Poltergeist (1982) is a horror movie directed by Tobe Hooper and co-written by Steven Spielberg, chronicling the terrifying paranormal events that surround the Freelings, an ordinary suburban family, whose home is invaded by spirits that show a special interest in their five-year-old daughter, Carol Anne.
Three sequels and a remake followed; see Poltergeist (film series).
This film was ranked as #80 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments and the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 20th scariest film ever made.
- Body Horror: The face-peeling scene.
- Chekhov's Gun: During a funny moment with Diane and Steven are getting high, Steven brags that he used to be a great diver in his youth. Later on when Carol Anne gets abducted, their first thought was that she may have fallen into the swimming pool they dug out. A pool that has been since filled up with rain water from the thunderstorm happening at the time. Wasting no time, Steven runs to the end of the pool and rather than jump haphazardly, risking injury and drowning; he dives in using his prior skills. While Carol Anne wasn't in there, it was still a cool call back to an otherwise funny moment.
- Collapsing Lair: The ghosts in the first film fail to take any of the family back to the other side, so they settle for taking the house instead.
- Cool Gate: The entity creates one in Carol Anne's closet, with the exit in the living room ceiling.
- Creepy Doll: The clown doll was a bit unsettling before it starts grabbing kids, too.
- The Doll Episode: The clown doll again.
- Down the Rabbit Hole: Carol Anne's sojourn to the other side.
- Evil Is Visceral: Carol Anne's closet turning into a squidgy, pink, mucous throat-esophagus sort of thing with a tentacle reaching out to grab her and pull her in.
- Freud Was Right: Look familiar?
- Extreme Melee Revenge: The clown comes to life, sneaks up on Robbie and attempts to suffocate him. Robbie overcomes the clown, throws it on the bed, and tears it apart, screaming, "I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!"
- Foot Focus: Both Dana and Diane go barefoot. Diane is barefoot for the entire climatic sequence.
- Go Into the Light
- Hearing Voices: Carol Anne first hears the ghosts whispering to her through television static.
- Hot Mom: The scene of Jobeth Williams being tossed around the ceiling wearing only an overgrown football jersey and panties was not necessary but it was appreciated!
- Imaginary Friend: ...Nope. The Freelings wished it was, though.
- Indian Burial Ground: Averted, but Cuesta Verde was built on top of an improperly relocated cemetery (the bodies were still there).
"You son of a bitch, you moved the headstones but you left the bodies, didn't ya? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!"
- In fact, this trope's association with this movie is likely because the son of a bitch in question at one point specifically says it's not ancient Indian burial ground.
- Instant Thunder: Averted, the time between the lightning and thunder showed that the storm was getting closer.
- Light Is Not Good: The light is good; it's just not good for things that don't need to go there,like the living.
- Locked Into Strangeness: After rescuing Carol Anne from the Other Side, Diane develops a white streak of hair at each temple. She is reluctant to dye the streaks back, speculating to her older daughter that they look "punk".
- Monster Clown: The evil clown doll.
- Nothing Is Scarier: While the movie doesn't shy away from the scares and gory hallucinations caused by the ghosts, part of what makes Poltergeist work so well are all the moments that intentionally make the audience think something is gonna happen even if it doesn't. For example, when Robbie is trying to sleep through the lightning, he is freaked out by the clown doll sitting on his chair. While the doll does nothing, camera shots, plus the effect of the lightning will make you think something is gonna happen with it. It's not until the end of the movie that the Clown does attack Robbie.
- Offscreen Reality Warp: The spirits demonstrate their Mad Skillz at chair stacking during a brief period when the camera is not on them.
- Orphean Rescue: For Carol Ann in the first movie.
- Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Steve has a few things to say to his realtor about his new neighbors.
- Skunk Stripe: See Locked Into Strangeness, above.
- Snowy Screen of Death: The spirits first communicate with Carol Anne through an untuned television set.
- The Soulsaver: The psychic Tangina helps a group of ghosts (lost souls) trapped in the astral plane go into the Light.
- Tear Off Your Face: The psychic's assistant hallucinates that he pulls off his own face.
- Vertigo Effect: Helloooo, stretchy hallway of doom...
- Visual Pun: A subtle one, implying that outside forces other than malignant are watching out for the family. They're saved from the monster tree by a tornado that miraculously takes nothing but the tree. A tornado is considered an "Act of God".
- When Trees Attack: It nearly eats Carol Anne's brother.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: "This house is clean." Nope - it's regrouping... and it's PISSED...