As any horror fan knows, the family dog is usually the first victim of any violence, supernatural or otherwise. But, happily, “Poltergeist” pooch E. Buzz makes it through all of “Poltergeist,” although he may well have some white hair after all he’s seen.
And he helps alert his humans — and the audience — that something weird is going on.
E. Buzz is actually the first member of the Freeling family that we meet. The film opens with the TV turning to static as the broadcast ends. Dad Steven (Craig T. Nelson) is snoozing in an armchair in front of the TV while the dog cleans up whatever was left on the plate next to Steven’s chair.
The camera then follows the dog up the stairs, where he checks on Mom Diane (JoBeth Williams) and then the three children, ending up in oldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne)’s room as she has a bag of chips in bed with her — which the dog happily finishes for her.
It may be E. Buzz’s search for snacks that woke up youngest daughter Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke), who then goes downstairs and begins talking to the TV so loudly she wakes up the entire family.
While E. Buzz lives, the Freelings do lose another family pet: Carole Anne’s yellow canary Tweety. Diane and the kids put the bird in a cigar box and bury it in the backyard. E. Buzz, possibly aware there’s more buried under the house, begins to dig, but Diane stops him.
The morning after the “TV People” appear in the master bedroom — the famous “They’re here” scene — E. Buzz’s odd behavior is one of the first signs anything is wrong. He jumps on the bed and barks at the wall, then goes to fetch his ball, as if obeying orders from the beyond. Diane is puzzled, but shrugs it off. And then the kitchen chairs start moving on their own…
Later, after Carole Anne has been sucked into the other side, it’s the dog who helps alert the paranormal investigators that she’s present.
From the script:
E. Buzz prances into the room, looking up as if following on the heels of someone with a treat.
DR. LESH: “Look at the dog.”
He sits up on his hind legs and begs to no one we see.
DIANE: “Are you with us now? Can you say hello to Daddy? Say hello to Daddy, baby.”
(In the film, the line is spoken by Lesh’s assistant, Marty (Martin Casella), not Dr. Lesh (played by Beatrice Straight).
After more disturbing activity, Steven decides to send Robbie (Oliver Robbins) and E. Buzz away for their safety. The dog obediently follows the worried boy into the cab. (Notice how E. Buzz likes to ride shotgun.)
Everyone, including the dog, returns to the house after Carole Anne’s dramatic return and the medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) has — mistakenly — pronounced the house “clean.”
On their last night in the home, all hell breaks loose: The last we see of E. Buzz for a while is patiently waiting while Diane takes a bath. Amidst the final chaos, he re-emerges from the backyard, unscathed, to join the family in their frenzied escape before the house collapses completely.
Luckily, the nearby Holiday Inn takes dogs, so E. Buzz can join his traumatized family in the now TV-less hotel room. (It’s Room 237, if you hadn’t noticed.)
E. Buzz doesn’t save the day, but he does help find Carole Anne. Many a movie dog would have run as fast as they could from such a cursed house, but E. Buzz stays put, until his humans decide it’s time to finally time to go.
Now that’s a very good boy.
The dog’s odd name comes from a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Dan Aykroyd played an art critic named E. Buzz Miller. Aykroyd costarred in producer/screenwriter Steven Spielberg’s movie “1941” the year before.