Anyone following the latest round of Presidential endorsements can attest: politics makes strange bedfellows. Apparently, so does filmmaking (think Clint Eastwood/Jim Carrey in The Deadpool, director Leonard Nimoy/Ted Danson, Tom Selleck/Steve Guttenberg in Three Men and a Baby, Wes Anderson and anyone in anything). But such funky pairings aren’t limited to action flicks or rom-coms; horror has its share of odd couples, too.
Case in point: 1982 spooktacular Poltergeist, which featured the off-beat matrimony of director Tobe Hooper (of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) and writer/producer Steven Spielberg (basically responsible for some aspect of every other film in the known universe). Its cast was equally as diametric, as American sweetheart JoBeth Williams and everyman Craig T. Nelson split screentime with the quirky, munchkin-esque Zelda Rubinstein. But all the wacky chemistry worked. Poltergeist surprised critics and audiences, finishing as the eighth-highest grossing film of the year. It earned three Academy Award nominations and a spot not only in horror history, but in pop culture iconography, referenced in everything from Eddie Murphy stand-up routines to episodes of The Golden Girls and yes, Muppet Babies cartoons.
Now if we could just find a way to get Donald Trump and Sarah Palin together at the same time as Hollywood pairs Robert DeNiro and Zac Effron…
There was a time not so long ago, before 24-hour television, when local networks would roll a star-spangled sign-off before fading to static nothingness. It was a patriotic goodnight from a sensible, parental visual gatekeeper, reminding you that all red-blooded Americans should be in bed by now–that it was time to put the trends and trials of the day to rest until they could be dealt with tomorrow. That same sign-off is the first thing we see as Poltergeist begins, but in the visionary hands (and one could argue, activist mentality) of writer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper, it serves as a grim allegory: apparently for all our highly-vaunted prosperity, we’ve said a prideful goodnight to our once-great American values.
Suburbanites Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) appear to have it all: a strong relationship, a beautiful subdivision home and 2.5 beautiful children. But below the surface, something festers. They’re responsible parents; or more rather, they’re almost responsible enough. While their young son and daughter struggle to fall asleep amidst imaginary closet monsters and animated trees outside their window, Steve and Diane late-night snack on Reagan biographies and weed. Although only a hallway separates them, Steve and Diane are just far enough away–just far enough out of touch–to protect their kids once the bad things show up. And where does the evil manifest? Why, in that modern day Satan, of course–the TV.
It’s little Carol Anne who sees them first. In fact, she’s the only one who can see–and hear–them. Each night, when the TV screen turns to static, she talks to the ghosts lurking behind the glass. But once they escape their floor model prison, all hell breaks loose. Carol Anne gets sucked into their dimension by way of her closet, now residing somewhere in the ectoplasmic ethosphere of the house as the ghosts manifest physically, tossing everything but the kitchen sink from wall to family-picture-framed wall.
The Freelings call in a bunch of paranormal investigators who quickly realize they’re in over their head. They phone for backup, bringing in the kooky so-far-from-the-Freelings Tangina Barrons, a medium who can communicate with Carol Anne.
She says the ghosts have captured her, because they believe her innocence can help lead them to “the light” and resolve their limbo-like imprisonment between the living and the dead.
And as familial demons rise, so do the physical ones: still-clothed, uprooted skeletons begin squirting to the surface of the backyard mudpit that would’ve one day been the family swimming pool. Turns out the Freelings house was built on a graveyard by a greedy developer who refused to relocate his high-dollar subdivision.
As much as Carol Anne’s parents are to blame for neglect, those money-hungry capitalists are ultimately the real culprit, Spielberg seems to say.
The Bible, surprisingly, may concur–though not in such a politically-shrouded-commentary kind of way. Though that sacred text is often misquoted, money is not the root of all evil. According to 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” In and of itself, money can be a powerful tool for good, and when used properly, can help advance God’s kingdom far and wide. But it’s when we choose to horde that resource, without sharing it with those who need it most, that we set ourselves up for little more than headaches and heartaches. And if we aren’t willing to sell all we have and give to the poor per Christ’s command (Matthew 19:21) we rob not only our earthly brothers of their physical necessities, but we rob our Heavenly Father of his due glory.
And trust me, that’s one (Holy) Ghost you don’t want to anger.