Alright, before we get started here I want to make a couple of things clear. First off, I really do enjoy the original Poltergeist from 1982. I think that Spielberg is a pro, and made did a good job bringing horror to the masses with his ghost story, and Tobe Hooper did a fine job directing it. It’s certainly not aged very well, but has some extremely delightful 80s stop motion effects and even has some frightening moments to it. That, and Zelda Rubinstein’s (RIP) unforgettable (and weird as hell) performance, make it an early classic to be sure. That said, it’s not the unflappable classic that people seem to make it, nor is it 100% perfect in every way.
The other thing I want to be clear about is that I don’t hate remakes at all. Do I wish there was more original content coming out for us horror fans? Of course I do. Do I think “classic” horror films are untouchable and see no benefit to a fresh pair of eyes and modern sensibilities? Hell. No. Some of my favourite horror movies took movies that I had already really enjoyed and applied a fresh twist to them, like Evil Dead, or even Fright Night (to a lesser degree). So, I don’t get upset when horror movies (or any movies) get remade or rebooted. Even if the resulting film is terrible, there is still the original. No one is taking away your original copy of the Ninja Turtles or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just because there is a new one.
So, with my position on the original and remakes in general made clear, let’s talk about Poltergeist.
A family whose suburban home is haunted by evil forces must come together to rescue their youngest daughter after the apparitions take her captive.
So, this time around we’ve lost Spielberg, Hooper, Rubinstein, and Nelson, and replaced them with screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (Robots, Oz The Great and Powerful), director Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Embers), Jared Harris (The Quiet Ones, Mad Men) and Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths), and these changes are kind of where it all starts to fall apart. We have a movie written and directed by people more familiar with working on children’s films, albeit particularly creepy ones (like Monster House). Not to say that someone can’t do both, but in this case it doesn’t work.
They’ve also replaced the mystic, psychic played by Rubinstein with Jared Harris doing a sort-of-British, sort-of-Irish sort-of-Scottish accent and he plays the host of a ghost-hunting reality show, which has the catch phrase “This House Is Clean” (Fucking. Groan.). Sam Rockwell is pretty bland in this movie, but he’s doing about as much as he can be bothered to anyways. No one really seems like they wanted to be there, which is really the most disappointing part. You would hope that a movie held in such high regard, would have people working on the remake with the same level of regard for it. This is not the case.
The flashy new CGI effects do create a few interesting visuals but overall it has a similar hollowness that I felt from that prequel to The Thing from a few years ago. Nothing really feels fresh or exciting about it, and even the visuals in the movie have the feeling of a “eh, whatever” attitude.
Then there’s the ending, now I can’t prove this, and it might be wrong, but the family is shown looking at a new house with a realtor and the house immediately struck me as a bit “Amittyville”-esque, and that got my back up, the family decides the house has bad vibes and leaves, and no one ever explicitly says that it’s that house, but somehow it felt like a cheeky little wink from the film makers that only irritated me more.
Overall, the movie doesn’t work as a movie on it’s own, or as a remake of the original. Skip it, that’s all, really. One final thing, the clown doll’s laugh in the movie is so fucking sinister before it’s even possessed that I wondered who in the actual fuck made that thing for children and not people who collect evil clowns.