This movie is, for me, the best “haunted house” movie ever. It is one of my all-time favorites and it was hard for me to watch it critically. I did manage however to find a few things that could have gone better. First, let me start with why the movie is just such a great piece of cinema. When I saw this as a kid, it scared the shit out of me. To this day, I get anxious when I have to look under a bed or even if a leg dangles precariously off the bed. I just know that damn clown is going to reach out and pull me in. I also to this day still have nightmares about being stuck in a muddy pit (pool) and not being able to get out and away from whatever is after me. All because of this movie.
The movie opens with the playing of the national anthem on the television. Yes, kids, the programming was not always 24/7. But we get an extreme close up view of the television screen until it is only blurry pixels—what are we supposed to see? Carol Anne saw something in those pixels and that something in turn saw her. That’s where the craziness starts.
This movie has all the elements of a perfect haunted house story. The nice, normal family in the suburbs, a creepy old tree, storms, the big bad developers who built on top of a graveyard which somehow opens a portal between the world of the living and a sort of purgatory. As soon as Carol Anne makes the connection with the creatures in this limbo, things start to get weird and they escalate quickly. A dead canary (harbinger of death, right??), furniture and people being pushed by invisible forces, weird weather and a tree that tries to eat Robbie (off topic tangent—why did they put it the scene of Robby and his Mom’s profiles speaking in front of the TV? Poor kid will live with those terrible buck teeth on film for the rest of his life). In the process of saving Robbie from being eaten by a tree, Carol Anne gets sucked into her closet where the portal to purgatory begins. What a great way to introduce the main problem of this story. A perfect storm if you’ll pardon the pun.
I’m going to stop for a moment and make my first critical point of the film. What exactly is the point of the character Dana? She is the eldest child of Steve and Diane Freeling. She is sixteen so much older than Robbie’s eight and Carol Anne’s five. We also know that Diane is thirty-two so that means she had Dana at sixteen. I know that’s possible, but it just doesn’t really jive with the picture we’re presented of this particular family. Dana really brings nothing to the plot and most of the time is not even there when anything frightening happens. She makes some obscene gestures to the cat-calling excavators and screams a lot, cries a lot, and makes a subtle remark about how she knows about the Holiday Inn motel suggesting Dana isn’t all that innocent of a teenager. Besides that, what is her purpose in the plot?
And since I am being nit-picky, let’s talk for a short moment about the paranormal investigator who decided to make a late-night snack while everyone is sleeping. He goes to the fridge and pulls out (not on a plate or wrapped up in any way, mind you) a nice, thick, raw steak which he then throws on the counter (again sans plate). Now, first of all, it’s probably not his steak and secondly everyone is sleeping in the living room! Is he really going to fry up an entire steak and eat it as a midnight snack? What? I just found this extremely humorous. I thought I would point that out. You probably didn’t notice because you were laughing at the special effects of the guy’s face melting off, but back off, it was 1982, geez.
Bottom line, this movie still gives me the creeps and I love it. The complaints I have are few and petty. It’s a complete tale of a haunted house and it works. You care about this family and you like the extra characters. It’s got great jump scares and some slow burns too. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it. Forget the new version and go with a classic.