Many people don't believe in ghosts but, as a fellow once said of himself, if I ever saw one, I would be scared to death. Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (Jobeth Williams) and their three children live in a very traditional suburb. When a multiplying poltergeist (the German term means "noisy or mischievous spirit") takes over their house and kidnaps their youngest daughter, Carol Anne, (Heather O'Rourke), they go to pieces.

Objects move in the kitchen — Diane at first finds them funny and can't wait to show them to Steve. Then the ghosts become malevolent — the house, it turns out, was built over a graveyard. The couple call in a parapsychologist (Beatrice Straight) and a psychic (Zelda Rubinstein). Diane loves her daughter so much that she is willing to throw herself into a weird wandering world in order to get her back.

Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper, is co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg. The movie is very scary; the special effects are far more effective than those used in The Exorcist or The Amityville Horror. The psychic world remains for most of us an unexplored country that both frightens and fascinates. Diane's horrific confrontations with the evil spirits who haunt her house are high-energy battles. Unlike other screen scare machines of recent years, this one puts us in the midst of a family's struggle against forces they cannot understand or manipulate. And because we care for Diane and recognize the dynamism of her feelings for Carol Anne, we cheer when love triumphs over chaos.