Rotten Tomatoes 

Strange and creepy happenings beset an average California family, the Freelings — Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), teenaged Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke) — when ghosts commune with them through the television set. Initially friendly and playful, the spirits turn unexpectedly menacing, and, when Carol Ann goes missing, Steve and Diane turn to a parapsychologist and eventually an exorcist for help.


Kate’s notes:

First shot is of the tv static, chekhov’s gun

Distorted tv 

Why start with the dog? Just a way to see the whole family?

The family is all asleep, helpless, vulnerable 

Carol Anne’s bangs

The creepiness of standing in front of static and just staring. WHY SAY HELLO

Everyone quietly walks down

Why is the kid wearing a baseball cap to bed? 

Creepy -> cuts to pastoral scene of hillside, pretty flute music. Then the endless suburbs nestled within the mountains. The rooftops that all look the same, the streets with not enough traffic on them yet. Kids playing on street, people walking, kids biking

The fucking beers. Hate it. 

She’s singing a little beer jingle- consumerism, american consumerism

Dead canary- tweety. Sad and then annoyed that it didn’t die at a better time 

The useless battle between neighbors over the tv remotes. Could you not just like…change the channel on the television set. 

Why would you flush a bird? That’s not gonna go well. Wrap it in a paper bag and take it to the garbage. 

The dog licking it’s lips when they bury the bird lol. Immediately starts digging it up. 

Carol Anne immediately gets a goldfish

UGH that fucking clown

Inappropriate tank for the goldfish

The finality of closing that damn door. Time for adult time. 

Rolling a joint while reading a book about Ronald Reagan

Name drop of the nautilus machine. 

Placed very firmly in time with the cultural references, the book, etc. But it’s also placed like 6 years in the future? Alternate future timeline? 

Very intentionally an 80s movie. The combination of 70s pessimism and 80s optimism. The nuclear family, the dog, the suburbs. 

What if we are built on something rotten. 

The CREEPY construction workers harassing Dana. Mom just fucking WATCHES and laughs as Dana flips them off. Like, ahhhh how darling. Sexual harassment. 

E Buzz is an SNL reference

Evil detecting dog? Brings a toy for fetch. 

Is the humor of the construction guy stealing her food used to show the trials of an American housewife. 

The creepy children’s music twisting when the chairs rearrange on the table. 

The house that looks EXACTLY like theirs. 

Can’t tell one house from another. The excess of having a jacuzzi inside. Lots of empty trash cans on the curb. Consumerism of the 80s. 

Reach back into our past when you used to have an open mind- HA

Mother didn’t cook any dinner. We’ll just go to pizza hut. Commentary on stay at home moms, failed motherhood?


Antagonist Title – One-word title

Big WHY- Steve screaming in his boss’s face “You son of a bitch! You moved the headstones but you left the bodies, didn’t you? You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones! YOU ONLY MOVED THE HEADSTONES!! WHY?! WHY??!!” in his “heroic bsod.” This trope is usually played for laughs as a “discredited trope.” That basically means it’s become cliche or obsolete. 

The discredited trope page on tvtropes says this: Tropes Are Tools, but some have aged better than others.

Over the course of time, a trope may be overused, misused, opposed, made obsolete, out of fashion, subverted or deconstructed on many notable occasions, or just end up being widely disliked. Eventually, a trope may reach the point where it becomes one which no writer should dare use seriously outside of period pieces, though can still be played with in parody, satire, homage or pastiche. Often, if one of these is used straight, people will assume it’s a Red Herring, and react with annoyance or disdain when it isn’t.

In some cases, a trope may be discredited due to changes in our knowledge of history or science. Use of the trope in fiction may change to reflect this.

Bloody Horror- foreshadowing – chekhov’s gun – creepy child – creepy doll – Soundtrack dissonance – Tempting fate

Bystander Syndrome- the neighbors help her out of the pool but they’re like “no thanks” when she’s like “help me save my children?”

Canary in a Coal Mine- literally the bird. The history of canaries being used in mining. 

Collapsing lair- this is the trope where the villains lair has to be destroyed when the villain is defeated. So like the heroes win the fight but they have to escape before everything falls apart around/on top of them. Here, their house gets swallowed into another dimension question mark

Cool gate- a portal to another place/world/dimension/realm of existence. Just because it’s cool doesn’t mean it’s good. 

Creator Cameo- Spielberg’s hands!

Cutting Corners- mirrored in the film and the production. Not moving the bodies, using real skeletons

Dissonant Serenity- when someone has just experienced something absolutely horrific or is in the middle of something wild and violent or scary and they’re strangely calm. This can be used in a lot of ways- like revealing that someone doesn’t have empathy, or someone is a secret badass, or someone is in shock. 

Electromagnetic Ghosts- basically just when ghosts interfere with tech

Evil is Visceral- this is generally used for squick. And squick is potentially a contraction of the words squeamish and ick and it refers to the negative emotional response to gross things. The Laconic version of this trope page says “if it has guts on the outside, it’s evil.”

Extreme melee revenge- I hate you I hate you I hate you 

Go into the light

Heart of gold, hair of gold- Innocent blue eyes- Carol Anne

Indian burial ground- you think that’s what’s happening but it’s said it’s not

Ironic nursery theme

I see dead people

Last note nightmare

Locked into strangeness

Mama bear- Diane running back into the house, stopping at nothing

Mood whiplash- the face tearing scene then the beautiful light ghost thing

Monster clown

Next Sunday AD- when something takes place in the future but it’s not actually to be science fiction or propose an alternate reality. It can be used to basically say like “this is why you didn’t hear about this major event”

Offscreen reality warp- the chair scene. Like what happened in the time that the camera panned away and came back, it would be impossible for that to have been done by a child, silently. 

Orphean rescue- refers to the  Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. 

Peek a boo corpse- dead bodies where you don’t expect them, which is most places arguably 

Red Herring- Indian burial ground

Say My Name

Suburban gothic

Third act stupidity – sub-trope of idiot ball. This necessarily creates tension so there’s actually a climax


Works cited:

Blackwell, Ashlee. (2014, November 20). PG is for Poltergeist… And How The MPAA Got It Really Wrong! Cinapse.


Good, Owen S. (2020, October 3). Poltergeist’s PG rating was a crime against kids of the ’80s. Polygon.


Lilek, Brooke. (2020). Horrors of Society: The Reflection of Societal Fears in American Horror Films. Digital Literature Review, 7.


Schager, Nick. (2017, April 14). How ‘Poltergeist’ Taught Us to Fear Technology. The Daily Beast.


Thompson, Robert J. (2019, July 1). Television in the United States. Britannica. 


The Editorial Staff. The 1980s. History.