Sunday, October 05, 2008

Dear Charlie:

Continuing my horror movie month -- and conveniently ignoring the 34-0 shutout of my beloved Chiefs, who are surely having a worse week than I am -- I rented Poltergeist.

Now, remember when I said that scary movies terrified me and gave me nightmares when I was a kid, but I grew out of that? Well, this is one of them. I can't tell you how many times I dreamed of being eaten by a tree. How long I was afraid of storms (which I now love). Thank God I was already creeped out by clowns, or this flick and IT would have really done some damage. Heh.

But I did grow out of that terror, and now I love watching the movies that once scared me to death. And Poltergeist is one of the very few that can still affect me, if not in particularly the same way. And I think I know why. I think it's because both the mother and father actually care about their kids, would honestly do anything to see them safe.

Remember The Amityville Horror? The original one, not the rewrite? It just never worked for me. It took the remake to show me why.

In that original flick, Kathleen Lutz was more interested in saving her marriage -- her second -- than in keeping her children alive. Worse, George Lutz himself came across more as sullen and distant, even before moving into the house whose atmosphere changed and possessed him, than the much more charming (and far more sympathetic and worthy of saving) Ryan Reynolds character that came later.

It's this iffy family bond that makes the Lutz' situation falter and thus makes whatever happened to them seem...a little flat. Add in all the speculation of the "real" story, about them just wanting out of a mortgage that was too much for them and such, and there's just not much there to tingle the spine.

But in Poltergeist, both the mother and father are fully devoted to both each other and their children. When asked to walk into the unknown with no guarantee that she would either succeed or ever be able to come back, Diane simply grabs the rope and heads in. Her baby is in that nowhere, and she will by God bring her out if she can. Nothing short of the infinite will stop her.

That scene where you hear Carol Anne running from something, and she invisibly runs right through Diane, and Diane starts weeping as she realizes she can smell her baby on her clothes, on her hands...that brings a shiver even now. Not a bad shiver, though. A good one. I mean, I'm not sure Kathleen Lutz even knew what her kid looked like, let alone smelled like.

That familial connection makes everything that happens to the Freeling family that much more terrible. Because you don't want anything to happen to them. You want them to stay a happy family. You want Carol Anne to snuggle up to her mother and for Steven to put his fatherly arms around them both. You want Robbie to beat the crap out of that sadistic clown doll -- who the hell has a creepy-ass thing like that in a kid's room, anyway? -- and to spit in its strewn stuffing.

You want them to stay safe. You want them to win.

The Lutz family? Meh.

Now, in the Amityville remake, they fixed that error, and it's still not quite terrifying. But at least you care whether or not Kathleen cracks open George's head. You don't feel like he deserves it. And you believe that she'd rather save her children than spend one more night in a money-suck of a house that threatens them at every turn. And it just about breaks your heart when George yells at her to kill him before he kills all of them. He's pleading with her. He doesn't want to hurt them. He just can't help himself.

Or maybe I just like Ryan Reynolds.

Either way, it's better but still not a great. Like Poltergeist. Doesn't mean it isn't entertaining, but...I'd rather watch Carol Anne and wonder how Heather O'Rourke would have turned out if she'd lived past the age of 12. Bless her heart.

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