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September 04, 1988|Kevin Thomas

In terms of simple, flat-out, roof-rattling fright, the 1982 Steven Spielberg-produced Poltergeist (ABC Sunday at 9 p.m.) gives full value, but it's an instance of a very slight, credibility defying story weighed down by lavish special effects. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are the attractive, likable couple who move into a nice tract house with their kids only to encounter awesome supernatural horrors.

In the new TV movie Higher Ground (CBS Sunday at 9 p.m.) John Denver plays a former FBI agent who ends his 20-year career to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a bush pilot in Alaska.

The Man Who Wasn't There (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m.) is a dim, laughless 1983 comedy (released in 3-D) starring Steve Guttenberg as a lowly State Department clerk who's swept up in an international caper to gain possession of a miraculous chemical that can make people invisible.

What writer-director John Sayles has captured exactly in his 1983 Baby, It's You (NBC Monday at 9 p.m.) is the fever pitch of an "unsuitable" first love, fueled by the heady attraction of opposites. Set in Trenton in 1966, Sayles' film falters in its last third, but it explores the question of class and unequal opportunity with humor and tender insight, and the performances of Rosanna Arquette and Vincent Spano as its passionate, almost innocent lovers make the film well worth seeing.

The 1975 Cooley High (Channel 5 Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.) shows what the black American can be when creative talents are given an opportunity free of the strong sex-and-violence requirements of exploitation pictures. A bittersweet, nostalgic coming-of-age drama inspired by its writer Eric Monte's own experiences, it stars Glynn Turman as a witty, bespectacled Chicago high school youth quietly determined not to end up as a factory worker.

The 1986 TV movie Women of Valor (CBS Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is an unabashed testimonial to the courage of the U.S. military nurses who were imprisoned by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II. As such, it focuses on the brutal hardships and torture they endured rather than the inner resources on which they drew or the psychic price they paid to survive. Susan Sarandon and Kristy McNichol star.

The first day of school is always hard on both mother and child. But what if the child is 52 years old and his mother 75? Try imagining what this must be like and you'll get some idea of the impact of Ira Wohl's 1980 Oscar-winning documentary Best Boy (Channels 28 and 24 Tuesday at 10 p.m.), which depicts with the utmost love and sensitivity the gradual, painful process pf Wohl's retarded older cousin Philly leaving home at last.

Errol Morris' inspired 1979 documentary Gates of Heaven (Channel 50 Tuesday at 10 p.m.) centers on two California pet cemeteries, their owners and their customers. Morris discovers that the way people feel about their pets reveals what they feel about nearly everything else. Remaining detached, Morris allows his average, everyday people to come across as they are: alternately pathetic, shrewd, sensible, kind, foolish and often hilarious in their staggering tastelessness.

The 1984 Racing With the Moon (ABC Thursday at 8 p.m.) is a small wonder. A miraculously assured film set in a Northern California town, it brims with love, insight and a double-edged understanding: of the fine kids (played by Sean Penn and Elizabeth McGovern) whose story it is, and of the time itself, Christmas, 1942, a kind of last gasp of national innocence. Director Richard Benjamin and writer Steven Kloves understand the emotions of the era but don't get mushy about them. Penn is heartbreakingly good as an utterly decent youth who grows up before our eyes, and McGovern, as the new girl in town, is radiant.

Open Admissions (CBS Thursday at 9 p.m.) is a new TV movie starring Jane Alexander as a speech professor doing hack work at an urban university and dreaming of pursuing her Ph.D at an Ivy League college. Dennis Farina is her husband, who has trouble holding a job, and Michael Beach plays one of her students, who sees the university as an escape from the ghetto even though he reads at a fourth grade level.

Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (Channel 13 Saturday at 11 p.m.) is one of the most beautiful color films ever made, a poetic turn-of-the-century love triangle set against a wheat harvest in the Midwest and involving Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard.

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