Zelda Rubinstein Heads into the Light at 76

28 Jan

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Sad news today folks.

Actress Zelda Rubinstein, best known for her role as the clairvoyant Tangina in 1982’s Poltergeist, has passed on at the age of 76. She had been hospitalized in Los Angeles since December after experiencing the failure of 2 major organs. She died yesterday of natural causes at the Barlow Respitory Hospital in Los Angeles.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends.

Although she wasn’t in many films, Rubinstein, of small stature and haunting voice,  made an impact when she arrived to the ghost infested house in the Spielberg produced Poltergeist. She was only onscreen for a short time, but her character is the thing I remember most fondly about the film. Her delivery of a portentous speech in the movie’s midsection gives more honest chills than the special effects extravaganza that follows it.

As Tangina she stares into the desparate eyes of Jo-Beth Williams and Craig T. Nelson and tells them the truth about the entity that took their daughter:

There’s one more thing. A terrible presence is in there with her. So much rage, so much betrayal, I’ve never sensed anything like it. I don’t know what hovers over this house, but it was strong enough to punch a hole into this world and take your daughter away from you. It keeps Carol Anne very close to it and away from the spectral light. It LIES to her, it tells her things only a child could understand. It has been using her to restrain the others. To her, it simply IS another child. To us, it is the BEAST. Now, let’s go get your daughter.

zeldaIt’s a superb speech and it tells us more about the villain at the heart of Poltergeist than we learn anywhere else in the entire franchise. The monsters later are simply manifestations and the demonic preacher of Poltergeist 2 and 3 just a flimsy straw man. The power and fear generated by this film lie not in those words, but in Rubinstein’s careful delivery of them. Her performance shapes the movie and gives form to the nightmare hiding out of sight.

She portrayed Tangina as a sassy southern belle who’s seen more than her fair share of the paranormal, and it was her humor, her authority, and the way she makes this diminutive old woman larger than life and a force to reckon with.

When the Freelings try to pull Carol Anne back from the other side, it is Tangina who’s calling the shots. It is the most intense and dramatically poignant moment in the picture and she commands it.

Angustia%202 But lest one   think her work limited to that one role, Zelda was active in the business all the way through to 2006. That last year she made small but effective cameos in both the delightfully dark  Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon  and the exasperatingly awful Southland Tales.  She was also narrating the paranormal television show Scariest Places on Earth.

In addition to returning to two Poltergeist sequels ( of rapidly declining quality), Zelda also had a long-running stint on Picket Fences as Ginny Weedon and a plum role as a demented mother to a madman in the cult horror thriller Anguish. In both roles, she was mesmerizing and in Anguish she also steals the show, although her character is singificantly more twisted than Tangina.

In the end, she was one of those fine spices that the acting world needs–a performer who brought true Character to her characters every single time out. She will be missed. In her wake, she’s left some great work.

Cheers Zelda! Be at peace.

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5 Responses to “Zelda Rubinstein Heads into the Light at 76”

  1. koutchboom January 28, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    So can this be considered part of the Poltergeist curse or not?

    • Bartleby January 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

      Probably not. Her mother did die however while she was filming Poltergeist III. The story supposedly goes that she felt it at the moment her mom passed, during a related photoshoot. She left the production of Poltergeist III shortly thereafter, which may be why her character is killed off in idiotic fashion halfway through.

      Of course she is back there for the finale.

  2. The Great Fatsby January 28, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Good night sweet princess.

  3. xiphos0311 January 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    The light finally lost.

  4. hagiblog January 29, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    At least she got to live a long life and left behind some performances we can enjoy.

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