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HOME ENTERTAINMENT : 'Poltergeist' Laser Disc Scarier Than Ever

July 29, 1994|BARBARA SALTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Our fascination today may be on the side of the angels, but a dozen years ago far darker spirits made us shiver in our seats, thanks to Steven Spielberg.

"Poltergeist," which he co-wrote with Michael Grais and Mark Victor, put the otherworldly into the special-effects realm of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic. Director Tobe Hooper and co-producers Spielberg and Frank Marshall concocted a host of frightening special effects that made most of us sit up and take notice, or dive under the chair.

If you saw only half of the scary 1982 film because you had your hands over your eyes or caught it on television or videotape in its ludicrous pan-and-scan version, MGM/UA's new letterboxed (at its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio), three-disc CAV edition ($60) is for you. Here is a chance to see it all one heart-stopping frame at a time, or even in slow motion, with full-gear Dolby Surround sound, in a beautiful transfer.

The story of a typical suburban family (with Craig T. Nelson as the father and Jobeth Williams as the mother) doing battle against not-so-nice-guys from the other side who want their young daughter (Heather O'Rourke) is an exercise in breathtaking special effects and storytelling.

An accompanying promotional film on "The Making of Poltergeist" gives us a glimpse of how difficult it was to pull off, but leaves us wanting more. "There was a special effect in every sequence," Spielberg notes, as we see him explaining one effect he has in mind. It's a reminder that a second audio track explaining what went into each shot and effect would have made this laser release so much more valuable. It is not enough just to add production stills and an international trailer. This was a missed golden opportunity.

Not as scary, and a lot more lighthearted, is MCA Universal's laser bonanza "Abbott & Costello Meet the Monsters Collection" ($100, three discs). The repackaging of Bud and Lou's encounters with just about every other movie monster delivers 5 hours and 33 minutes of funny frights. All of the films--"Abbott & Costello Meet . . . The Invisible Man" (1951), " . . . the Mummy" (1955), ". . . Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1953), ". . . Frankenstein" (1948)--have been issued singly.

Laserbits

New Movies Just Out: "Philadelphia" (Columbia TriStar, letterboxed, $40); "Blink" (Columbia TriStar, letterboxed, $40); "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" (Paramount, letterboxed, $40); "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway" (Warner, letterboxed, $40); "Car 54, Where Are You?" (Orion, $40); Don Bluth's animated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "Thumbelina" (Warner, letterboxed, $40); "Geronimo, an American Legend" (Columbia TriStar, $35, letterboxed), with Jason Patric, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman and Wes Studi.

Older Movies Just Out: "Lonely Are the Brave" (MCA Universal, letterboxed, $35), the 1962 Western featuring Kirk Douglas as a rebellious cowboy running from a modern age he doesn't understand or much like in a powerful Dalton Trumbo script, also starring Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau.

Coming Soon: "Major League II," with Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger, is due Wednesday at $35; "Chasers," also from Warner, with Tom Berenger, is scheduled for Aug. 10 at $35; Paramount's "Blue Chips," with Nick Nolte, is due Aug. 24 at $40; "Serial Mom," the black comedy starring Kathleen Turner, is promised from HBO/Savoy for September.

On Sept. 7, Hollywood Pictures/Image Entertainment will release a director's edition of "Angie," the Martha Coolidge film starring Geena Davis, that will include the director's audio commentary, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes view of the film, letterboxed for $50.

Also in September, Kevin Costner's revisionist Oscar-winning Western "Dances With Wolves" will finally come to laser with an hour of additional footage that includes material not seen in the expanded version seen on TV, letterboxed, at $125.

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