Poltergeist (1982)
By: CJ on January 30, 2013 | Comments
Warner Home Video | Region Free | 2.40:1, 1080p | English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 | minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Tobe Hooper
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Jobeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Heather O'Rourke, Oliver Robins
Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Country: USA
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The haunted house theme has a long history within the horror genre and has been a particular attraction for filmmakers. Films such as The Old Dark House (1932), The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973), as well as many others, have all tackled the subject of houses haunted or at least hiding a dark secret. Then, in 1982, Steven Spielberg produced a film directed by Tobe Hooper that was to change everything.

The story is a basic one – a family, the Freelings, living in a newly built house, discover that spirit forces might be at work as they experience some extraordinary activity within their home. Furniture and random objects move unaided and the family is intrigued and even pleased at these occurrences. That is, however, until their youngest daughter, Carol Ann, is abducted by these forces and taken into the spirit realm. The Freelings enlist the assistance of paranormal investigators who then bring in a medium to rescue their daughter.

What sets this film apart is that earlier entries in this sub-genre were firmly rooted in hinting at the supernatural presences rather than showing it. It was the implication of a haunting rather than outright showing the haunting (Legend of Hell House is the one exception which showed a few things flying about in a short sequence). Poltergeist set out to do it differently – Spielberg and Hooper wanted to show the entire manifestation and put on a real spook-show. Poltergeist spares us nothing and shows us everything, and it's this that makes it such a milestone film. Horror finally had entered the FX spectacular, big budget arena, and is no worse for it. Even watching it again some three decades later, it still looks mightily impressive, which is a major credit to both Hooper and Spielberg and to the FX team that created the eye-popping special effects. I would even go as far as to say that it's one of my favourite films of the 80's.

Aside from the haunting, there is another interesting aspect to the story, that of profit over conscience. The newly built housing estate is built upon an old graveyard – but the building company decided to simply relocate the headstones and left the corpses in the ground beneath the houses. It's this that caused the restless spirits to descend upon the Freelings, so you could almost say that the horrors visited upon this family were the direct result of greed. Nice to see a bit of social comment thrown into the mix, and it's a point that is no less relevant today.

A terrific cast, a solid script and some wonderful FX work all combine to make this a gem that has really stood the test of time.
The Disc
Warner Home Video really have given this a worthy upgrade for Blu-ray. Presented in 1080p using the VC1 codec it breathes new life into the film. Previous DVD incarnations, whilst better than their VHS counterparts, were always a bit fuzzy and soft and never really did the film proper justice. Here the image is pin-sharp with lots of detail, colours are deep and vibrant without bleeding, blacks are consistent, and there's not a digital artefact in sight. This is really a very, very impressive transfer that still stands as one of the best I've seen of a catalogue title on Blu-ray. This is a worthy upgrade if you still only have it on DVD - it looks stunning.

There are a couple of audio options, with the English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sounding the most impressive. Also to be found are standard English 5.1 DD and 2.0 Dolby stereo. But I opted for the TrueHD option and it sounded fantastic. The depth and clarity of sound is superb and really adds another dimension to the viewing experience.

Unfortunately the disc falls down in the extras department, as there is only one extra feature, a somewhat lacklustre documentary in two parts on real hauntings and paranormal investigators, which isn't very good I'm afraid. Still, if it's the film you want, you'll be happy enough with its stellar presentation and the lack of extras won't concern you much.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Warner Home Video have done the film proud and is the absolute best it has ever looked or sounded. I'm very pleased to have it in my collection, as bare bones as the disc is – but it's the actual film that's important, right? If you're a fan and haven't upgraded yet, don't be afraid to do so. This stands head-and-shoulders above all previous home video incarnations.

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