By M. Faust,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
One of the all-time great haunted house movies.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Despite frightening ghostly activity, the dedication the parents show to saving their children still stands out as positive.
Positive Role Models
The central family unit is tight and remains close throughout the film. The parents will do anything to save their children, with similar energy between siblings.
Richard Lawson, a Black actor in a small supporting role, plays a doctor who tries to help the family. Diane, the mother, is not a generic damsel in distress: She travels into the portal where the spirits have taken her daughter in order to rescue her. Although it's suggested the poltergeist has to do with homes being built upon a cemetery, it's made clear that it's not a stereotypical "Native American burial ground."
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Violence & Scariness
A character rips the flesh from his face (though eventually we see that he's hallucinating). A young boy is attacked by a ghost-inhabited tree. Near constant sense of fear and peril.
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Mild swearing, including "s--t" and "son of a bitch."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The parents are seen smoking marijuana and are implied to be regular users. A family friend brings beer over for a game night.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the classic '80s horror movie Poltergeist touches on many things that are frightening to kids (and some adults), including scary shadows in the dark, monsters in the closet, and separation from family. A character rips the flesh from his face (though eventually we see he's hallucinating). A young boy is attacked by a ghost who inhabits a tree. A girl is kidnapped and taken into a netherworld where she's out of reach from her family. Ancient burial grounds and skeletons are mentioned and seen. Mild swearing includes "s--t" and "son of a bitch," and adults are shown smoking marijuana and drinking beer.
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Based on 52 parent reviews
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Great Introduction To The Horror World, Dependent On Your Child
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What's the Story?
Written and produced by Steven Spielberg, POLTERGEIST is an '80s horror classic and one of the great "haunted house" movies, as a family's "perfect" suburban home becomes the target of a ghostly invasion. Steven and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) and their three kids are happy in their new home in a California housing development built by the company Steven works for. They don't notice at first that 5-year-old daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) is receiving messages from voices that speak to her through empty channels on their TV set. But Diane soon begins to see more physical evidence of a ghostly presence, one that moves things around the kitchen and scares the children during the day. The unseen beings grow more malevolent, inhabiting a tree that breaks a window and attacks the Freelings' son, Robbie (Oliver Robins). When the spirits take Carol Anne away, the Freelings call in a team of experts, including a psychic who holds the key to the other world.
Is It Any Good?
This 1980s story of a family assaulted by ghosts remains compelling and thrilling. Poltergeist's strong cast makes up for once top-of-the-line special effects that now look a bit dated.
The film works because the characters are so well written that we can't help but root for them and wish for their safety. And the writers don't abuse the fact that we've come to care about them: We're scared at the ordeals they face, but they all come through, saved by their love for one another.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what makes Poltergeist so scary. Are the effects -- the ghosts and other things that you see -- frightening? Are there any emotional moments that are equally scary?
Did you identify with any of the characters?
Did this movie remind you of moments in your childhood when you thought you weren't alone in your room at night?
Why do you think people sometimes like watching movies that frighten them?
- In theaters: June 4, 1982
- On DVD or streaming: January 25, 2000
- Cast: Cindy Williams, Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams
- Director: Andrew Adamson
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: June 1, 2023
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