A Ghost Hunter's Legacy: How 'Poltergeist' Influenced 'Insidious'
Well, it's that time of year again, when children come to your door demanding candy, and every other movie on TV is a horror flick. Whether you're a fan of scary movies or not, horror is one of the most influential and fascinating genres in cinema, and any student of film can benefit from studying its classics (just like they can benefit from watching any movie!) Tribeca Film is celebrating the month by looking at the influence of classic horror films on more modern ones. Click below to check out the influence the "ghost hunters" from 1982's classic Poltergeist had on the 2010 screamer Insidious!
Poltergeist, directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and produced by Steven Spielberg at the height of his early-80s powers, was an instant classic. It was a genre-bending horror film that, unlike Hooper's earlier work, didn't feature much in the way of gore, but did have lots in the way of shocks and innovative cinematic technique. It was also one of the first fright films to feature a team of quasi-scientific paranormal investigators whose job is to contextualize the spooky goings on and help the family.
One of the members of the team is Dr. Lesh, played by the wonderful actress Beatrice Straight (who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for the 'stop what you're doing right now and go watch it' film, Network, with only 5 minutes and 40 seconds of screen time, which is currently the record for shortest winning performance.) Tribeca describes her character's significance:
Dr. Lesh is the paranormal expert called in by the Freeling family after their daughter goes missing. She ultimately gets overshadowed by the more memorable character, the medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), but Straight is an Oscar-winning actress and she has a handful of scenes with JoBeth Williams that really humanize what is essentially a surreal tale.
James Wan's 2010 Insidious is a film that owes more than a little to Poltergeist, in its plot about a family trying to recover their child from an other-worldly influence. According to Tribeca, in Insidious, the character of Elise (Lin Shayne) is clearly a call-back to Straight's chararacter in Poltergeist, "from the brass-tacks way Elise speaks to the Lamberts about the realities of hauntings to her cottage-industry tech team at her disposal."
In film, as in all art forms, everything has been done before (and probably better) by someone else, so, as Tribeca Film so succinctly puts it, "If you're going to be influenced, be influenced by the best." Amen.