Monday, June 04, 2012

After 30 Years, They're Still Here

By 1982, Steven Spielberg already had done some remarkable things on film.

He had given us "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T." In the years ahead, he would give us "The Color Purple," "Empire of the Sun," "Jurassic Park," "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan," among others.

Few, if any, movie directors have had the kind of influence he has had — with so many groundbreaking filming techniques in so many genres.

Few directors have had the talent for telling a story — and telling it well, no matter how complex it might be.

And, to be sure, the movie that was released 30 years ago today, "Poltergeist," was one complicated tale. Spielberg didn't direct it, though. He produced it. "E.T." was his directorial project in 1982.

Tobe Harper actually directed it — but it definitely had a Spielberg feeling to it.

I never heard Spielberg — or anyone else — say what inspired the story — an ordinary family living in a subdivision whose lives are turned upside down by a supernatural intrusion.

The reason for the invasion remains hidden until near the end of the movie, when the family's patriarch puts two and two together and realizes that the property, which was once a cemetery, was not relocated as he had been told, that only the headstones had been moved. The bodies had been left where they were, and their souls were not at rest.

As a longtime fan of the Twilight Zone, I often thought the movie's plot was inspired by an episode about a young girl who vanishes to another dimension through a portal that appears in her room. Viewers of the Twilight Zone heard about the supernatural guests but never saw them.

Similarly, the youngest girl in "Poltergeist" was snatched away by spirits who gained access to her through the closet in her bedroom. (For the most part, they were never really seen, either.)

But I have found no evidence to support my conclusion that the show inspired the movie — other than my own suspicions.

It isn't important, I guess. A good story is a good story, whatever its inspiration may be, and "Poltergeist" was a darn good chiller for a hot summer day.

Of course, much of what makes a good story is good story telling, and there haven't been many directors in the last 35 years or so who could match Spielberg.

And, in Spielberg's hands, "Poltergeist" was more than simply a scary film. In the last three decades, it has come to be regarded as a true classic of the horror genre.

The line "They're here" — with that lilt in Heather O'Rourke's vocal delivery — is one of the most recognizable lines in movie history.

Indeed, "Poltergeist" seemed like a blessing for all who were affiliated with it. It cost less than $11 million to make and took in more than $120 million at the box office.

Those numbers were dwarfed by "E.T.," however, and, ultimately, "Poltergeist" and its series of sequels earned a reputation for being cursed. That was because some of the movie's stars died prematurely — a series of tragic coincidences that were, nevertheless, enticing for the movies' genre.

It all began 30 years ago today.