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  • Writer's pictureJeff South

Other Summer Movies of the 80s: Poltergeist

Released: June 4th, 1982

JoBeth Williams: Diane Freeling

Craig T. Nelson: Steve Freeling

Heather O'Rourke: Carol Anne Freeling

Beatrice Straight: Dr. Lesh

Dominique Dunne: Dana Freeling

Oliver Robins: Robbie Freeling

Zelda Rubenstein: Tangina

Screenplay by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

Rated PG

The summer of 1982 was darn fine, indeed. I was playing my final year of organized baseball without any pressures of greater aspirations. I played for fun and had a blast. Connecting with friends in the Drama Club provided an established community and I was excited about the coming school year.

Most important, though, I had a girlfriend. A summer girlfriend. Something about summer girlfriends is different. The heightened romanticism of summer dating gives the whole thing a rush and I spent most of that summer with my head firmly planted in the clouds of young love. She would come to my baseball games and sometimes join us for ice cream or a burger afterward. Of course, neither of us were old enough to drive, so our dates, such as they were, depended on others for transformation. This meant meeting at Pizza Hut or the arcade or the movies.

One movie we saw together was a Sunday matinee showing of the PG-rated Poltergeist. We were at the Rodger's Theater, which was the best place to see a film because of its lobby design and grand screen display. Also, the marquee was brilliant when all lit up at night. We sat in a near empty theater with the hopes of having a movie play in the background while we enjoyed each other's company.

That movie scared the shit out of both of us.

Yes, we held hands and huddled close together, but not as a prelude to a make out session. Rather, we were hiding our eyes and tensing up over what transpired onscreen. We were grossed out by the guy peeling his face off and sufficiently horrified by the closet sucking a little girl into it. What really got us was the large tree outside trying to eat a little boy. This is where I remind you that this movie was rated PG. It was the time before PG-13, so filmmakers would push the envelope to see what could be squeezed into a PG movie. Since there were no f-bombs or nudity, Poltergeist was released with the PG.

We screamed and laughed at ourselves for screaming. When the movie ended, we managed to get some requisite kissing in before retreating back into the light of a Sunday afternoon to be picked up by respective parents. I harbored no embarrassment over displaying fright during a horror movie. That's what they're for, right? I've always been a lightweight when it comes to them, anyway. I'm easily scared. I did, however, try to play it off as being unaffected afterward. Just a movie, right? I couldn't let this girl I was crazy about see that some goofy ghost story had inflicted some potentially permanent emotional scars.

That night, after my folks went to bed, I read a little and worked on story in one of my many notebooks. Ready for sleep, I switched off my desk lamp and crawled in bed. My pillow faced the window and the shadow of a tree outside stretched across the curtain. A slight breeze shook the branches. I slept not minute. Then I, a 15-year old, crept to my parents bedroom and meekly informed them that I couldn't sleep. Perhaps I thought my mom might get up and hang out with me. Make some cocoa and chat or watch TV.

"Just try," she said over my dad's snoring.

I tried. I failed. The next day, after a morning nap, I called my girlfriend and she asked about my evening.

"DIdn't do much," I said. "A little TV. Read." I didn't talk much about my writing then. Too much to explain, I figured.

"I didn't do much, either," she told me. "How did you sleep? I couldn't because I couldn't stop thinking about the movie!"

I paused, debating as to what to tell her. It seemed to be a moment where I could open up and be a little vulnerable.

"I slept great," I said.

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