So it’s time for another episode of Original vs. Remake, because Hollywood is obsessed with retelling successful stories from the past in a bland, less intense fashion. I’m beginning to notice a trend on my ‘Original vs. Remake’ articles, the old ones always win! I’m not biased, I always give remakes a chance, because there’s always the odd chance we might get a good one. Unfortunately, 99.9% of the time remakes are shit, or as is the case with this new Poltergeist remake, a lesser version of the original. The original Poltergeist trilogy started with one fantastic film: Poltergeist (1982), a Tobe Hooper film. Tobe Hooper as some of you may know is one of the masters of horror. He was the guy behind the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Salem’s Lot (1979) amongst a slew of other horror films. Hooper’s Poltergeist was a film that captured the imagination and frightened audiences back in 1982, why? Because it was a spectacle, it was made to wow us and frighten us. It wanted to make us squirm in our seats. The filmmakers didn’t just want to tell a spooky story, something they did splendidly well anyways, no, the idea behind the original Poltergeist was to razzle dazzle us as well, give us a magic show. And that they did, the supernatural shenanigans were an awesome spectacle to behold. When ghosts appeared, you knew you were in for something special. That’s one of the elements I loved the most about Poltergeist (1982), the effects. The guys at Industrial Lights and Magic really went the extra mile to do something awesome.
I mean, back then they’d actually have to build the ghosts from the ground up, which of course gave the visuals a tangibility that is sourly lacking in the new version. Those slimy tentacles that caught little Carol Anne looked freaking real, not so with the computer generated ghosts on this new version. I will admit that the visual effects on the new one are slick looking, but they are simply put not better than the original. Those days of cool effects seem to be gone forever, replaced by computer animation and it’s really sad. That artistry that the Industrial Lights and Magic guys pulled off, it was pure magic and illusion. I long for movies that mix both things, the practical with the computer generated. When a filmmaker uses computer generated images to enhance, not to take over the visual effects…then it’s magic. A recent example of this would be the awesomeness that is Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). Sadly, everything is computer generated today, and it takes away from that feeling old movies had of being a magic show. I sincerely miss that.
Craig T. Nelson fights some ghosts in Poltergeist (1982)
Why is the modern horror film so toned down these days? It’s all about one of the worst inventions ever made, the dreaded PG-13 rating. It’s sad, it truly is. I mean on the first one, the tree that comes alive and tries to eat poor Robbie Freeling looked like some sort of monster, trying to gulp down the little kid, on the remake they toned that whole scene down. The tree tried to eat the kid on the original film! Not so in the remake. Here the tree grabs the kid, that’s it. I guess anything that was too crazy was eliminated; it’s the Modus Operandi of modern Hollywood. The producer, Sam Raimi, knows what horror fans want in a horror film, he’s given us some of the best horror films ever; the Evil Dead films. Yet he is playing ball with Hollywood, producing the kind of films they are asking of him, not the kind of horror films he would make. Hollywood doesn’t seem to care that people like cheesy, people like crazy ideas and concepts, that’s why we go to the movies! We don’t go to the movies to see “reality”, we go to see escapism, at least in these kinds of movies we do. So when a tree is going to come alive and eat a kid, we want exactly that. Not a toned down version of that.
Honestly it’s starting to feel a whole lot like George Orwell’s 1984 around here. In that novel the government doesn’t allow people to feel intense emotions, everyone’s supposed to be emotionless all the time, all this because intense emotions supposedly lead to war and all that. In reality, it was a technique to control the masses, keep them from revolting against the oppressive government, to keep them from expressing themselves, saying what they want and feel. I think a similar technique is being used in Hollywood films of today. Why is Hollywood so afraid to be intense? Is there something wrong with feeling intensely? I want that spine tingling feeling, I want that jolt, that’s why I go to see horror films; afterwards I go home to reality. But for two hours, I want to escape man! There was a time when the occasional good remake would slip in, but nowadays, wow, all the remakes are just bland renditions of the original. Total Recall (2012)? Bland. Robocop (2014)? Beyond bland and back again. Poltergeist (2015)? Bland again. It’s just sad. Let’s count the ways in which this new Poltergeist film is bland when compared to Tobe Hooper’s original special effects extravaganza.
The Freaky Bowens
First, as is to be expected, there were a few changes, for example, the family in this new film isn’t “The Freaky Freelings! The family whose house disappeared!” Nope, these are the Bowen’s the family who goes through everything the Freelings did; only they aren’t the Freelings. Why the change? Why is the little girl not Carol Anne? Isn’t yelling out “Carol Anne!” a million times one of the most iconic things about the old Poltergeist movies? I mean, seriously, you could have a drinking game every time they say Carol Anne in the old movies! Trust me; you’ll be passed out half way through the movie! But no, on this one we get a little girl called Madison, and she isn’t even blonde. But whatever, those are minor changes right? What really pissed me off where the major changes, like the whole softening up of the horror elements, which I didn’t get because from inception, Poltergeist was always a straight forward horror film, it meant to horrify you. These films weren’t afraid to push the limits; they wanted to scare your pants off. In contrast, this new Poltergeist film feels like its holding back, like it doesn’t want to scare you too much for fear of losing its coveted PG-13 rating. And that’s really what it’s all about these days, retaining the PG-13 rating so you can reach a wider audience and make more millions. Because if it’s rated ‘R’, then the kiddies cant pony up their allowance to see the movie, because theaters won’t sell tickets to an ‘R’ rated film to a minor, right? Stop me if I’m wrong, but this never happened to me, ever. Maybe where I live things are done differently, but I was never stopped from seeing an ‘R’ film by the theater! Does this really matter? It’s so sad that the quality of our horror films is decided by this factor.
So what else did they change? Well, let’s see, anything that was too edgy or horrifying; two elements that any horror movie should have in spades. For example, remember how Steve and Diane Freeling smoked weed in their room and were being all sexy with each other? For this new one, they switched the weed for alcohol, which immediately takes off that imperfect, free spirited feeling that the Freeling family had in the original. They weren’t a perfect family and because of this they felt real. Mom and pop were struggling to survive, but they still knew how to have a little fun, smoking a dooby in their private chambers after the kids were tucked in. There’s a scene in which their eldest daughter flipped the finger on the men who were working on their pool when they started saying nasty things at her. So anyhow, say goodbye to that edginess the Freelings had, this new family is pretty much the picture perfect American family. The father, portrayed by a “gimme my paycheck” Sam Rockwell doesn’t have a job, but you’d never know he’s worried about this because his portrayal of the father figure without a job is very unrealistic. He doesn’t seem to be worried that he’s got no money to feed the kids. Is he supposed to live on his credits cards forever? These problems are presented, but never dealt with in a realistic manner. I know I’d be freaking ripping my hairs out of my head if I had three kids and no job. And how about the chemistry between the parents? It’s nothing like the magic that Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson had in the original film. That relationship I bought. The one in this new one is Non-existent. Sam Rockwell, I’m sorry to say, was not truly invested in this film. In the original, both Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson displayed emotion, I bought them crying out to Carol Anne, here, it’s like they are ashamed to be talking about ghosts and “the other side”. I guess we can chalk that up to modern cynicism.
Then we have the ghosts, which are decidedly a whole lot less horrifying. On the old film, the ghosts showed their ugly faces all the time, I remember that spider like creature that came out of the closet, which sadly doesn’t make an appearance on this one. There’s no slimy, sinewy tunnel to the other side. On this one the ghosts are relegated to being shadowy creatures that we hardly ever get a look at. The old film reveled in showing us the ghosts. When the ghosts showed up, you were going to be wowed. Not so here. The spectacle is gone. They don’t want to scare you too much. The best example I can think to explain the dampening of the horror elements in this film is the pool scene. On the original, the Freelings are building a pool, so they got this muddy hole next to the house. And of course, as anyone who has seen the original knows, the house was built on top of the cemetery, so when it starts to rain and the earth loosens up, we get that awesome scene in which all the corpses start popping out of their caskets, apparently trying to grab Diane Freeling as she screams in horror. On the remake, it was almost funny….we only get one little cgi skeleton that pops out of the ground, for 5 milliseconds. On the original, that scene just went on and on, horrifying us with its real, tangible skeletons. On this one, it’s a freaking joke. That was one of my favorite scenes from the original! Want another example? They even took out that scene where the guys face melts as he looks at himself in front of the mirror! How could they! The bastards!
So anyhow, I’m sorely disappointed with this remake. It’s another fine example of how violence and horror is being toned down on purpose by the powers that be. Hey, Hollywood, check this out. I want horror movies to be scary. When I go see a movie about ghosts, that’s what I want, I want to see the ghosts, I want to see something that’s intense and scary. Bottom line my friends: the original Poltergeist is still the superior of the two films. It has the spectacle element, it had the horror element turned up to the max and it had a family I could believe in, with some real heart and chemistry. At the end of the day, that’s really what the Poltergeist movies are truly about, family. As for this remake, I wouldn’t say it’s a horrible film. Its well shot, looks pretty and in a surprising twist, actually take us to “the other side” without being overtly cheesy like Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986). It introduces a couple of innovative concepts, like sending a drone with a camera into the other side to check it out, gotta hand it to them, that was a cool idea. I went into this one wanting to hate it, but it kind of warmed up on me, but there's no denying it was missing that edge. Sorry.
It’s also a perfectly good movie to get your 10 year old kid started with horror films. Why? Because it’s an extremely light horror film which probably has something to do with the fact that it was directed by Gil Kenan, the director behind the children’s horror film Monster House (2006). Sadly, I don’t think he was the right guy to direct this film; we needed somebody with more of a horror loving heart, a true horror connoisseur. I mean, we went from Tobe Hooper to Gil Kenan? Something’s not right there. Why not give today’s horror masters a chance? Sadly, what Kenan did was take away what I loved about the original, a film that wasn’t afraid to scare us at the while still being a family film, which is an odd mix. Kenan treated this one like it was another kid’s film, which I think was a huge mistake because audiences are expecting something along the lines of the horrifying spectacle that Tobe Hooper and Stephen Spielberg gave us back in ’82. And it’s a bad thing to play with audiences expectations, especially when it comes to a remake. Yes my friends, the original Poltergeist was a strange bird. It was the first family oriented horror film that didn’t forget it was a horror movie and that it was there to scare us. Worst part of this whole ordeal? The original Poltergeist was rated PG, a whole rating beneath PG-13 and as it turns out, it was far scarier. Go figure!
Poltergeist (1982) Rating: 5 out of 5
Poltergeist (2015) Rating: 3 out of 5