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There is an otherworldly presence in the suburban Freeling house, but its benign beginnings provoke no greater feelings than mystery. When son Robbie (Oliver Robins) is attacked by the scary tree outside his bedroom window and daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) disappears into her closet, they learn this force is a malevolent power to be reckoned with. Poltergeist was one of the first movies churned out by the Steven Spielberg blockbuster production machine that wasn't directed by the man himself (although Hollywood legend has it producer Spielberg replaced director Tobe Hooper [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] after seeing some early rushes), and gives credence to the perspective that while his empire was formula-driven, it was a formula that -- initially, at least -- relied on character as much as (and maybe more than) special effects. Poltergeist is by no means a classic in the ghost story genre (for that see 1965's The Haunting, soon to be butchered in an effects-laden remake). Poltergeist's most effective paranormal scenes seem to be taken straight from real-believer reports, but when the movie strays from common haunting lore and indulges in dramatic hyperbole, the tension gives way to silliness. Great credit goes to the cast, who keep their performances real when everything around them turns into an E-ticket ride at Disneyland. Craig T. Nelson and Jo Beth Williams are perfect as the parents, as is Beatrice Straight as a paranormal expert and diminutive Zelda Rubenstein as a powerful psychic. Also with Dominique Dunne as the Freeling's teenage daughter, Dana. Adding an air of mystery to the film, Dunne was murdered in 1982, and O'Rourke died from health problems in 1988. Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen or pan-and-scan, and Dolby Digital 5.1. The source print is not exactly pristine, but its defects are only obvious at the beginning. Textual supplements.

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