Movie Remakes & Poltergeist

Stop me if this sounds familiar…

“A young family is visited by ghosts in their home. At first the ghosts appear friendly, moving objects around the house to the amusement of everyone, then they turn nasty and start to terrorize the family before they “kidnap” the youngest daughter.”

STOP! Yes, let’s discuss Movie Remakes and the remake of Poltergeist.

In 1982, Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg teamed together in the highly acclaimed horror classic, Poltergeist. The movie went on to be nominated for several Oscars for it’s special effects, and haunting musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. The movie won a Saturn award for best horror movie and went on to gross over 76 million dollars on a 10 million dollar budget.

Now Spielberg had already scored multiple critical successes with Close Encounter of the Third Kind and earlier that year, ET. Tobe Hooper likewise had made a name for himself with the horror classic the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 and directed the popular movie adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic Salem’s Lot in 1979.

Now we come to 2015 and someone decided Poltergeist needed a remake. This time we have Gil Kenan at the helm as director. Gil only had 2 other directing credits, both were children’s movies though both were well regarded. The animated feature Monster House and the movie adaptation of the City of Ember.

This makes me wonder if Gil was, pardon the cliché, behind the eight ball from the very start because it would be a stretch to call Gil Kenan a horror director. But hey, we all do something for the first time. As far as I can tell, Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a first time effort as both screenwriter and director in the horror genre. So let’s give Gil the benefit of the doubt here.

Instead, let me ask you a question. Are remakes inherently doomed from the start?

I submit to you that the answer is ‘No’, but the odds may be stacked against them.

1951’s classic ‘B’ Sci-fi horror movie ‘The Thing From Another World’ was remade by John Carpenter in 1982, re-titled simply as ‘The Thing’.

Given a unique and memorable musical score, a sophisticated practical special effects treatment, accompanied by tense performances by Kurt Russell, Wilfred Brinley and a host of other actors turned this remake into a true horror classic that stands on its own. Ask people today and few will even recall the 1951 version. But was this remake a one-off phenomenon?

No, not at all. I submit for your approval, David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of ‘The Fly’ starring Jeff Goldblum.

How about 2005’s remake of ‘King Kong’ by Peter Jackson?

How about Frank Oz’s 1986 remake of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ or the 1978’s chilling remake of the 1956 horror classic, ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.

Add on top of that several popular (or at least memorable) remakes of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Blob add to the body of evidence that, yes, remakes can rival or even exceed the quality of the original movie. There is nothing inherently wrong with a remake or the “re-imagining” of a movie or a franchise.

However, you begin encounter more debate as you run into other remakes such as Rob Zombie’s Halloween, or the Platinum Dunes remake of The Texas Chainsaw. This is not to say they don’t earn back their budget because they usually do. But is that why Hollywood is remaking horror classics? Why bother, why not just re-release the original?

Outside the obvious question of whether a remake can make money, producers and directors need to evaluate a set of important questions before they can move forward with production.

Can you make a movie more timeless? For instance, there were some 1950s cultural archaisms associated with ‘The Thing from Another World’. Perhaps just enough to put off 1980s audiences.

Can we render substantially better effects, whether practical or digital?

Can a better musical score be composed that will better set the tone and mood for the movie?

Can we obtain better casting that will make for memorable performances?

How about adding a unique twist or retelling of the original plot to make it fresh, or to reset audience expectations and leave them pleasantly surprised.

So with all this in mind, how does the remake of Poltergeist hold up?

Well….meh. It was primarily a shot for shot remake with a few minor twists and differences that do not change the core story. But does it change enough to qualify as a retelling of the story, like John Carpenter’s “The Thing?”

Sadly, no. Outside from CGI representations of “the other side” and slight variations on some of the scenes, Poltergeist brings nothing new or compelling to the table. It was serviceable, but otherwise unremarkable remake of the original. Considering the IMDB’s estimated 62m budget vs. the 10m budget of the original, I am honestly surprised the lack of polish the remake demonstrates.

Was it at least scarier? Many of us who had watched the trailer, thought this might be a remake geared to making a frightening film. Again, I believe the remake failed to deliver. In fact, I believe it had less atmosphere and tension than the original though I confess my opinion may be tainted by fond adolescent recollections of the original.

However, my opinion seems to be shared by others. I did find the visual representation of the other side to be creepy, but that effect was somewhat mitigated by questionable CGI. The doppelganger of Madison Bowen was a nice touch. Another nice touch was the original scary clown was turned into a whole box of creepy clowns, all of which assail the hapless young Griffen Bowen. Had the movie contained more of these touches, it might have made for a more memorable remake.

The remake also jettisons the over the top ending of the original which features the bodies bursting forth from the rain-soaked ground. While the remake touches on this, it was not to the extent of the original and as such I believe it loses the original’s gravitas.

I’ve heard some say the original was a bit too campy, thanks to the performance of Zelda Rubinstein, but the remake does re-create this with the performance of Jared Harris playing the enigmatic television medium Carrigan Burke who turned in probably the best performance along with Kyle Catlett playing the young Griffen Bowen who needs confront ‘The other side’ in order to save his sister.

Bottom line: I prefer the original, though the remake is not a bad sit. I wanted to like this remake, but despite the large budget, this movie brought nothing new or unique to the table.

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