Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Beatrice Straight
Poltergeist is to the haunted house sub-genre as Halloween is to the slasher movie: It wasn't the first of its kind, but it elevated things to a whole new level of style, excess, and intelligence.
Coming largely from the mind of co-writer/co-producer Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), established several tropes the have since been copied to death: the little kid who becomes the evil spirits' conduit; the freaky apparitions that haunt a youngster in his bedroom, at night, while mommy and daddy are snoozing; the medium and her sidekicks who move into the house to exorcise the demons.
The difference being, of course, that, in Poltergeist, all of those story components work, resulting in a creepshow that blasts viewers with one ghoulish set-piece after another (try to sleep in a room with a clown doll ever again) before a showstopping and crowd-pleasing bit involving a terrified mother, an in-ground pool, and tons of wet, rotting cadavers. —MB