Poltergeist is one of those slightly enigmatic films, chock full o' flaws from many perspectives--including my own--that is able to rise above its countless gaffes and play like a minor masterpiece. Unfortunately, it's much easier to point out the problems than it is to say why it works. Part of it may be more generational than due to anything inherent with the film. I first saw Poltergeist in the theater as a fifteen-year-old; many of the people who love this film are close to me in age and saw it during or near its first theatrical run. My wife, on the other hand, a bit older and from a different culture, basically hated the film. To her, there wasn't anything to overcome the flaws. On the third hand, things like ghosts scare her, and when I suggested we head down to the dingy, dirt-floored cellar of our building just for the hell of it after the film, she quickly declined, so it's hard to read exactly what her thoughts were.
For the first half-hour to forty minutes, Poltergeist is as much about life in suburbia as anything else. Implicit in the setting (and explicit in at least one of the film's trailers) is the fact that the house which is to serve as our primary locale is just like the house next to it, and the one next to that, and the one . . . The Freeling's, our family of protagonists, consists of pot-smoking parents--aging hippies who are now playing yuppies; a teenage daughter who is either on the phone or not in the same vicinity, physically or mentally, as the parents; and two young kids, a boy and a girl, the boy, at least, obsessed with pop culture (films, of course) like Star Wars, Alien, etc.