Tobe Hooper’s original Poltergeist is a great film and the story of its production has become legend, so even a good remake’s doomed to sit in its shade. Apocryphal tales of producer Steven Spielberg taking the film out of Hooper’s control have never been fully discredited, and don’t forget how real corpses were used for the flooded pool sequence. That bad decision stoked rumours of a curse surrounding the Poltergeist trilogy (also, four cast members died in a relatively short space of time during its making), and thus a PG-13 ghost story is now mentioned in the same conversation as The Omen. But, besides all that nonsense, 1982’s Poltergeist is just a damned good family-in-crisis scare-fest.
Fast-forward over three decades, and we arrive at the somewhat inevitable remake from Ghost House Pictures—who also made the deliciously gruesome, resolutely humourless remake of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, who serves as producer for Poltergeist ’15. The setup is exactly the same, as the Bowen family—unemployed Eric (Sam Rockwell), writer Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), and their three kids, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and Maddie (Kennedi Clements)—move into their new home in the suburbs, only to discover it’s a hotbed of supernatural activity.
In both films, the root cause of the family’s unearthly disturbances are their homes being built on an old burial ground; but while the original’s subtext played on fears of multichannel television’s corruption of the children of the hippie generation, Keenan’s remake takes broader swipes at… well, electricity. Uh, yeah. Power lines hang ominously close to the Bowen residence; sparking and humming to herald paranormal activity. If this is a suggestion electricity is bad news, then it’s a lame statement to be making. It’s very surprising this new Poltergeist doesn’t take aim at the ‘evils of the internet’ (surely the modern age’s round-the-clock television analog).The film actually opens on a close-up of a pixelated zombie on a video game, so it’s tempting to guess it once did. But if so, what happened?
Of course, Poltergeist ’15 wasn’t made to comment on modern society or the state of contemporary families—beyond a halfhearted backstory explaining its patriarch is newly redundant, hence his family’s need to downsize. No, the only thing on director Gil Keenan’s mind is following Poltergeist‘s story beats—updating some elements when possible, and using modern effects to make the uncanny goings-on more convincing than ever.
Some of these updates are admittedly good fun, and I must admit the remake did a better job explaining where the Bowen’s youngest daughter vanishes to. One could argue it was scarier left to the imagination, of course, which I can’t honestly argue against, but I still enjoyed its visual of ghostly hands pressing up against the inside of the TV young Maddie gets lost gazing into. And when we eventually visit ‘the other side’ through Maddie’s bedroom closet/portal, we’re treated to a memorable landscape of restless skeletal bodies and clawing hands. It reminded me of the nightmarish Hell sequences in Francis Lawrence’s Constantine, actually, which was also felt alive with demonic creatures.
Sadly, beyond a selection of beautiful images to look at, Poltergeist isn’t scary or inventive enough to justify your time. It doesn’t help that a hundred other films have lifted ideas from the ’82 version, which makes Keenan’s approach feel less like a straight remake and more like a Paranormal Activity or Insidious wannabe. And there are some outright missteps along the way, too—the worst being replacing Zelda Rubinstein’s unforgettable psychic Tangina with Jared Harris’s Irish occult expert/TV personality Carrigan Burke. Fans of Hooper’s film will audibly groan when they notice Tangina’s catchphrase “this house is clean” has been updated as a dumb hash-tag for a cheap reality show. Now that’s horrifying.
- Theatrical Cut in 3D (1 hour 33 mins.) – Self-explanatory, 3D Blu-ray exclusive.
- Extended Cut – Self-explanatory, Blu-ray exclusive.
- Alternate Ending (2 mins.) – Self-explanatory.
- Gallery (1080p, 1:03) – A selection of production photos.
- Theatrical Trailers (4 mins, total) Presentations of the film’s two trailers.
Cast & Crewdirector: Gil Keenan
writers: David Lindsay-Abaire (based on the film written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais & Mark Victor)
starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris & Jane Adams.