June 25, 2015
In 1982, the first "Poltergeist" film came out. It was directed by Tobe Hooper, the same director who broke new horror ground with "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in 1974. However, "Poltergeist" is also known for its illustrious writer and producer Steven Spielberg, whose touch was also very well-felt throughout the film. There was actually a controversy back then as to who actually directed that film.
A family of five moves into a house. It soon becomes evident that they are not alone in the house. First, the youngest daughter "talks" to someone inside the TV, and announced that "They're here." Then, the ghostly action in the house progresses from harmless pranks to increasingly more sinister activity. When the daughter got abducted into a spirit vortex inside her closet, the father decided to seek help from parapsychologists to get her back.
It starred Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as the parents Steve and Diane Freeling, and the adorable Heather O'Rourke as the youngest daughter Carol Anne. Beatrice Straight was the mild-mannered parapsychologist Dr. Lesh. It also memorably featured the midget actress Zelda Rubinstein as the medium Tangina Barrons.
This original "Poltergeist" was Oscar-nominated for its visual and sound effects and for its musical score by Jerry Goldsmith which included the sweet lullaby "Carol Anne's Theme." It lost out in all three categories to the more popular Spielberg film released that same year, "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial."
This year 2015, a remake of this popular horror film was released. This reboot was directed by Gil Kenan. This is only Kenan's third feature film, although he debuted back in 2006 with an animated horror film called "Monster House".
This one stars Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt as the parents Eric and Amy Bowen, and Kennedi Clements as youngest daughter Madison. Jane Adams was the mousy parapsychologist Dr. Powell. This time they made the occult expert a male this time, Carrigan Burke, played by Jared Harris. The boy middle child Griffin was given a bigger role in this new film, played by Kyle Catlett.
I felt this new cast paled in comparison to the old cast. The central family members had more chemistry with each other in the first film. Harris' Carrigan character is forgettable and annoying when put side by side with Rubinstein's Tangina. And sorry to Ms. Clements, but O'Rourke's Carol Anne was simply too iconic to be forgotten. Clements' delivery of the all-important line "They're here" lacked the sweet yet ominous factor of the original.
I guess the main purpose was to update the film with the available CG technology available now to make a scarier movie. This new version of "Poltergeist" has been released in 3D and even 4DX to further highlight the technical advancements. The 1982 film largely looks dated now because the visual effects may look lame and unsophisticated for first time viewers by today's standards. These most memorable horror scenes in the first film were all recreated in the new film in their supposedly "new and improved versions". There were mixed results.
The new multiple clown dolls scene was an intense improvement over the single clown doll in the old film. The climactic closet portal was more spectacular in this new film when compared to the one in the first film, where it looked like a paper-mache esophagus. One of the innovations was when they sent a flying drone into the portal, showing us how us the hell of writhing bodies it contained inside. However, it was a technically questionable though how the drone could still be controlled remotely when it was already upstairs, behind a closed door and in another dimension.
The "grabbing tree" scene may technically look better in the new film, but there was something in that scene in the first film which showed the boy being swallowed by the tree trunk (not done in the new film) that had more punch. The disturbingly strange "face-peeling" scene in the first film was replaced by a less compelling "face rotting" scene. I don't know why the new filmmakers all but abandoned the "coffins and skeletons" scenes which marked the climax of the old film. I was expecting them to go CG-crazy with that scene. However, instead we only get a bright lights and big explosion show as the "grand" finale.
If you have not seen the 1982 film before, this 2015 reboot can actually be an entertaining horror film by itself. There were a couple of neat original scare scenes not in the first film, notably the tense wall drilling scene. However, those who have seen (and were frightened in their younger days) by the first film will find themselves comparing the two films, and ultimately find this new film wanting overall.
Poltergeist 1982: 7/10. Poltergeist 2015: 5/10.