by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, February 27, 2015


UPDATE: Via this report from, MGM and 20th Century Fox have moved up the release date for Poltergeist to May 22, 2015. The article that follows remains unaltered from its original post.

Excuse me for sounding a little churlish, but the newly-released trailer for 20th Century Fox's Poltergeist remake has my stomach in knots, and I don't mean in a good way. The film, which opens July 24th, has been touted as "a revisionist take" on Tobe Hooper's 1982 horror classic, with "modern" updates including cell phones and flat-screen TVs. Which is fine, I guess - I mean, this is Hollywood, after all, where people aren't truly happy unless they're busy ripping off someone else's work or exploiting the latest adventures of the world's greatest superheroes. And this is hardly the first time Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures label has tried rejiggering a modern classic, with remakes of The Grudge and The Evil Dead burning up theater screens in 2004 and 2013, respectively. My question, though: what's the point in remaking something if you don't have anything new to bring to the table? Why reproduce the same thrills and chills if you can't be bothered to give a fresh spin on old material?

Despite the change in cast (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt make fine replacements for Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams from the original movie), the new Poltergeist looks to be a rehash of the same exact plot - close-knit family moves into suburban home and is immediately beset by supernatural forces. Again, this is nothing new. Remakes have been a part of our cinematic diet since the days of the earliest films, when Cecil B. DeMille remade his 1914 silent The Squaw Man in 1918 and again in 1931. (Trivia bit: DeMille also directed a silent version of The Ten Commandments in 1923, then later reused some of the same props and sets for his 1956 remake.) True, the marketing gurus behind Poltergeist 2015 could be deliberately trying to goad us into seeing the new movie by plumbing our nostalgia for the previous one. And yes, the final film as released could be entirely different from what the trailer lets on. But the fact that so many elements come directly from Hooper's version suggests a paucity of imagination on the filmmakers' part.

That creepy clown doll, for instance, played so memorably 33 years ago, here gets a postmodern upgrade:

This shot, too, of a television set as gateway to another dimension:

Or this shot (you have to look fast for it) of a prepubescent boy almost swallowed up by a possessed monster tree in his backyard:

Even the patented youngest-daughter-gets-sucked-through-her-bedroom-closet trick gets a replay... does this shot, of the family's house (presumably) getting sucked into who-knows-where:

Some of director Gil Kenan's callbacks to the 1982 version are a little more subtle, however. This scene, for example, in which Griffin Bowen (Kyle Catlett) and his sister Madison (Kennedi Clements) encounter supernatural goings-on outside their closet door...

...echoes this scene from the earlier film, in which Steve and Diane Freeling make a similar discovery in their kitchen:

The switch in characters seems to jibe with this statement Rockwell gave to, about the new movie being told from the children's point of view. But is that really an improvement over the original film, in which the Freeling family functioned as a single protagonist? At least Kenan and company have the good sense to give away the movie's Big Twist in the trailer (SPOILER ALERT - in the original Poltergeist, the house is built on top of a cemetary). Jared Harris, meanwhile, as much as I love him, can't hold a candle to Ms. Zelda Rubenstein:

Is there a statute of limitations on the movies of our childhood? Had is now become common practice to take the classics of yesteryear and remake and reboot them every thirty years? We've seen it happen already with Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998, Footloose in 2011, and RoboCop in 2014; and we'll see it yet again with Paul Feig's all-female Ghostbusters come 2016. What's next, Top Gun? E.T.? Back To The Future? (Purists may take solace in the fact that Poltergeist is the first remake of a Steven Spielberg production [so far.])

Time will tell if this "revisionist" Poltergeist actually honors the memory of the original movie or trounces all over it. In the meantime, it's comforting to know that the trailer's three (count 'em) concluding money shots rip off not only Poltergeist '82 but two other Horror "classics" as well. After the bit with the creepy clown doll, we get this "homage" to Alejandro Amenábar's The Others:

Or how does this one grab you, from Paranormal Activity (2009)?

Look closely at the screenshots for Poltergeist, and you can tell that little girl isn't even human, she's a CG special effect - straight out of Kenan's own animated Monster House, it would seem. Ah, well. All's fair in love and remakes, is it not?

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