It’s hard to believe that Poltergeist is almost as old as I am… and that I’m now writing a 35-year anniversary piece. Talk about feeling old. What’s amazing though, is that the film itself doesn’t feel old. Sure, there are a few dated elements of the story, but all in all it’s one of those rarities that aged wonderfully and still stands the test of time, and warrants numerous viewings.
Visions of a dumbfounded and skeptical Craig T. Nelson still impress, and Heather O’Rourke’s work as the adorable victim, Carol Anne left a mark on all of us. She surpassed prodigy, and performed with the grace of a 40-year veteran of the business. Her fate (Heather passed on February 1st, 1988, a result of cardiopulmonary arrest and intestinal stenosis) was both grim and powerful. Talents the caliber of O’Rourke are once in a lifetime, and she left behind a legacy that will never be forgotten… just the same, she died far, far too young, and Hollywood lost a genuine great.
But we’re not here to make you teary eyed. We’re here to honor the anniversary of one of the greatest horror films in existence.
As most know, the production was plagued by sinister occurrences, and yet the cast and crew refused to walk away from the production. They stuck it out and in turn gifted us a film that’s terrifying on a primitive level; a film that cannot be duplicated.
Fans apparently saw the potential of Poltergeist. The picture opened on June 4th, 1982, and while it premiered in the fourth slot at the box office, the movie quickly gained steam. Poltergeist spent an impressive 19 weeks in the charts, 12 of those weeks saw Poltergeist sell enough tickets to hold firm to a top 10 box office position.
The pic amassed an impressive $76 million (that’s $192 million factoring in inflation) and spawned one excellent sequel and a third that fell short of studio expectations. In fact, Poltergeist III was a heartbreaking film in general, O’Rourke showing signs of her illness during the bulk of the film (a double was required in certain scenes due to O’Rourke’s passing); she would die four months prior to the picture’s release, and that too damaged the film; the flick’s red-hot star gone months before she had the chance to promote the movie.
But again, we’re taking that sad turn when the focus here should be aimed at Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s game-changing production. It was a magical film and it managed to leave spectators in perennial shock. That’s what a truly great film does. It travels a gamut of emotions, from terrifying to endearing, and it never truly exits the memory bank.
Poltergeist is one of those timeless films. The 2015 remake proved that no matter how talented a cast may be, no matter how advanced special effects may be, there’s only one truly genius Poltergeist film, and it arrived 35 years ago.
Happy anniversary, Poltergeist. It’s a shame that the franchise was plagued by unexplainable phenomenon, some of which had brutal and lasting effects. But moviegoers and film buffs will always choose to (attempt to) block out the productions bad juju and remember the film, and Heather O’Rourke for what they were: profoundly influential and truly timeless.