A supernatural phenomenon which manifests itself as a force that moves objects around, sometimes in a destructive manner. While some theories identify the poltergeist as a ghost, others say that it is the unconscious use of psychokinetic powers by a resident of the afflicted house, often an adolescent. (Poltergeists do seem to frequently pop up in houses where a teenager or a child nearing puberty lives.)

Also a 1982 film directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Steven Spielberg in which a suburban family is terrorized by angry ghosts. The lines "Go into the light" and "They're heeere..." are from Poltergeist.

The word comes from the German, roughly translating as "knocking spirit".

Poltergeist was a game for the TRS-80, with the minimum requirements of 16K worth of RAM and a set of TRS-80 joysticks. It came out in 1982 and was based on Tobe Hooper's movie of the same name. Like most games for the TRS-80, it came in a ROM cartridge form and was inserted firmly into a slot located on the side of the computer.

The plot of the game was similar to the plot of the movie. Steve and Diane Freeling lose Carol-Anne to the ghosts in the television set, and they're trying to get her out. They do this by going through three levels, each of which increases in difficulty as the game progresses.

  • Level 1 begins by asking you Can you gather the things you need to Rescue Carol-Anne?, then you begin playing. You are presented with a sky view of the Westhaven Development community. There are dozens of houses, each of which has a driveway. The player avatar is a little stick-figure (very small) looking guy who is free to roam around the streets of the complex and enter driveways. It's rather like a big Pac-Man grid.

    But you're not getting off that easy!

    Cars tear-ass down the street at breakneck speeds trying to run you down. It's not clear if these are ghost cars, or if the residents of Westhaven are just in a really big hurry, but it doesn't matter. As you make your way around the streets, you have to duck into driveways to avoid the oncoming traffic.

    Now there is a reason that you're running around the neighborhood, and it's not because Steve Freeling is a voyeur sneaking peeks at nekkit phantasms. You're trying to gather a length of rope, a ribbon, a towel, some tennis balls, and a handkerchief. These items appear in several different houses about the screen, and are indicated by a black dot appearing on the house where it is located. As if that isn't enough, there's is a poltergeist running amok in the neighborhood moving from house to house in a pseudo-random fashion. The poltergeist is indicated by a flashing box on the house where it's located, and you must avoid it until you gather all the items. After you gather the items, you must enter the house where the poltergeist is.

    If you get hit by a car, or if you get smote by the poltergeist, you have to start over. Each item you gather is worth 15 points, and you have thirty time units to complete the mission. When you finish the level, you get a bonus of (Remaining Time x 10) x Remaining Lives.

    You can cheat, by holding down the button on the joystick, and no cars will come out. (It's not a bug, it's a feature).

  • Level 2 starts off by asking you the following sinister question: Can you get past the stairs? The stairway level is nowhere near as sophisticated as the street level, but it is much more difficult to complete.

    You are presented with a staircase with barriers - rectangles and ovals with X's in them - moving horizontally along its respective step. And "you" are now represented by a pair of footprints (which look suspiciously like two very thick exclamation points. You can move up one stair, down one stair, right one step and left one step, per maneuver. There is no jumping over obstacles, you must go around them.

    The stairs get narrower the closer you reach the top, so it gets more and more difficult to achieve the next step. However, there is a ghost on your heels, so you must move faster the closer you get to the top. If the poltergeist grabs you or if you stumble into one of the barrier obstacles, you must go back to the beginning of Level 1 with one less life. That's right! You have to start all over. It is very frustrating.

    As in Level 1, you have 30 time units to finish. Your score for this level is determined by the remaining time when you complete the level.

  • Level 3: Can you help Carol-Anne escape? I wouldn't be so bold as to say this game was any sort of precursor to Doom or Quake, however, it is a first person POV, and you are now aiming a firearm into the closet where the poltergeists are holding Carol-Anne captive. You see "The Light" and you see something coming out of the light. It will either be the Poltergeist or it will be Carol Anne.

    Don't shoot Carol-Anne.

    You do however, want to shoot the Poltergeist. Unfortunately, you can't tell if it's the ghost or Carol-Anne until the last second, so you have to be careful with your trigger finger. If you blow your daughter's head off, you have to go all the way back to the beginning, minus one life. You have to shoot 8 poltergeists to complete the level and complete the game. You get 15 points for each poltergeist you shoot. At the end of the level you get a 60 time unit bonus (which will be figured into your final score), and you'll see the message:

    This house is clean.

Poltergeist (1982) - Weasello Rating: {****} (Excellent!) {Sequel}

Many, many spoilers.


One Sentence Plot Summary: Some vengeful ghosts torment a family and kidnap a little girl, all with a happy ending.

Death Count: Well, one could say there was one on-screen death; but it turned out to be a hallucination. Other than that, there was one dead bird, one dead mouse, and maybe an off-screen death of a goldfish (death by over-feeding). Though having no deaths in a horror movie is quite odd, this movie still excelled.

Plot Outline: A family of 5 moves into a house built in a new suburban development - after some strange poltergeist activity (bottles moving on their own, chairs stacking themselves in a creepy manner), the youngest daughter starts talking to voices she hears in the TV (on a static-ridden channel, no less). After even more strange goings-on, and a giant tree almost eating a young boy, the little girl gets sucked into her closet where she dissapears from sight... indeed, from this plane of existance.

This is where the movie starts to get rolling.

It seems the little girl was sucked into the ghostly plane of existance, even though she was still alive. Apparantly some big evil ghost was holding her captive, but was being nice to her and tricking her into thinking he was a good-guy. Because her life-force was like an beacon to the undead, the other ghosts of the region flocked to the house as well - this explains why no other houses in the neighborhood were affected by this phenomenon.

The parents could sort-of communicate with the little girl by talking to their TV, but they enlisted the help of a few psychics and paranormal investigators in an effort to bring their girl back to this life. Of course, they succeed, with just a few seconds left on the clock! Very exciting stuff.

It turns out that the real estate company that constructed the new suburbia built it on an old graveyard. Though they had approval to do so, they didn't move the buried - they just moved the headstones. This would be, in my best guess, an effort to save money. One has to ask, though - the workers moving the headstones knew what was going on, didn't they? Ah well. In any case, the restless spirits started haunting their house, and the end of the movie was a climax of hundreds of dead bodies and caskets shooting up out of the ground, into the house, floating up in their swimming pool, and other such gory details. The house then inexplicably implodes on itself in a fit of very cool special effects, and dissapears from sight.

My Opinion: Though this movie did have quite a few special effects, almost none of them were technology or ghost-related, which is what I was expecting in this movie. Instead, most of the movie was shot Blair Witch style; that is, the unknown, all-powerful, invisible enemy. Makes for a very suspenseful and timeless classic of a movie (because there aren't many cheezy special effects that date it). The only complaint I have is that they didn't really explore a few of the plot lines... Then again, there are two sequels I have yet to watch. Also, the end of the movie features a giant skeletal monster-skull thing that looks very cheezy. Like that big monster head thing in the Evil Dead movie, if the reference helps. I still give this movie 4/4 on my patented Weasello-Scale, and I'd even rent it again.

Interesting Notes:
  • The creepy swimming pool scene with all the skeletons floating to the surface - well, it just got creepier. Those were real skeletons. I imagine the cast was not happy, as they weren't informed of this fact.
  • When the clown (doll) chokes the little boy under his bed, it was actually choking him. When he started yelling "I'm choking! I'm choking," Spielberg applauded his ad-libbing. Only when his face started turning purple did they wrestle the clown away from him.
  • The giant monster skeleton head (you know, the big lame one?) growl is the original sound that the MGM lion roar uses.
  • Before they could film the sequel, actress Dominique Dunne was strangled to death by her boyfriend, starting the first of the deaths in what is called the Poltergeist curse (several people related to the trilogy have died strangely).
  • In one of the early scenes there is a movie playing on a television in the bedroom. The movie playing is A Guy Named Joe, which Spielberg later re-made as Always about 6 years after Poltergeist. This is also interesting because the writers for Poltergeist were originally being interviewed to write Alawys, but they said they'd prefer to write this movie instead.
  • The cool-looking imploding house at the end of the movie was an actual model and not special effects. A model was placed on it's back on top of an industrial strength vacuum cleaner, and was shot with a pair of shotguns. The scene took less than 2 seconds to film, but with the camera rolling at 300 frames per second(!), it made for quite the spectacle on film. Spielberg was so impressed with the effect that he encased the remains of the house in perspex and has it mounted on his piano at home (incidentally, the model cost $25,000 to build for a mere 20 seconds of film).
Cast: Director: Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg

Writing Credits: Steven Spielberg

Runtime: 114 minutes

Tagline: They're Here
Sources: The IMDB of doom, my head, and special thanks to the box.

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