Diane Freeleng, Feminist Horror Movie Icon

My sister and I are HUGE HUGE HUGE fans of Poltergeist. It was one of the movies that played 24/7 the summer that we had cable as kids. Schlock Corridor makes the case for a feminist reading of Poltergeist (1982) – focusing on JoBeth Williams’s portrayal of Diane Freeleng as the take charge one:

“While Steven has a mock gun battle with his neighbor, Diane is giving Carol Anne her first understanding of mortality, creating an almost Egyptian-level sarcophagus for the corpse of Tweety.

“This is the first time the film presents us with one of its themes: only women can get things done. Throughout the movie it’s female characters who are forced to actually effect change, and it all begins with Diane’s tender ceremony for Tweety. Later Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Strait) is the glue that holds the parapsychology team together, then Tangina is the key to the final rescue of Carol Anne – which Diane must do herself while Steven can’t even hold the rope correctly.

She’s a cool mom who seems to understand where Dana is coming from as she goes through her adolescent angst – possibly because she was around Dana’s age when she got knocked up. She’s also a stay at home mom. In 2012 this character probably couldn’t exist – she would have to be a writer or a painter or sell crafts on Etsy because the modern movie world doesn’t truly respect stay at home moms. But for all of her fond remembrances of ‘the old days,’ Diane doesn’t seem unhappy to be at home with the kids. Steven’s adulthood has turned him into a person he doesn’t truly recognize – it’s turning him into James Karen, in fact – but adulthood has been better to Diane.

I like to think that it was Carol Anne’s birth that started it all, though. It certainly fits thematically with what comes later – her closet turns into a huge vagina, and she is returned from the Other Side in an ectoplasmic birth caul. The rescue of Carol Anne is a rebirth, almost quite literally when she and Diane aren’t breathing in the tub. It also helps explain why The Beast is interested in the girl. It seems unlikely that the Freeling’s pool is the first serious digging in Cuesta Verde, but it is plausible that Carol Anne was the first baby born on the development. That makes Carol Anne’s rebirth a cleansing new start, a reclamation of the birth process.

“Carol Anne as the focus also feeds into the film’s essential feminism. The Beast wants to use Carol Anne as a beacon to attract the souls trapped between this side and the other; it’s her life force – something that comes from the feminine – that attracts them. The Beast is specifically said to be male – a male entity that is abusing the warmth of femininity to devour innocent souls.

The diminutive psychic is the final element of the film’s feminist trilogy – the cool mom, smart doctor and tough as nails medium seem to make up the life cycle of childhood.”

Here’s the trailer for the new remake (with a male psychic – boo!!!):