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John’s Horror Corner presents Strong Opinions: on remaking Poltergeist

October 6, 2013

Two related horror franchises have recently been gaining traction in the movie rumor mills: Poltergeist and Paranormal Activity.  Now, Poltergeist (1982) and Poltergeist II (1986) stand as excellent proof that the best horror came from the 80s.  But Poltergeist III (1988), while watchable, suffered a noticeable drop in quality.  Similarly, I loved Paranormal Activity (2007) and Paranormal Activity 2(2010).  But sadly, just as with the Poltergeist franchise, things started to fall apart with PA 3(2011), and PA 4(2012) really just upset me.

Let’s be clear here, though.  I’m going to see every movie that they will ever make in these horror franchises, despite my skepticism.  And I hope they turn out well.  But cinematic history harbingers a disappointing future.  Below are some of my rantings on the issue of the Poltergeist remake.

Here are some of my concerns…

1. I simply don’t think this movie is ready for a remake/reboot.  In fact, perhaps it will never be.  Why?  Because despite the complete lack of CGI the effects remain effective and scary even to today’s audiences.  Just look at The Thing (1982); another EPIC horror movie with dated yet amazingly creepy effects.  They prequeled/remade/rebooted The Thing (2011) and focused all of their attention to filling the film with CGI monsters while paying no attention to the ever-tooth-grinding tension of the original.  They screwed up iconic scenes (e.g., the blood test), presented allegedly “different” characters who looked and acted just like the characters from the original (except for one female character), and gave me no reason to care when any of them were slaughtered.  I actually give a play by play of how they screwed up that remake. and  I’m horrified that this may happen to Poltergeist.

Hmmm…seems evil dolls have become a thing since 1982.

Here’s a scene with uber-limited special effects–basically none. Yet, this scene is waaaaay creepy. You wouldn’t think it by the image, but when you watch you see it–that clown doll is effing EVIL!

This was done with some sort of greenscreening and it took me off guard. It also looks really cool and weird.  When it moves those stilty legs, it looks creepy and scary.

Okay, I’ll admit this looks fake. But the clay-faced fakeness of this actually made it seem more surreal and off-putting. This was really hard to watch as he tore his own face apart!

Really hard to watch!

2.  Director Gil Kenan doesn’t have much experience.  Sure, he directed Monster House (2006) which is a children’s family-friendly horror comedy, and he did City of Ember (2008) which is a family fantasy-adventure movie.  Note the theme here, though…happy smiley family stuff.  Poltergeist may have been rated PG, but it was SCARY and would easily give even today’s R-hardened children nightmares.  There’s just not enough evidence to suggest that Kenan can handle this.  That’s not to say that fledgling directors don’t occasionally accomplish great things.  But I feel that this franchise reboot/remake deserves more of a proven track record.

3.  Speaking of proven track records, James Wan was originally slated to helm this project.  Now, I don’t think this remake should happen.  But if it did, I’d want James Wan above all others.  His work with Saw (2004), Dead silence (2007) and The Conjuring(2013) demonstrates the considerable attention he pays to building painful suspense, chilling moods, cold calculating evil characters and strong family unity when faced with supernatural adversity.  He has also shown us (in The Conjuring) that he will not tolerate his characters to make idiotic mistakes, nor does he allow them to become impractically strong, smart, etcetera.  He plays his cards just right and I love him for it.

Wan would have been perfect to remake this classic in which restless spirits from the other side reach out to a vulnerable little girl, Carol Ann.

4. AICN recently released casting additions to the Poltergeist remake, which now includes Saxon Sharbino as the older teenage daughter, Kyle Catlett and Kennedi Clements as their youngest.  But I’m most comforted by the casting of Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as the parents.  These strike me as smart choices–talented, grounded actors who don’t do horror.  Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor fit this mold well in The Conjuring.  Likewise Jared Harris and Jane Adams should serve as a good paranormal team akin to, but less attractive than, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.  This wise casting could save this movie if the director can keep up with the actors.

The original casting in Poltergeist felt perfect. But this portrait of an American family is reproducible.

She was perfectly weird.  She is NOT reproducible!  I hope they don’t even try.  Any medium can be a weird character, but if they go super short then they’re just trying too hard.

Some unawkward paranormal investigators for a change in The Conjuring, which has some Poltergeist-y elements.  I trust Jared Harris and Jane Adams are sculpted into their own unique characters, even though Adams seems a LOT like the big-haired spectacled investigator from Poltergeist.

JoBeth Williams was a regular, good mom.  Vulnerable to the thought of losing her daughter, but appropriately strong to get her back.  Lili Taylor felt exactly like that in The Conjuring.  I hope Rosemarie DeWitt can hold the role as well.

5. But even with good casting another question comes to mind…hasn’t Poltergeist sort of already been remade–even if only in pieces of recent movies?  I mean, there was no solid Cain-analogous character (Cain was in part II), but between the Insidious series and The Conjuring, not to mention the strange domestic occurrences in Dark Skies(2013) or the PAseries, I can’t help but to feel that we’ve covered most of the integral scenes.  I’m afraid people will compare the Poltergeist remake to these aforementioned movies which are, at least in part, Poltergeist remakes already.

Hmmmm….this does feel familiar.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. williamdprystauk permalink
    April 6, 2014 9:17 am

    All valid arguments! Well done!

    • johnleavengood permalink
      April 6, 2014 12:19 pm

      Well thanks. Admittedly these arguments are heavy-handedly steered by my personal, subjective taste. What do you think of this remake?


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