Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Beatrice Straight, Zelda Rubinstein
Oscar Nominations: Best Effects, Visual Effects (Richard Edlund, Michael Wood, Bruce Nicholson), Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing (Stephen Hunter Flick, Richard L. Anderson), Best Music, Original Score (Jerry Goldsmith)
SUMMARY: The Freeling family lives in a well-to-do neighborhood in Orange County, California, in a development called Cuesta Verde. The family consists of five people: Steven (Craig T. Nelson), the father, who is a real estate developer; Diane (JoBeth Williams), the mother, who stays at home to take care of the kids; and their three children, Dana, Robbie and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Late one night, after the TV channels have gone off the air, Carol Anne, the youngest, wakes up and starts talking to the static-filled screen. Unbeknownst to her parents, the same thing happens the next night after the sign-off, but this time, a ghostly hand comes out of the TV. At the same time, an earthquake rocks the house and wakes up the other family members: this prompts Carol Anne to say the famous line, “They’re here.” The next day, strange events start to happen in the Freeling house, including objects moving on their own. In the evening, a tree comes to life and tries to grab Robbie. Steven manages to pull him to safety, but at the same time, a portal has opened in Carol Anne’s closet, and has sucked her inside. However, she is not gone: her voice is now coming out of the TV. The family calls in several parapsychologists from UC Irvine, including Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), who investigate the house. They come to the conclusion that the Freelings are being harassed by a group of poltergeists, mischievous (and sometimes nasty) ghosts. Meanwhile, Steven questions his boss, and finds out that the Cuesta Verde development was built on top of a former cemetery, from which the bodies had been removed.
Steven and Diane remain in the house, but send Dana and Robbie away. The UC Irvine group calls in a medium, who believes that the poltergeists have not crossed over, and are thus stuck in the house. Rather than go toward the “light”, like they’re supposed to, the ghosts are pulled towards Carol Anne’s life force (making her the one who can communicate with them). To keep these poltergeists under control, a demon called the “Beast” has taken Carol Anne captive. Together, the scientists, medium and Freeling parents find that Carol Anne is being held in another dimension, the entrance to which is in her bedroom closet: the exit is in the living room ceiling. They then decide to try to rescue Carol Anne by sending Diane into the other dimension, tied to a rope that goes through both the entrance and exit portals. Diane does manage to find Carol Anne, and pulls her back into this dimension. The medium then announces that the house is clean of spirits. However, the Freelings still decide to move. The night before they leave, Steven and Dana are both out of the house. The Beast attacks Diane, Robbie and Carol Anne, and tries to take Carol Anne back into the other dimension. To do this, it attacks Diane and Robbie so that they cannot help Carol Anne. However, all three make it out of the house, only to find that a graveyard is erupting beneath their feet. Steven then realizes that his boss lied – he hadn’t had the bodies moved from the cemetery, he had just moved the headstones. The Freelings leave the neighborhood just in time – the closet portal sucks in the whole development. They go to a hotel for the night, where Steven moves the TV outside before going to sleep.
MY TAKE: Once again, let me reiterate that I am not usually scared by “woo-woo” movies, and this held true for this film. It probably doesn’t help that my idea of a poltergeist is Peeves from Harry Potter, who is a source of great amusement (he disappears, then grabs people’s noses as they walk by; he also makes up rude ditties). It also doesn’t help that nowadays, TVs don’t go totally off the air (at least if you have cable, Dish, etc.). The fact that the ghosts are poltergeists does make it a little more believable, because poltergeists can actually move objects, unlike other ghosts. The plot is actually also fairly coherent, for a story about imaginary creatures, but I just don’t believe in them enough to be freaked out. Instead, I was struck by the stupidity of putting a housing development on a former cemetery, even one that allegedly had the bodies removed. Anybody who has seen a horror movie or heard a scary story knows that this is a recipe for disaster. You don’t mess with the dead, particularly their final resting place. They go crazy – the Freelings are lucky they weren’t attacked by zombies sprouting out of their front yard.