Lack of originality is a major lament of many horror fans in 2015; we devour each and every new film that’s tossed our way, hoping against hope that THIS will be the horror movie that breaks the trend, that THIS will be the one that reminds us what it was like to be really creeped out . . . like when we were kids. Our favorite horror films are the ones we can’t let go of, the ones that got under our skin and kept us from fully believing that “it’s only a movie.” So when we hear that one of these classics is being “reimagined,” “rebooted,” and/or “remade,” we balk, eyebrows raised in skepticism. The phrase “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” comes to mind — for example: 2010’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” 1998’s “Psycho,” and the blasphemous drivel that is Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” (yes, I hated it #sorrynotsorry).
However, while bad remakes can at least spawn energetic comparative conversations about the good ol’ days of horror movie-making, the biggest sin of them all is a remake that doesn’t even make a dent — films that make you question why the time and money was spent at all, since there’s nothing new or interesting added (bad OR good). And unfortunately, this is the case with Poltergeist, the remake of the 1982 classic of the same name.
Unemployed Eric (Sam Rockwell, “The Way Way Back”) and stay-at-home mom Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt, “Men, Women & Children”) move their three children into a new home with the hopes of beginning anew, and this house is “the least sucky house in [their] price range.” The house has a few quirks — the bannister delivers static electricity shocks now and then, there are power lines pretty close by that Kendra (Saxon Sharbino, “I Spit on Your Grave”) is less than thrilled with, and the closet in one bedroom is apparently stuck closed. At night, small power surges occur all over the house, activating light bulbs, electronic toys, and, of course, the television. Young Griffin (Kyle Catlett) wakes up, wanders downstairs, and finds his little sister Maddy (Kennedi Clements) answering unheard questions emitting from the static on the TV; she replies, “I can’t see you.” “Can Griffin come, too?” and “Yes, I can be brave.” She calls her new friends “the lost people,” warning her parents first that “They’re coming,” and shortly thereafter, “They’re here.”
Deciding that their six-year-old is playing with imaginary friends, Eric and Amy dismiss the odd occurrence until Maddy’s TV friends make their move and kidnap her during chaotic attacks on the other children. Desperate to get their daughter back, Eric and Amy call in parapsychologists from a nearby college and they are told their time to rescue Maddy is very short as she is being used by spirits caught in a type of purgatory who want to cross over into the light. When the parapsychologists find themselves in unchartered territory, they call in Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris, “The Quiet Ones”), a haunted house reality star, whom they all hope will bring the little girl home safely.
In 1982, producer Steven Spielberg teamed up with director Tobe Hooper to give us the original tale of a family who moves into a new house and is terrorized by supernatural entities. This is the film that made children really afraid of the trees in their backyards; this is the film that made you check the back of the closet REALLY thoroughly; this is the film (along with Stephen King’s miniseries “IT” — ALSO coincidentally being remade . . .) that EVERYONE cites as the reason they’re afraid of clowns. So, in remaking this classic, director Gil Kenan and writer David Lindsay-Abaire decided to change very little — the tree, closet, and clown are still present and accounted for. The new CGI tree attack is actually pretty well-executed and they’ve upped the ante with the clown scene — beware, if this is a phobia of yours! Unfortunately, they’ve replaced 1982’s fantastic Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) with cookie-cutter reality show host Carrigan Burke. Tangina’s iconic “This house is clean” has been reduced to a hashtagged catchphrase, and it just doesn’t deliver the same thrill. Neither does this remake.
It’s hard to recommend a film that brings nothing new to the table. Even though there are good performances by Rockwell, DeWitt, and young Clements (whose freckles and big blue eyes make her a pretty darn good Carol Anne for 2015), Poltergeist simply rehashes old tropes that horror audiences have grown tired of seeing. Fans of the original film will be disappointed by the lack of new thrills and scares and new viewers will basically reject it as a ripoff of other movies that successfully deliver the atmosphere and tension that’s missing here (ironically, films like “Insidious” that deliberately paid homage to 1982 original).
To top it all off, Poltergeist is also being screened in 3D. If your curiosity is going to get the best of you and you decide to check this one out after all, I certainly can understand that, but do NOT see the 3D version. There’s not a single moment (cheap gag or otherwise) worth the extra bucks; spend those dollars on a new copy of the original film instead.