Poltergeist is one of the most frightening pictures I have
ever seen. It is one of the last great
horror films, made during a time in which PG-13 films really pushed the
envelope. Based on an idea by producer
Steven Spielberg and directed by a post-Texas Chainsaw Massacre Tobe Hooper, Poltergeist
delivered on its tagline: it knows what scares you.
Contorted trees peering through your window in the middle of
the night and freakish looking clown dolls were just some of the fears that
were used in Poltergeist to trigger that unique feeling of childhood
Watching Poltergeist now, you really come to the
realization that the film has aged beautifully, even in the current landscape
of advanced special effects technology. And
why is that? It’s because the picture
has a strong and genuinely frightening story at its core. Not to mention, one of the most interesting
and memorable supporting characters.
When the picture was released in 1982, diminutive star Zelda
Rubenstein was unknown to audiences.
After the release of Poltergeist, however, she was an overnight cult
sensation. As Tangina, a woman known for
cleaning nasty specters from houses, Rubenstein created one of the most
memorable characters, not only in the history of horror cinema, but cinema in
general. Her fluffy Southern twang and
undeniably creepy facial expressions proved just as frightening as the Beast
haunting the house. But there was
something about her that struck a nerve in me.
Her small stature and soft, high pitched voice haunted me for years
after I saw the film. Maybe it was the
odd way in which she walked or that little glint in her eye…
Tangina doesn’t change from the moment we meet her until her
departure. At the end of the day, the
point of her character is to give us the creeps, all the while supplying us with
some much needed exposition. It also
turns audience expectation on its head, seeing as how we expect a woman who has
cleaned many a haunted house to have a physically intimidating presence. With Zelda, the audience is caught off guard,
and as such, we realize that anything can happen in the world that Spielberg
created. As a result, Tangina was
quickly elevated to the top echelon of characters in horror cinema.
Say what you will of Tangina’s roles in Poltergeist 2 and 3, but in the original Poltergeist, audiences were introduced to a
memorable character; one that truly captured our imagination, all the while
haunting us with her almost otherworldly presence.