There's so much trivia surrounding the making of 1982's Poltergeist and its controversial aftermath that cinephiles should expect the special-edition DVD to answer some of their questions. For example, did Steven Spielberg essentially direct the movie? Though The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's Tobe Hooper has his name on the credits, many consider Spielberg (who also wrote the story, co-wrote the script, and did the storyboards) to be the "de facto" director, denied the credit due to a clause in his contract with Universal. Then there's the controversial PG rating, won after an MPAA protest in spite of nerve-fraying horror intensity, a gruesome scene in which a paranormal investigator peels off his face, and the decidedly unwholesome presence of JoBeth Williams as a pot-smoking hot momma. And how about the so-called Poltergeist "curse," built around two cast members who died under unusual circumstances, plus a couple more who succumbed to more normal causes?
The 25th anniversary DVD answers none of those questions with its feeble two-part, 30-minute documentary about "real" poltergeists, featuring various scientists, psychics, and one of the film's bit players. No commentaries, no interviews, and no making-of docs, though the latter shouldn't be too surprising given the mysteries surrounding Spielberg and Hooper's "unique collaboration." But the DVD has been priced to sell, and the film holds up beautifully as the malevolent flipside to Spielberg's suburban science-fiction fantasies E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
Make no mistake: Poltergeist is a Spielberg film, no matter what the credits say. His stylistic fingerprints are all over the movie, never more so than in the opening third, which turns a suburban haunting into an occasion for Spielbergian movie magic before the ghosts get down to business. Even when things go awry, and a family loses its youngest to a spectral plane, the playful visual wit never ceases: Household objects dance harmoniously in the air, skeletons spring up like props in a Halloween spook-house, and tennis balls are tossed through the ghostly void. Maybe Poltergeist really is a family film: Kids need to have nightmares about something, after all, and Spielberg's dazzling contraption of a movie guarantees a safe landing. A real Tobe Hooper movie wouldn't offer such an assurance.
Key features: Just the pitiful documentary.