I was about to head to college when Eminem released the Marshall Mathers LP, so I was at the perfect age to hear him ask “Marijuana is everywhere / where was you brought up?” on “Drug Ballad”. By that point almost everyone I knew had probably smoked, but I was such a square that I was completely clueless. It wasn’t until I actually got to college that I realized how omnipresent weed was, and then I had to take Eminem’s question seriously. How had I missed it for all those years? Where the hell had I been raised?
There’s a scene early on in Poltergeist where the two parents who are soon to be battling evil spirits are hanging out in their bedroom after the kids have gone to bed. The wife is smoking a joint while her husband is rolling the next one on top of a biography of Ronald Reagan. This is in a PG rated movie! A movie that whole families probably went to see. And if I had seen it as a kid I would have had no idea what they were doing. I’m not saying that I would have thought they were smoking tobacco. I’m saying that I literally would not have registered the fact that they were doing anything with their hands or acting strangely at all.
That scene was the strangest scene in the movie for me. Yes, there’s a lot of other kooky stuff – it is a movie about ghosts taking over a house, after all, so a few scenes of dripping ectoplasm are to be expected - but that was the scene I expected the least. It was a great reminder of how this era of films is so different from how it is now. The film doesn’t judge them for their indulgence, nor does it ignore it; I suspect that now such a detail would either be skipped entirely or alluded to as proof that these people were flawed parents.
As far as the rest of the movie goes, I have to say I was impressed by how much funny stuff snuck into what I was expecting to be a more or less straight forward horror movie. There’s a good scene that sets up how mundane their life is pre-poltergeist attack where the pet bird dies and the mom is caught by the youngest daughter trying to flush it down the toilet. I also liked the scene where the mom shows her husband that if you sit in one spot on the kitchen floor you’ll get pulled by invisible hands towards the living room - she puts her daughter in a football helmet before making her be the living example of this supernatural feat. My biggest laugh was probably when the kids got in a cab to go to their grandmother’s house till their own house was de-spooked and the dog trotted up to the cab’s door, stopped, had a wistful look back at the house, and then trotted into the cab’s backseat.
Given how serious I was expecting this to be, that was a pleasant surprise. Hell, it was a more pleasant surprise than finding out that I was the only one who wasn’t lighting up all the damn time.