POLTERGEIST Packs a Paranormal Punch on 4K UHD

A long-awaited 4K restoration is finally heeeeere in time for holiday viewing.

As they settle into their idyllic home in the California suburbs, the Freelings are the model image of the American family. Removed from their wilder college days (yet still sneaking some pot around bedtime), parents Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) effortlessly keep the peace among their three children: rebellious daughter Dana (Dominique Duane), troublemaker Robbie (Oliver Robins), and wide-eyed, curious Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Carol Anne has been staying up late connecting with “the TV people,” who seem to move of their own accord behind objects in the Freeling home—climaxing with a staggering pyramid of dining room chairs and tables assembled in mere seconds. When the “TV people” claim Carol Anne for their own, Steve and Diane turn their terror into action, hiring a parapsychology team and an equally headstrong medium (Zelda Rubenstein) to save their daughter from horrors beyond the grave.

One of the legendary blockbusters of the Class of ’82, Poltergeist has thrilled and terrified audiences for four decades. Now, for its 40th anniversary, the lightning-in-a-bottle collaboration between The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg (fresh off Raiders of the Lost Ark) has received an immaculate 4K restoration from Warner Brothers Home Video.

While restorations of this scope may reveal more of the mechanics behind the visual effects magic than the filmmakers may have intended, this transfer of Poltergeist retains and augments the technical wizardry that makes the film so horrifying. Created at a period in between significant reliance on practical effects and a total embrace of CGI, Poltergeist sparingly uses the new tech toys at its disposal’ improved matte composition and digitally-created ghosts are among the time-tested gory practicals both Hooper and Spielberg used to great effect in their past work. The result is a horror film that feels like it truly straddles the world of the real and the supernatural. Its characters truly feel like they’re doing battle with forces that have a tangible effect on the environment around them, from hellish vortexes inside a child’s closet to a pool’s muddy pit, riddled with goopy, grimy (and all-too-real) skeletons.

Where Poltergeist truly soars, though, is in the strength of its ensemble cast. Foregoing a debate of whether these events are truly happening to its characters, Hooper and Spielberg immediately root us in the panic and anguish of parents who have lost their youngest child to forces they can’t understand, and augment this with the inability of scientific minds to lend any help whatsoever. Such an approach allows for a backdoor entry into Spielbergian wonder tinged with Hooperian horror, where both adults and children can marvel at the possibilities of life after death amidst the scariest moments such beings can muster. Nelson and Williams are incredibly effective as “every-parents,” playing to the idea that these are merely children who’ve gotten old themselves rather than sticking to tropes of parenthood that can rob characters of individual identity. While not given as much screentime, each of the Freeling children gives excellent turns, showcasing how each child’s reactions to ghostly goings-on can range from primal terror to total fascination.

Even with this wonder and wizardry, however, Hooper manages to make his horror just as socially potent and pointed as Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Where the shocks of Chain Saw felt limited to the avoidable horrors of back country Texas, Poltergeist places its phantoms within the walls where we feel safest: our own. The Freeling home isn’t some dilapidated mess on the fringes of society, rich with skin-crawling backstory—it’s a freshly-built home, one of many identical ones just off the highway. While there is something lurking underneath the Cuesta Verde neighborhood, its full origins are ancillary to the story at large. Instead, Hooper and Spielberg prioritize how more human and relatable monsters like greed and capitalism brought these terrors into our homes in the first place. The choice results in a sense of horror that feels wholly modern and compelling today, even 40 years after first being unleashed on audiences.

A horror classic that manages to make for perfect family viewing (even with a sequence involving a head peeled like an onion), Poltergeist is a must-have for any collection, especially with a vibrant, detail-rich new 4K transfer.


Poltergeist is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio in 2160p HEVC HDR10 for the 4K UHD, a restoration that is also transferred to 1080p HD for the supplementary Blu-ray. The main audio selection is an English 5.1-Channel DTS-HD Master Audio track, and English subtitles are provided for the feature film on both discs as well as the accompanying special features on the Blu-ray.

Additional audio options include French, German, Italian, Spanish (Spain), and Spanish (Latin America) in 2.0-Channel Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish (Spain), Dutch, Spanish (Latin America), Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

Much of Poltergeist utilizes an important interplay between light and shadow, finding horror in that nebulous darkness beyond the glow of a nightlight or lit closet. This transfer of Poltergeist preserves that visual transition between light and dark, whether in wide shots of the shadow-dappled Freeling home or in the wide-eyed closeups of its terrified inhabitants. Visual effects sequences are less decayed, matte-wise, than one might expect, and it’s possible some further judicious post-production may have cleaned up any wires or frayed FX edging to restore their dramatic effect without distracting signs of degradation.

The 5.1-Channel mix strikes a delicate yet bombastic nuance between dialogue tracks, sound effects, and Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score. All are spread evenly between speakers, creating a dynamic soundscape that places viewers directly within the action.

Special Features

The special features presented on the accompanying Blu-ray are ported over from the 2008 Blu-ray. They include:

  • “They Are Here:” The Real World of Poltergeists: A two-part examination of real-life poltergeist phenomena with interviews from paranormal experts. They evaluate the representation of the supernatural in Poltergeist, as well as the possibility of such horrors occurring in real life. Includes “Science of the Spirits” and “Communing with the Dead.”
  • The Making of Poltergeist: An archival featurette produced in 1982 for the release of the film, showcasing how the film’s various VFX sequences were executed.
  • Theatrical Trailer for the U.S. release of Poltergeist.

Poltergeist is now available on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Brothers Home Video.

Previous post THE FABELMANS or Portrait of a Filmmaker as a Young Man
Next post CHAINSAW MAN Recap — Episode 7: Do these episodes keep getting shorter or is it me?