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John’s Horror Corner presents Strong Opinions: on remaking Poltergeist (2015), a second opinion now that we have producer Sam Raimi and a trailer to comfort us

February 5, 2015


Two rather 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.  Today I want to focus on Poltergeist.

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 of future installments, spin-offs, reboots or remakes.  And I hope they turn out well.  But cinematic history harbingers a disappointing future.  Back in 2013 I wrote John’s Horror Corner presents Strong Opinions: on the Poltergeist remake when the first announcements of the new Poltergeist project were being made there was obviously no trailer…nor a set or a completed script for that matter.  I was quite skeptical and presented some of my rantings on the issue of the Poltergeist remake.  But now we have a trailer and a July 24, 2015 release date….and it has perked my interest.  Sure, lots of trailers may look great and promise the moon and then deliver crap (e.g., Annabelle), so I won’t get my hopes too high just yet.

Here are some of my concerns…

1. Before I simply didn’t think this movie was ready for a remake/reboot.  In fact, perhaps it would never be.  Why?  In 2013 I had originally thought this because, despite the complete lack of CGI, the effects remain effective and creepy even to today’s audiences.  Just look at The Thing (1982); another EPIC horror movie with dated yet amazingly creepy effects that hold up to this day.  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 back in 2013 I was horrified that this may happen to Poltergeist.  But in 2013, when I was praising the scary quality of Tobe Hooper’s original film, I had not seen it in a looong time.  Having seen it this year, I agree that it is still a great film but I no longer consider it an effective “scary” movie to an adult audience.  To kids, yes, very scary.  To adults…?  Nope.  Not horror fans anyway.  The upcoming remake was criticized on Cinema Blend and other horror forums as being a horror movie for kids.  But that’s actually what the original would serve to be today!  I still love the original, but it is no longer scary, I no longer feel tension or urgency, and no–it’s not because I’ve seen it before and know what’s going to happen.  It’s just more youth-centric in its effectiveness and execution.  So maybe, just maybe a contemporary approach is exactly what we need.  Yes.  A contemporary approach directed by someone who was scared of Poltergeist as a child, but now finds it to be more of a “great horror story” than a “scary movie” (for a general audience).

Poltergeist certainly had some influence on other films.  Hmmm…seems evil dolls have become a thing since 1982.  Not that Poltergeist was the only evil doll movie of its time.

Here’s a scene with uber-limited special effects–basically none. Yet, this scene is waaaaay creepy back in the day. 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 to kids.  To today’s adults, however, it may fail to impress.

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!  This scene may have stood the test of time…and the test of gross-outs.  But in all fairness, this scene would have never been MPAA-approved for a PG movie today.  Really hard to watch!

Below is another scene that just wouldn’t scare adults today.  In 1982 the effects were not worn out yet and this trick had not been played so much before.

2.  Back in 2013 I feared that 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 (back in 1982) and would easily give even today’s PG-aged children nightmares.  There’s just not enough evidence to suggest that Kenan can handle this project.  HOWEVER, that’s not to say that fledgling directors don’t occasionally accomplish great things.  I love being surprised by young directors and I hope to be surprised this summer!

3.  Speaking of proven track records, James Wan was originally slated to helm this project.  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 making 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.  But, even without Wan things may be working out in horror fans’ favor.  After all, Sam Raimi produced our upcoming remake!  And that actually brings me a lot of comfort.  I’d like to think Kenan listened when Raimi offered his advice.

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 had long ago released casting announcements for 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 (The Quiet Ones) 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, in fact, 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 academic lady 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 PA series, 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.  You know what?  I don’t care.  I enjoyed all of those movies, borrowed or not.  BRING ON THE REMAKE!

Hmmmm….this does feel familiar, though.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2015 1:27 pm

    Awesome article, put a lot of work into it. Check out my opinion of the remake –

    • johnleavengood permalink
      February 9, 2015 4:13 pm

      So pessimistic…yet I fear your pessimism is all well-founded. I just hope you’re wrong.


  1. John’s Horror Corner presents: Critically comparing the Poltergeist (2015) remake to the original Poltergeist (1982) | Movies, Films & Flix

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