covering my eyes, or putting my head down into my knees to insure zero visual input, or in some cases having out-of-body experiences brought on by cardiac arrest.

So yeah. Video project. Nice opening credits. Nice font choice. I captured three good visuals that happen early in the movie - the static-filled television, the clown doll just sitting there, and the spooky tree outside the boy's room. And that was all I needed or wanted to see. I ejected the disc.

I had the DVD in its case and made it all the way to my front door, intent on driving straight to Blockbuster, when a voice in my head snarled, "You COWARD!" I couldn't tell if it was my father's voice or my own, but it stopped me.

I stood there with my hand on the doorknob. It's a rare thing when you insult yourself and know, through and through, that you're absolutely right. When you stop yourself at a pivotal moment and commence to wrestle internally. We hear all kinds of internal things about daily errands, what to say on the phone, instructions for small talk, etc, but it's mostly harmless. And our courage gets challenged by others all the time - come on, chicken, do it! But when the calm subconscious addresses the surrounding haste and denial, it's pretty powerful.

"You miserable sacka shit pathetic loser," it continued. How convenient that my subconscious was as eloquent as my mouth. "Go the fuck back in there and watch this fucking movie. Swallow it whole, like the tree tried to swallow the kid. Make some fucking popcorn and BE A MAN FOR ONCE." I furrowed my brow and gritted my teeth a little and, well, made some fucking popcorn.

Folks, in 1982 I was but a wee lad. A mere seven years old, with soft, angelic sensibilities. A mind full of curiosity and wonder. Ripe for traumatization at the hands of frightmaster Steven Spielberg.

It scared the hell out of me. This movie took my happy kid brain and splattered it all over the sharp rocks of holy shit horror. This movie didn't just give me phobias, it cleared a whole swath of my cerebral cortex and built a state-of-the-art neurosis facility just to store the phobias, then special-ordered a dozen previously-unknown phobias and installed them free of charge. Anyone who invents a time machine and takes young children back to see "Poltergeist" - you're going to burn in hell. Because no child needs that much so soon in life.

In fact, this movie and its misleading PG rating were what spawned the PG-13 rating back in the 80s. Millions of parents, disgusted with the vast gray area between PG and R, and understandably furious over the widespread psychological trauma that resulted from this movie, demanded a system upgrade. (They were infuriated even further when they learned that "Poltergeist" was originally going to be rated R but somehow managed a PG, for reasons only Satan fully understood.) While "Gremlins" was the eventual nail in the PG coffin, "Poltergeist" launched the movement with a nuclear thunderclap.

Childhood phobias created by this movie included, but were not limited to: large spooky trees, television sets in empty rooms, closets, the space under the bed, thunderstorms, clown dolls, pink attic insulation, and dark places in general. I guess every child has a "first fear" experience that turns normal things into paranormal, dangerous things. Prior to that experience, things like darkness might be just fine. Then the child witnesses something come out of the dark in a scary movie and, well, suddenly the dark's not okay anymore. (For example, I know people who liked meeting stray doggies until they saw "Cujo" or read the short story "The Stuffed Dog.") In my case the first taste of the emotion we call terror was "Poltergeist." It was a baptism by fire for the entire theater.

Note: my refusal to own a television doesn't come from this movie, but that's a good guess. ;)

"Low Coolant" publishes at www.lowcoolant.blogspot.com

No comments: