Childhood Heroine #14: The Lady from Poltergeist
When I was a kid, there was a period when my mother and I lived with my aunt Karen, uncle Don, and cousin Kim, who was about my age. My parents weren’t separated or going through a rocky patch, or at least a rockier patch than usual; they just lived in separate states for a while. Kim and I shared a bedroom and we put my baby brother in a closet. Only much later did it occur to me that this was in any way odd.
As far as I can recall, Kim and I spent roughly 75% of that time watching Poltergeist on HBO and freaking ourselves out. Many of the effects–the levitating toys, the cups and saucers scooting around the kitchen, the evil tree–registered as more funny than scary to me, which is probably a sign that I was not a well child. But that just meant that it came as an extra shock when something really scary happened, mostly the guy going into the bathroom and peeling his face off for no reason, which invariably drove us out of the rec room screaming.
The best character was, of course, Tangina, the medium hired by the movie’s whitebread family to rid their shoddily-constructed suburban home of its 999 unhappy haunts. Between forcing Mom and Dad to yell at their daughter trapped between dimensions (a scene that now shocks me more than the face-peeling guy) and trying to make the girl go into the light–i.e., DEATH–when she thinks rescue is impossible, Tangina is a hardass. She’s so tough that it’s easy to forget how completely she fails at getting rid of the damn ghosts. Still, actress Zelda Rubinstein was tough enough to survive the urban-legendary Poltergeist Curse, which is pretty impressive.
Last month, for my mother’s 60th birthday, the extended family gathered at Key West for a week-long, booze-soaked celebration that was immediately drowned in a freak rainstorm that lasted the exact length of our visit. One morning my cousin Kim and I were stuck indoors, rain drumming steadily outside, and there, on basic cable, it was: Poltergeist. We huddled close to the TV and let it suck us in, falling back to that time when the whims of adults made us sisters, trusting Tangina to guide us home.