The remake of the 80s horror movie. What could possibly go wrong? When rumours circulated that this was going to be made as a 3D kids’ movie I just couldn’t get my head around it. Then the trailer dropped–a trailer for a regular horror movie. A relief, yet, still a film I wanted to condemn for being a remake of what I and many others consider as a classic. Except the trailer intrigued me–it looked like it could
deliver, and perhaps a polished version of one of my favorite films wouldn’t be such a bad film…
The film sticks pretty much to the premise of the original; family life in a home with weird goings on, caused by spirits drawn by the youngest of the family–Maddie–who is suddenly abducted into the spirit realm by trapped ghosts set on using her to crossover ‘into the light’. So, did it work?
As a horror? It has a creepy air, with the house seen through Griffin’s existing anxiety, the scares are a mix of jump scares and the impact of what’s unfolding in the house, and they are evenly paced even if they are a little restrained. Like the original, and with the ‘Insidious’ movies, the scares diminish with the characters moving into the fantasy-like spiritual realms. The focus on Griffin gave the movie a more direct emotional inroad, with his anxiety setting him apart from everyone else, and his fear of the house only exaggerating this.
As a remake? The family are no longer riding the success of the 80s, this is a family making do in the decline of the 10s, which is thoughtful, even if it adds zero the film. The movie is more focused on the middle-child, Griffin, a boy troubled with anxiety–way before things get scary for everyone else. The renaming of Carol-Ann as Maddie instantly lost the film some geekbump moments for me, knowing that there wouldn’t be any shouty ‘Don’t go into the light Carol-Ann!’ lines being dropped. Bit of a lost opportunity, but I guess it’s respectful of the original. Not so respectful of the original is a scene where the parents find out that their estate is built on a graveyard and someone jokes that at least it wasn’t on an ancient Indian burial ground–I took that as a little bit of a snipe. I know that was a conceit of ‘Poltergeist 2’ but the way it was delivered just felt a bit off. Maybe I’m being a little defensive though.
As for the haunting and the horror… It walks in the originals footsteps but with better shoes. The effects looked great, so it has that over the original, which has some weak effects if judged by today’s standards–even though I don’t think it takes away from the impact of the film. In the remake we get the creepy phenomena, the clown doll(s), the attacking tree, the wormhole cupboard, a grabby corpse and *spoiler?!* a collapsing house–all with 21st century effects and direction. It adds little of its own but for somewhat of a red-herring build-up of the nearby electricity pylons as sinister in some way, and a very tense scene with a drill–even if the guy under threat is being a dumb-ass horror movie character. Despite this the remake lacks the pervasive creepiness that I find in the original. The original was also supported by a Jerry Goldsmith score which delivered a sumptuous quality that brought out the wonder, the creepiness, and the balls-out horror of the close of the original film. This being missing or unmatched probably stopped this being ‘Poltergeist’ for me. Music can really give a film an identity.
Tangina Barons is irreplaceable as the medium–period–but this film’s medium, Carrigan Burke, while hardly as distinctive as Barons, is fun and a good updating. This medium is no longer some crank–he’s a celebrity of a reality ghost hunt show! Nice touch. They did flesh out the lead of the psychic investigators a little, but only a little. Griffin being the character that drives the story instead of the parents narrows the focus and tightens the film, yet although the family stick together in this version they lack the heart that the original family brought to the movie. Griffin’s guilt at feeling responsible for not having tried to save his sister reshapes the end of the movie, departing from the plot of its source material but hardly making the film original to any note. In my opinion, the remake also lacked the courage of the original which delivered the wildly off balance tonal shift of the erupting graveyard in the closing act. The remake essentially upped the scale of all the original set-pieces but completely omitted that, with only a token touchstone of the grabby corpse in the garage early on.
I would give the Poltergeist remake three possessed clowns out of five. On it’s own merits it’s a fairly good horror movie and worth a watch. It satisfied me. Or maybe that was the Ben & Jerry’s… As a remake it’s a pointless exercise and is a poor retelling of the well-shot and captivating original directed by Tobe Hooper with all the feel of a Spielberg. Which then summons up the resentment in me–what were the studios thinking in remaking something like this? For cynical me, my answer is that this film is nothing but a cash-in on the title that fails to capture the spirit (sorry) of the original. Given the choice, I’d never choose this over the original classic.
Too harsh? Or about right? What did you think?