They’re heeeere… POLTERGEIST debuted in theaters 35 years ago this month, and in celebration of one of the scariest movies ever made, I offer you some insightful 1982 interview footage of the film’s producer (and oft-argued ghost director of the film) Steven Spielberg, as well as a sit-down with the legendary Zelda Rubinstein, who played eccentric medium Tangina Barrons, at the time of the film’s release.
POLTERGEIST first got on my radar when I opened up the Sunday paper and saw a massive, double-page spread declaring that the new Spielberg project was “the scariest movie ever made” in massive bold letters. That concept blew me away, and almost deterred me from seeing it. Would it be too scary? Would I get serious nightmares? But I was hooked and ready to accept the challenge: Could it truly be the scariest movie ever? Didn’t THE EXORCIST already own that title? This I gotta see…
I ended up being more enthralled by the movie than being genuinely scared. Sure, there were plenty of jump-in-your-seat moments and nail-biter sequences, but I was mostly taken by the otherworldly awe that the film engendered in me. These spirits weren’t just malevolent. They were misunderstood — and looking for retribution. And I saw that the dogged, selfless love of a parent for a child in danger could conquer even the most supernatural of circumstances. There was beauty in this horror that I was presented with. How many horror films these days incorporate those themes so unabashedly and effectively to ultimately transcend the viewing experience? Not many.
Five years ago, the 30th anniversary of POLTERGEIST provided the perfect excuse for me to raid the ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT tape vaults as I often did for exclusive material, and I unearthed these great vintage POLTERGEIST interviews. I put together a cut that I think captures some interesting, unique takes on the genre film that would quickly become an instant classic, yet another phenomenon in the pantheon of Spielberg’s cinematic oeuvre.
Just four months before the June ’82 release of POLTERGEIST, ET asked Spielberg what he could reveal about the Tobe Hooper-directed film. “It’s real scary,” he replied. “It’s sort of a Land JAWS for me. It’s a movie about ghosts, but it’s not a send-up, it’s not a comedy. It’s really a movie about a haunting in suburbia. The great similarity [to JAWS] is that terror is relentless, and the terror is unseen in both movies [until the end].”
Although POLTERGEIST was helmed by Hooper (of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE fame), Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over the film, from the cookie-cutter suburban setting that mirrors E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL and themes of childhood innocence and imagination to the awe-inspiring soundtrack and impressive ILM special effects.
“POLTERGEIST is a scream, and E.T. is a whisper,” said Spielberg, who was working on post-production for both films at the time of the interview and noted that both projects were battling for limited 70mm summer theater space. “Essentially [POLTERGEIST] is a movie about tightening your stomach muscles and keeping them there for two hours until something gives.”
POLTERGEIST was initially rated R by the MPAA, then changed to PG after Spielberg challenged the rating. Zelda Rubinstein reflected on the controversy surrounding the film — that it was too violent for children to watch — and told ET, “I feel that maybe children would maybe understand it even better than we adults, because it deals a lot with the mythology surrounding the archetypal childhood fears, the fears of having incidents with your toys … [and] the development of the new myth surrounding the electronic media.”
Watch the POLTERGEIST “flashback” video here:
You made it to the end of the story! Congrats. Reward yourself with more IT CAME FROM… coolness. Try my E.T. the EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL 35th-anniversary piece. And/or get more horror with a look behind the scenes of THE SHINING. Plus there’s plenty of STAR WARS musings, Famous Monsters fun, cool vintage movie lobby cards, and more of my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews.