Craig T Nelson
It's not one of the scariest movies ever made, but it has a lot going for it as a horror film, mainly a spooky atmosphere and a solid group of characters. Director Tobe Hooper does a great job building up the tension and frights, from the eerie (the self-stacking chairs) to the horrifying (homeboy ripping his own face apart). By the time the end rolls around and all hell breaks loose, you're already on edge for the family and sucked in to the chaos. And thank God for practical effects. Even if some of the effects seem dated, they're still quite effective. Even the potentially sillier set pieces, such as the tree eating or the closet black hole. add a sense of more tangible terror because it's real, in-film effects. Plus you have the added bonus of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic score escalating everything.
The filmmakers also realize the importance of the characters, and take their time setting up the the family as real people before they go all batsh*t. (Love the mom and pop smoking pot after the kids go to bed!) Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams both put in solid, believable work as the parents, especially when things get more emotional after the disappearance of their daughter. Even the kids are pretty decent actors, even if the oldest daughter was pretty pointless as a character. All in all, the film presents a nice combination of mystery and a sense of escalation.
And to credit the conspiracy theorists, there are a ton of Spielbergian touches from, certain framed shots to overarching themes. Not saying the rumors are true, but you can bank on the fact that it's a well put-together movie no matter who's responsible for it.
Extra Tidbit: The shot of the chairs rearranging themselves and balancing on the table was actually done in one take with a little practice.