Oh, it’s here, and this one hurt. Walking into this, I, like most horror veterans, knew it’d be terrible, but I ended up leaving the theater absolutely mortified and disgusted; mortified by the craptastic quality, and disgusted by the positive reactions of the audience, who probably don’t know what they’re missing in an age where horror standards have severely diminished.
Good God, I’ve got a lot to say about this one, with my first raging question being: why?
Of all things, why remake Poltergeist? Wasn’t the original just fine the way it was? Did the amateurish production crew honestly think they could measure up to Steven Spielberg’s ‘80s movie-making prime? Not a chance. And that’s why this was made. It’s another cash in with dated horror tropes in the guise of a classic.
To properly illustrate why Poltergeist ‘15 is such an abomination to its predecessor (no sequels included), I’m going to take this opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison of the two. If you’ve seen the original, strap yourself in.
The Crew Back-to-Back
The original story was written by Steven Spielberg and co-directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame—need I say more? The former was constantly pumping out masterpieces which included another little sensation that year entitled “E.T.” And Gil Kenan of the remake? He directed Monster House in 2006. With a title like that, you’d think he’d do a haunted house movie right. The same can be said for the producers of P ‘15. We have Sam Raimi, who produced the 2000s Spider-Man flicks, Roy Lee, who has a huge past of horror hits (The Grudge, The Strangers, The Ring) and blunders (Quarantine, Dark Waters, along with several other poor sequel projects), and Roger Tapert who made Evil Dead. After seeing this disaster, that all somehow made sense.
Differences in Story Adaptations
**MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
*Before continuing, I should point out that they changed the family’s names to rightfully set the two movies apart from each other as much as possible—for the better, in my opinion, but I will be using the original names to preserve the sanctity of the original and assert its timeless charm.
Harrumph! Or…Scoff! Beware! Cliché-ridden horror usually rears its ugly head right from the opening and the new one wastes plenty of time on them. P’15 gives us the (pardon the following unfortunate pairing of words) the dead on arrival, done to death family-moving-into-a-new-house trope. How many times have we seen this? What’s the point of that if the original paranormal catalyst is the manipulation of Carol Anne’s innocence through static?
Speaking of which, the focus initially centers around her brother Robbie to make for boring tours around the house. Eventually, once the plot gets going, the youngest daughter begins talking to spirits through their television static, which eventually invade the home and cause increasingly physical disturbances (ergo: a poltergeist.) Later on, she is taken away through a portal in her closet. Far-fetched as it may sound; both films manage to accomplish this just fine, albeit with a few hiccups coming from P’15.
For example, remember the creepy toy clown from the original? It was Robbie’s and he was frightened of it, sure, but I’m almost positive that it didn’t come from inside the walls after being “left by the former owners.” That kind of ridiculous, lazy writing seems ripped right off of The Conjuring. Only, in that movie, the house had a long and dark history and would have old trinkets—this one was constructed in a new neighborhood over a relocated cemetery. Seems somewhat illogical, doesn’t it? And did the clown really need a backstory?
That then got me thinking about something else. A lot of things in P’15 seem like needless staples resurrected from the source material that feel like they need to make an appearance just to please the audience. Things like the clown are nice, but originality would have been welcome, too. No risks or surprises here, they play it safe and predictable.
Anyway, the family’s source of aid during their fight to reclaim Carol Anne is where the films diverge sharply. The original family called for paranormal investigators that used surveillance technology to monitor the entities’ movements throughout the house while listening for their daughter’s voice. A bit later, they bring in the one and only Tangina (played brilliantly by the late Zelda Rubinstein). This woman defined her role as the childlike psychic and spoke to our hearts with her gentile speech and iconic lines. P’15’s paranormal crew calls in a T.V. ghost hunter (that they just happen to know?) with stupid one-liners. The filmmakers’ marketing research of catering to the T.V. investigatory ghost hunting hype, I’ll say right now is doing nothing but pissing off their veteran audience. Where’s the genuine, caring outsider? Why does it have to be modern anyway? Besides, the guy who plays him says his lines like he’s reading right straight from the script; there’s no feeling to his tone at all other than his awkward accent. What’s oddly worse is the fact that their teenage daughter Dana has a crush on the fifty-something old duff. Not sure I get that new addition.
Check out Tangina’s amazing monologue for how it’s really done.
One of the major differences occurs when the time comes to go in to the portal and retrieve Carol Anne from “the Beast.” Mom Diane goes in as a sign of her love in the first one, but her son Robbie goes in her place in the second one because… they had such a strong bond? I’m not quite sure why. Like other horror tripe, these kinds of movies are really shallow on development. But you see, that is why the original’s works. It allows Tangina to inquire about the family and who is close to whom while still keeping the suspense; something that is nowhere to be found in the remake. Wanna know why? Before going into the portal, get this: they use a toy plane with a camera to navigate “the other side” with perfect piloting skills. Essentially, Poltergeist ’15 has jumped the shark before any even more painful sequels come out.
As we come to the ending, it again differs depending on the version.
The original has the spirits epically told to “cross over” by Tangina. Some remain behind and what results has family moving out and driving away in fear after their house implodes into the portal, leaving nothing in its tracks. The family flees to a small motel and righteously shoves the T.V. out the door. Dad Steven looks into the camera as if it were a Twilight Zone episode, then retreats inside. Roll credits.
Simple, but mission accomplished.
P’15’s version sends the ghost hunter into the portal to stop the malevolent spirits himself…somehow, leaving us wondering until the credits if he makes it out (do you really care?). The family moves again like in the original, but yuk it up when they’re shown a similar house by a realtor and drive on. What a happy ending for these despicable, totally unaffected, non-traumatized people.
There isn’t a lot to compare here. The effects in Poltergeist were acceptable for 1980, but are a little dated by today’s standards. However, I would much rather watch a blinding strobe light pass off as an unknown realm than see a CGI interpretation that looks like it’s from The House of the Dead. Effects aside, I think it demystifies anything supernatural about the spirits and their plane of existence. I find that it’s much more effective keeping your audience wondering and wanting more. Telling worked a lot better than showing in the past.
Message to P’15 filmmakers: you’re losing points if the one good, cheap scare you have (a squirrel of all things) outdoes whatever you’re trying make look nightmarish and creepy.
Notable Cast Comparisons
I already mentioned the role of the psychic, so here are a couple more crucial roles I thought were handled extremely poorly.
Let’s start with the most annoying character in P’15, Sam Rockwell as Steven Freeling. Practically every line of his has a hint of sarcasm as if he took lessons from a Bill Murray wannabe. It makes for a dismal, detestable character you just want to see offed in the first act. In fact, his phony reactions certainly do not warrant the audience to care. What else is there to say except nothing looked as genuine as Craig T. Nelson’s performance, fearing the unknown. Eat your heart out.
Carol Anne is the life of the entire franchise. She drives the flow of the whole movie and if you can’t nail anything close to Heather O’Rourke’s enrapturing performance of pure innocence, than your movie’s screwed. Alas, such is the fate of the P’15. They miscast her older, she can’t scream, and can’t emotionally connect with the audience. Nothing, not even the famous line, “They’re here,” can make Kennedi Clements memorable here. Were they even trying?
Lastly, the new family is terrible combination of the above overall. Kyle Catlett as Robbie doesn’t help the acting any, nor does his odd, supernatural-obsessed, unpleasant sister Dana (Saxon Sharbino). Also on the sign-on-anyone cast wagon is a forgettable Rosemarie DeWitt as their mother, Diane. Paired with the Rockwell father cheese, they are a family without souls. I can’t say I buy their wanting their daughter back as they make jokes.
They say the original Poltergeist is cursed attributed to the strange, tragic deaths of some of its cast members. And perhaps this one will revive it; this travesty of a remake will doomed to be the bane of the classic’s legacy. It’s that bad. I wouldn’t consider Poltergeist (old or new) a horror movie franchise per se. The original told a story that embedded itself in film Americana and remains the best out of them all because it got so much right and stands tall alone. The atmosphere and tone were beautifully balanced, swapping between playful and serious moods, all while feeling so natural. This new piece of garbage doesn’t live up to horror because it misses the mark on all of those levels and so much more than the aforementioned problems. No one in their right mind should take P’15 seriously because no one in the movie does. They’re missing the crucial element of love here. How can anyone be expected to return to a movie devoid of relatable emotions? Similar to the plot, I’m predicting that the old will rise again to send the flagrant newbie back to where it came from.
Do yourself a favor and watch the 1982 Poltergeist instead. It’ll all make sense once you shed some tears when you embrace this masterpiece.
To quote Tangina:
“Cross over, children. All are welcome.”