Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Composer: Jerry Goldsmith

Label: Rhino Music / TCM

Catalogue Nr.: R2 72725


"They're Heeeere!" Everybody knows the tagline from the Steven Spielberg production Poltergeist (1982) in which an ordinary family is moving to a new home in the suburbs of Southern California where they witness supernatural activities like moving chairs or trees going crazy. Then their little girl Carol Ann suddenly disappears into another dimension and the rest of the family is trying to rescue her. A rollercoaster ride through the world of the spirits begins right within their house. The film was not so much a horror movie but more of a spooky ghost movie with a great story and excellent special effects. It became a huge success over night that was only overshadowed by Spielberg's own classic E.T. The Extra Terrestrial from the same year. Spielberg's concept of putting ordinary everyday-people in extraordinary situations really paid off in both films.

The score:

Producing Poltergeist was the perfect opportunity for Steven Spielberg to work with a different composer than his friend John Williams. The entire post-production of the film was supervised by Spielberg who had always been an admirer of Jerry Goldsmith's work for movies and thus Goldsmith became his first choice for the haunting music in the film. Goldsmith himself was very positive about the collaboration with Spielberg and obviously had no problem with translating the concept of the film into music, having worked on various other fantasy and horror films before. His score for Poltergeist is bearing lots of the composers trademarks and can be seen as a combination from the best of everything he did for films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Planet of the Apes (1968) and Capricorn One (1978), culminating within this classic score.

The CD opens with an arrangement of the national anthem in "Star Spangled Banner" and continues with "The Calling / The Neighbourhood". Brooding underscore is dominating the first half of the cue with weird low-key synthetics and string effects before the first hints of Carol Anne's theme shine through. The theme is among the most beautiful compositions done by Goldsmith with its innocent tone. It is nicely introduced in this track, first played on a celesta, then by flute and an upbeat fast-paced variation for strings near the end of the cue. Brooding underscore follows in "The Tree" with nervous flutes, woodwinds and low-playing tuba creating a musical portrait of the menacing ancient tree in front of the family's new home. Carol Anne's theme makes an extensive appearance in this cue performed by lush strings. Unfortunately the cue was dropped from the film.

"The Clown" contains nervous woodwinds whirling around a rhythm for low bass and rambling piano which slightly resembles parts of the composers work for Planet of the Apes (1968). Outbursts of menacing atonal music can be heard in the middle of the cue followed by low-key suspense music for strings and a short statement of Carol Ann's theme performed by harp. "Twisted Abduction" starts with nervously bouncing bass and whirling strings before the tree is reaching out for the kids and all orchestral hell breaks loose with lots of brass and some percussion playing bouncy, mainly low bars ala Capricorn One (1978). Occasionally, ethereal choral parts are interwoven in the chaos and creating a mysterious atmosphere. Suspense music and another hint of Carol Ann's Theme is closing the cue as the family is realizing that the little girl disappeared into the next world.

"Contacting The Other Side" contains a sad variation of Carol Anne's theme played by woodwinds that goes into mysteriously floating orchestral sounds and then into nervous music for flute and strings. It is interesting to hear Goldsmith carefully revisiting some of his V'ger material from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) for the ghostly activities though the ideas in this score don't have the mechanic feeling of the predecessor. A more religious motif is introduced in "The Light", beautifully performed by strings.

"Night Visitor / No Complaints" goes into an outburst of screaming brass before ethereal legato strings take over to underline the appearance of ghosts. These strings are reminiscent of the music for Spock's character in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There is also a mysterious 5-note motif for the ghosts that is slightly reminiscent of the Nostromo theme from Alien (1979). This motif is mostly performed by woodwinds playing extremely low bars which dominates the suspenseful underscore in this cue. "It Knows What Scares You" and "Rebirth" are the real highlights of the score because both contain of several variations of the religious motif which functions as the bridge between our world and the next as the family is trying to rescue the little girl. While "It Knows What Scares You" is rather low-key, "Rebirth" unleashes the full beauty with choir and strings creating a floating feeling interrupted by sudden atonal outbursts. Again, a lot of this material will remind the listener (and especially the Goldsmith fan) of the V'ger sequences from Star Trek though with a more untidy construction.

"Night Of The Beast" has more screaming brass during its second half which continues into the finale cue "Escape from Suburbia" before a full performance of "Carol Anne's Theme" performed by a children voices is closing the score. It can be exhausting to listen to all these dramatic atonal passages throughout the score but that does not take any of their effect in the film away. It will probably take some time until you will discover the full brilliance of this magnificent piece of art but I am sure you will acknowledge that Goldsmith really delivered here and went far beyond the typically blatant horror film underscore.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg



Score as heard in the film: 97%

Score as heard on CD: 89%

TOTAL: 93%


The presentation:

Rhino Music's presentation of the score hardly leaves any wishes. The sound quality is vibrant and has been superbly remastered, the booklet contains extensive liner notes about the film and the score with a brief cue-by-cue analysis and comments by Spielberg and Goldsmith. Some of the cues even contain material that was not used in the film or were edited into lengthier cues. This is actually the only downside because some cues are pretty long but actually consist of several smaller pieces.

Presentation by the Label: 87%



This is a classic of spooky music. Goldsmith perfectly captured the mysterious beauty and the threatening terror from another world within his music. A lot of orchestral trademarks from the composer's other work culminate in this magnificent score. It is also a very consistent work than most other horror scores with several themes and motives working together but even if you love spooky music and atonal orchestral chaos then Poltergeist is a must-have. All others will find the beautiful Carol Anne's theme very appealing. Of course the score is loosing when you separate it from the visuals especially due to some lengthy passages of atonal music that can be hard to follow especially during your first listen but as soon as you get into it you will love it.



01.  The Star Spangled Banner (01:30)
02.  The Calling / The Neighborhood (Main Title) (04:07)
03.  The Tree (Outtake) (02:26)
04. The Clown (05:12)
05.  Twisted Abduction (06:56)
06.  Contacting The Other Side (05:10)
07.  The Light (02:05)
08.  Night Visitor / No Complaints (09:07)
09.  It Knows What Scares You (07:37)
10.  Rebirth (08:23)
11.  Night Of The Beast (03:51)
12.  Escape From Suburbia (07:10)
13.  Carol Anne's Theme (End Title) (04:19)