It Knows What Scares You essay

Scott Hyder’s article “Poltergeist: It Knows What Scares You” is an homage to Steven Speilberg’s movie Poltergeist, but amidst Hyder’s gushing, he also turns a critical eye toward the subtle but important difference between quality horror movies, fright movies, and suspense movies. Although Hyder admits that “a mere synopsis simply cannot give a real feel for [Poltergeist’s story],” he does begin with some plot detail before moving into a thoughtful discussion of the importance of both character and score to the film’s supremacy (Hyder).

He concludes that “a horror movie [. . . ] cannot rely on terror, anger, and disbelief to hold its audience for two hours” and goes on to generalize that “if a horror movie has [like Poltergeist] a well-developed plot with superior actors and an excellent score to accompany their emotions, then it should be a sure winner at the box office” (Hyder). Hyder compares Poltergeist with Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and the original Psycho; in fact, he not only compares them, but he claims that Poltergeist’s special effects place it in class of its own.

Having classified movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street as more fright-based (i. e. less satisfying and less successful), he concludes by saying that unlike movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the believability of what occurred in Poltergeist makes it superior in terms of audience satisfaction and box office success. This, according to Hyder, places Spielberg’s movie into the special area of Horror known as Suspense. I found Scott Hyder’s piece interesting; however, there were parts I disagreed with.

First, his comparison of Poltergeist with Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and the original Psycho seemed ill-founded, and in part contrary to his hypothesis. Both Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist are extremely violent, gory, frightening movies, and most of their characters are one-dimensional and do not beg an audience for sympathy. The original Psycho, like Hitchcock’s The Birds broke new ground in storyline, character development, and acting, and even implying Poltergeist has a similarity with, let alone a superiority to either of these is simply poor analysis—it reeks of Hyder’s favorable prejudice towards Spielberg’s film.

The other area that stood out to me as not well thought-out occured when Hyder discussed believability and mentions John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Croneberg’s Scanners as movies doomed to lesser success than Poltergeist (or similar films); his explanation is that neither fits the realm of possibility, but I think that is of less relevance than timing: no matter how good a film is in any or every area, if the viewing audience isn’t ready for it (for whatever reason), it will not be remembered as “good,” and it not will it enjoy commercial success.


Hyder, S. Poltergeist: It knows what scares you. Retrieved September 13, 2006, from http://www. acsu. buffalo. edu/~rrojas/scott. html. Hyder, S. (2005). Poltergeist: It knows what scares you. In Axelrod, R. B. , Cooper, C. , Warriner, A. (Eds. ), Reading critically: Writing well (7th ed. ). (pp. 380-383). Boston, Mass. : Bedford.