****/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B
starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O'Rourke
screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor
directed by Tobe Hooper
THE LOST BOYS
***/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras C+
starring Corey Feldman, Jami Gertz, Corey Haim, Dianne Wiest
screenplay by Janice Fischer & James Jeremias and Jeffrey Boam
directed by Joel Schumacher
by Bill Chambers Although Walter Chaw's already written definitive reviews of Poltergeist and The Lost Boys for this site, so much time has passed since they were published that I feel obliged to say something original about these films before moving on to the Blu-ray portion of this review. Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist and Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys, each celebrating milestone anniversaries this year (fortieth and thirty-fifth, respectively), have aged unusually gracefully. Partly this is due to the Star Wars-festooned bedroom of Poltergeist and the comics-store hub of The Lost Boys being evergreen--though what was once indicated by Robbie's C-3PO lightswitch cover (his middle-class privilege) and Sam's pedantic knowledge of Superman lore (his lack of social life) may not come across as clearly to a generation of viewers that has grown up with Jedis and superheroes as the inescapable sum of pop culture. Moreover, these are not naïve films that invite condescension, and any doubts about their sophistication (aesthetic and otherwise) are laid to rest by the instantly dated attempts to drag them into the 21st century: Gil Kenan's remake of Poltergeist and the dtv sequel Lost Boys: The Tribe.
Poltergeist has its champions though perhaps fewer than it would if people knew whether to credit director Hooper or producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg with its auteur-ship. Spielberg, initially hyped to be making "land Jaws," distanced himself from the film's success, not wanting to be known for scaring the bejesus out of kids the same summer that E.T. cemented his image as the new Walt Disney and a helicopter crash on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie[i], which left two children (and actor Vic Morrow) dead, jeopardized it. Perceived as a hired gun, if not a figurehead, despite Spielberg taking out full-page trade ads touting Hooper's role as Poltergeist's sole director[ii], Hooper spent the next few years "exiled"--his word--before Cannon Pictures offered him a three-picture deal, the fruits of which did little to restore his honour. ("It was a hit picture and at the very least one would think that, regardless of the controversy--just by association--I should have gotten work," he told the LOS ANGELES TIMES. He's right.) Both men let sequels to Poltergeist proceed without them, for reasons that might be self-explanatory but have never, to the best of my knowledge, been publicly clarified.[iii]
Poltergeist may be the child of divorce, but on screen it's a harmonious marriage of sensibilities. It's Amblin-y because it depicts a middle-class family's encounter with the fantastic, but it's also another of Hooper's tripwire journeys into the American underbelly, complete with tainted meat, face peelings (it is poignant, in some ineffable way, that it's Spielberg's hands doing the fleshy unmasking), and sideshow figures like the diminutive über-medium Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein, who should've got an Oscar). There is a palpable artistic synergy at work in Poltergeist: the mom is pure Spielberg; her MILF-iness is pure Hooper. To put it less crudely, her indefatigable maternalism points to Spielberg, but Hooper highlights actress JoBeth Williams's sex appeal in a way that allows her to transcend the character's virtuousness. When she slinks into bed wearing only a long nightshirt and panties, ignorant of the dread coursing through the audience, it adds an undercurrent of sexual peril like the (in)famous low-angle posterior tracking shot of Teri McMinn's Pam in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It makes her vulnerable; curiously, to objectify her is to humanize her. The film is a seamless blend of antiseptic Spielbergian wonder and grimy Hooper viscera, of awe and hysteria, of will o' the wisps and desiccated corpses.
And it's obvious they share the film's antipathy for television. I think this had less to do with TV as a medium--Spielberg, after all, cut his teeth on episodes of "Night Gallery" and "Columbo" and the telefilm Duel, while Hooper helmed the miniseries adaptation of Salem's Lot for CBS in 1979--than with the burgeoning home-video market's threat to the sanctity of the theatrical experience. There is a telling (and dazzling) moment where apparitions composed of light descend the staircase of the Freelings' home and the paranormal researchers camped out in the living room rush to watch what their surveillance cameras caught. The cruddy, blown-out image on the video monitor is a veritable preview of what Poltergeist will look like in its VHS half-life. Television in this film is insidious, starting fights between neighbours and separating children from their parents. (Squint and the movie looks like it's predicting the divisive effect Fox News will have on society.) I find it interesting that TV in Poltergeist is represented predominantly by "The Star-Spangled Banner" and football. The vengeful spirits choosing television as their conduit to the corporeal world disrupts the nation's patriotic façade--which is ultimately what Poltergeist is about: realizing America is a gentrified graveyard. Sometimes, they only move the headstones.
Jaws on land, indeed. Here, as there, the real villain isn't the monster--it's the opportunist chasing a quick buck at the expense of public safety. (When I was young, I thought the mayor from Jaws (Murray Hamilton) and the developer from Poltergeist (James Karen) were the same actor, possibly the same character.) This is one of the last times Spielberg could credibly get away with condemning capitalism, so it helps to have the blue-collar Hooper working alongside him. What's great about Poltergeist, other than everything, is that the Freelings are good people but somewhat complicit in their suffering. Patriarch Steven (Craig T. Nelson), a real estate agent for the same planned community in which he resides, didn't know his bosses were building on cemeteries without relocating the bodies, but he also didn't ask. Wife Diane (Williams) does the Karen-esque thing of antagonizing the ghosts by delighting in their parlour tricks at first, putting a football helmet on daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) and watching with glee as invisible hands drag her little girl across the kitchen floor. A bitterly funny and tremendously well-observed exchange sees Steven "not all men"-ing Tangina and equivocating blame even with Carol Anne's life on the line:
TANGINA: Tell her if she doesn't answer you, she'll get a spanking.
STEVEN: C'mon, I've never spanked the children!
DIANE: Honey, please just tell her.
STEVEN: Carol Anne? Answer your parents or you'll get a real spanking from both of us!
Early on in the film, Carol Anne's budgie dies. She heartbreakingly buries him in a cigar box with licorice ("For when he's hungry"), a Polaroid ("For when he's lonely"), and a napkin blanket ("[For] when it's nighttime"), plus a flower to disguise the tobacco smell. But then she immediately says, "Can I get a goldfish now?" Out of sight, out of mind. A cut to a bulldozer callously dredging up and mangling the cigar box the following day suggests the Freelings don't have the high ground when it comes to profaning the dead. Though mostly a dud, 1986's Poltergeist II: The Other Side actually functions as an instructive bit of film criticism: In having Carol Anne inherit psychic powers and revealing the spooks of the original were members of a Peoples Temple-like death cult, the sequel proves the wisdom of leaving room for interpretation. The more exceptional the Freelings become, the less relatable they are; and the less abstract the cadavers are, the more it liberates the Freelings' conscience--and ours--of ugly historical legacies.
Both Poltergeist and The Lost Boys end with a killer punchline that cleanses the palate without undoing any goodwill; I sometimes wonder if either film would've had the staying power--personal or cultural--without their jokey final turns of the screw. Of course, Poltergeist's unfortunate legacy--the tragic early deaths of O'Rourke and co-star Dominique Dunne--stained the picture with a ghoulish cachet for all time, while The Lost Boys became indelible, I think, as a progenitor of modern YA. Set in the fictional seaside town of Santa Carla, CA ("Murder capital of the world"), it's a supernatural gloss on enduring delinquent tropes in which a teen transplant from a broken home, Michael (Jason Patric), falls in with the wrong crowd, a fanged biker clique all of leather, denim, mousse, and one dangly earring that's the vamps' equivalent of a garlic wreath: dad repellent. The movie's vampire lore is a glorified Instagram filter, so prosaic it's almost puerile, and its vision of eternal high-schoolers doesn't stand up to any more scrutiny than Twilight's, whose star-cross'd romance The Lost Boys predicts--though the inverted genders of the lovers also puts it in line with the same year's Near Dark. Despite sharing an R rating with The Lost Boys, Near Dark is how you tell this story for adults. Director Kathryn Bigelow managed an even more impressive version of this feat when she told it without the literal vampires as Point Break.
I realize I sound like I'm contradicting myself, having called The Lost Boys "sophisticated" above, yet its unpretentiousness feels like elegance now, and formally it's so accomplished as to make the dialogue largely unnecessary. It's cinema, in other words--and eye candy at that. (Few films have better "cast" a cinematographer: If Gordon Willis was "the Prince of Darkness," The Lost Boys' DP Michael Chapman was the King of Night Shooting, wresting an extraordinary amount of colour and mood and tactile detail from nocturnal darkness.) Still, there's no value in muting The Lost Boys: you'd miss a soundtrack that seems to be free-associating Patric's curly mane with Jim Morrison and Michael Hutchence, as well as a litany of quotable dialogue--"You're a goddamn shit-sucking vampire!" and "Death by stereo!" and on and on. Most of the good lines spring forth out of the mouths of babes, specifically Corey Haim's Sam, who accepts but by no means approves of big bro Michael's transformation into a vampire. Haim is wonderful, leaning into Sam's quirkiness--the way he sits in a bathtub sculpting shampoo horns and un-self-consciously belting out an obscure-ish blues song called "Ain't Got No Home" to his loyal dog Nanook, which, comic though it is, I recognize as a latchkey kid's howl into the void. The birth of a self-entertainer. And there's a neon-accented video store set that would be time-travel enough without the glimpse of VIDEO REVIEW magazine on the sales counter, a veritable Proustian madeleine. I'm sure I watched this movie at 13 to escape childhood--and here I am watching it at 47, delighted that it's taking me back there.
THE 4K UHD DISCS
Warner reissues Poltergeist and The Lost Boys on 4K UHD disc in spectacular 2.39:1, 2160p transfers, complete with HDR10 encoding. Poltergeist's slipcover is stamped with a warning to photosensitive viewers[iv], and all I can say is: heed it! This is a film frequently lit with strobe lights, oftentimes diegetically motivated (lightning, the flicker of television static) but always indicative of a supernatural breach. With high-dynamic range steepening the contrast between the baseline midnight-blue-tinged dark and those invasive shards of bright well beyond the capabilities of SDR, Poltergeist has been restored to the Laser Floyd show it was in theatres. Like E.T., Apocalypse Now, and the first two Indiana Jones films, the picture was shot on Kodak 5247 stock, whose virtues--chiefly, vivid colours and fine grain--help countermand the losses in detail of anamorphic cinematography and facilitate a crisp, luminous, vibrant transition to 4K HDR. This is as handsome a UHD presentation as I've seen, revitalizing a movie that's always looked good in the digital realm but not this good. Although I can't find official confirmation, it appears the optical effects may have been recomposited as they were for the UHD upgrade of the Indiana Jones tetralogy, since analog artifacts (print debris, thick matte lines, grain spikes) are all but undetectable in the money shots. That's an expensive and time-consuming process that requires excavating and, in most cases, restoring the individual film elements, but when you're Spielberg...anything goes.
The attendant 5.1 DTS-HD MA remix is touted as "new" but sounds a lot like the excellent 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track found on the 2008 Blu-ray with a few extra jolts of electricity. I always thought what we're hearing on that release represents the six-track soundmix attached to 70mm prints of the film--and maybe it does. The buried lede is that this disc also includes the original 35mm Dolby Stereo mix, again in DTS-HD MA but a 2.0 configuration. Toggling back and forth between the two lossless soundtracks demonstrates two things: 1) Poltergeist has an incredibly rich and complex sound design that stands the test of time, and 2) the 5.1 alternative is faithful in that it doesn't contain rerecorded effects. I wish I knew more about the provenance of the 5.1 version, but I love the earthquakes it delivers; it's your best bet if you want the full funhouse experience. The purists are taken care of for once, though.
Supplementary material is relegated to the accompanying Blu-ray--a new pressing that offers the 4K remaster in a 1080p SDR downscale. (It has a slightly warmer appearance than the previous BD.) The dreadful "They Are Here: The Real World of Poltergeists Revealed", a limb Poltergeist can't seem to shake, resurfaces here, where it's joined by Amblin co-founder Frank Marshall's long-suppressed "The Making of Poltergeist" (7 mins., SD), featuring B-roll and soundbites from Steven Spielberg, producer Marshall, and actor Craig T. Nelson. It's shot on film, so it has the texture of a serious documentary, but it's really just selling a prospective audience on the movie's suburban-ghost-story pitch and state-of-the-art f/x. Spielberg is the first person you see and hear, describing "the Beast" to the ILM team. It is insanely cool to have the curtain pulled back on stuff like the giant pink Hellmouth (while Spielberg calls it "strep throat," it's unmistakably a rectum whose like we'll see again in Hooper's Lifeforce), a massive rig made to "breathe" with pneumatic tubes and hand-operated pedals--not to mention the Freeling home, only the exterior of which is real. Spielberg, the de facto narrator, walks us through the shot of Diane and Steven right before she goes to "the other side" to retrieve Carol Anne, revealing that a fish tank was employed to accentuate the light's shimmering quality. The piece does not plead the case for Hooper, who is shown only briefly as he consults with an unidentified camera operator--but take that with a grain of salt, considering Marshall's close ties with Spielberg and the fact that he was seeking more autonomy at Amblin with side projects like this. (Steve Starkey, destined to produce Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future sequels for Amblin, edited it.) Poltergeist's lengthy trailer, in 1.78:1 and 1080p, rounds out the second platter.
The comparatively conventional CinemaScope lensing of The Lost Boys makes for a softer image than Poltergeist's, but the boost in dynamic range does improve clarity, and there's a patina of grain to reassure us that whatever noise-reduction came into play was used sparingly. I love the garish intensity of the Santa Carla Boardwalk's signage now--you can almost smell the corn dogs frying. Even the refrigerator lamp at the end has a newfound authenticity; those flashlight beams during Sam and the Frog Brothers' raid on the vampire lair? They shine so intrusively now that it heightens the scene's sense of danger. Bathed in metaphorical blood, the climax is more legible than ever before, the red lighting no longer oppressively opaque or vulnerable to smear. My one quibble with the transfer would be that flesh tones can look a little overcooked, particularly in daylight exteriors. Perhaps Dolby Vision would've tightened up the saturation, though it's a moot point. Likely the six-track mix prepared for the film's 70mm blow-up, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is enveloping and occasionally playful (as when Kiefer Sutherland's voice takes over the soundstage before he materializes for the final showdown), but there's a harshness to it that resists amplification. Sadly, the four-channel Dolby mix heard at most cinemas in 1987 is nowhere to be found. This is another two-disc set with a Blu-ray that contains, in addition to a fresh pressing of the film struck from the 4K remaster, the rash of bonus features Walter covered thoroughly in his review of the 2004 Special Edition DVD.
114 minutes; PG; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), HDR10, BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); UHD: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French DD 2.0 (Stereo), Castilian Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Latin Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Portuguese DD 2.0 (Mono), Italian DD 2.0 (Mono), German DD 2.0 (Stereo), BD: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, French DD 2.0 (Stereo), Castilian Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Latin Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Portuguese DD 2.0 (Mono), Italian DD 2.0 (Mono), German DD 2.0 (Stereo); UHD: English SDH, French, French SDH, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, German, German SDH, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish subtitles, BD: English SDH, French, French SDH, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish SDH, Portuguese, Portuguese SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, German, German SDH, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish subtitles; BD-66 + BD-50; Region-free; Warner
- The Lost Boys
97 minutes; R; UHD: 2.39:1 (2160p/MPEG-H), HDR10, BD: 2.39:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); UHD: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French DD 2.0 (Stereo), Castilian Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Latin Spanish DD 2.0 (Mono), Italian DD 2.0 (Stereo), German DD 2.0 (Stereo), BD: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English DTS 5.1, French DD 2.0 (Stereo), Castilian Spanish DD 2.0 (Stereo), Latin Spanish DD 2.0 (Mono), Italian DD 2.0 (Stereo), German DD 2.0 (Stereo); UHD: English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian SDH, German SDH, Dutch, Danish, Czech, Finnish subtitles, BD: English SDH, French, French SDH, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Castilian Spanish SDH, Latin Spanish SDH, Portuguese, Italian, Italian SDH, German, German SDH, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish subtitles; BD-66 + BD-50; Region-free; Warner
[i] Poltergeist practically already was Twilight Zone: The Movie, owing as it does an unpaid debt to the Richard Matheson-scripted "Little Girl Lost" from the show's third season.
[ii] The problem may have been that Spielberg did so under orders from the DGA.
[iii] Only the second film shared any of the original's behind-the-scenes talent--co-screenwriters/co-producers Mark Victor and Michael Grais and composer Jerry Goldsmith. Visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund quasi-returned in the form of his company, Boss Film Corporation, producing the f/x.
[iv] A keepcase insert further clarifies: "This film contains sequences of flashing lights and other visual elements that may cause dizziness or discomfort or trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy or other photosensitivities. Seizures can occur in people without a prior diagnosis of epilepsy."