In 1973, cinemas nationwide erupted with sounds of screams, cries and disbelief. A film had landed on doorsteps out of thin air, an unforgettable one for that matter. St John’s Ambulance were on standby to await emergency calls and priests stood strong at entrances to plead unwary but intrigued audiences to resist. This film is, of course, The Exorcist. Since its shocking debut, films about the paranormal and spirit hauntings have flowed through to the 21st century where the sub-genre truly ignited, and with the Paranormal Activity, Insidious and The Conjuring series being the leading examples of this peeking and current trend, these films have arguably become recycled, overindulged and tediously repetitive. When the sub-genre was fresh in the thriving 1980s, Poltergeist was released and is deemed by many as one of the scariest movies ever made. Now, in 2015, it has unnecessarily and annoyingly been remade.
Poltergeist’s ground-breaking special effects, frightening scares and unnerving storyline contained unique originality and fantastic all-round horror entertainment that was familiar during its cinema period of release. The remake picks up a film known for being fresh to unacquainted audiences and has corrupted its entire franchise with nothing more than a convention indulger, easy money maker and an oversimplification. Why remake something so terrifically original at its time? Surely director Gil Kenan is aware of the implications and hurdles of trying to remake something so fresh in its glory days; maybe the original’s creepy but ludicrous conspiracy theories yielded Kenan’s interests into reigniting the franchise – this being the use of real-life skeletons during the suspenseful pool scene that led to consecutive deaths of several leading actors. Who knows what spirit has possessed Kenan and forced him into making a bad remake that utters ‘unnecessary’.
When the Bowens are forced to downgrade after Eric (Sam Rockwell) is laid-off, they immediately sense something is not right with their new home. Upon arrival, Madison (Kennedi Clements), Eric and Amy’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) young daughter, is lured towards an unknown, communicative presence. One evening, Eric and Amy go out and naively leave the kids at home to be terrorised and haunted by the house and spirits living within it. Meanwhile, whilst her siblings are under attack, Madison is suddenly sucked into an alternative underworld where the dead and buried roam in a form of limbo. The dead then aim to use Madison to lead them towards the ‘light’ and escape the wretchedly eternal hellhole they are trapped in. Her bewildered family, with the help of paranormal experts Carrigan and Brooke (Jared Harris and Jane Adams), attempt to pull her out alive, understandably disgruntling the desperate entities that have imprisoned her.
Rockwell and DeWitt openly stated how much of an effect the original Poltergeist has had not only on their careers, but their childhood. Perhaps that, with the various myths and rumours about the film, is what persuaded them into being a part of it. Rockwell’s name in particular will be one people would take a double look to when glancing through the cast. It is refreshing to see some big names in a horror movie for once and collectively they perform efficiently and do what they need to. However, they do not really muster anything together – one of the great things about the original is how the audience feel a special attachment to the characters, unlike the remake, which felt particularly rushed in the writing department. Madison lacks the creepiness of Heather O’Rourke too, but maybe that is simply down to lack of originality.
Whilst working with Kenan for much of the script, it was predominantly written by screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, and the pair explicitly changed many aspects of the original’s plot and background details. The remake interestingly examines the evolution of technology since the 80s original – which actually contained unbelievably innovative special effects that will remind some of John Carpenter’s The Thing – particularly the mirror scene in the former. Over thirty years on, the remake has found itself in a cinema world of CGIs and it exploits them vastly and commonly; even the film’s background makes reference to contemporary technology – the reason Eric has been laid-off is because machines are able to his work for him, meaning he is unneeded. The remake seemed inappropriately rushed as aforementioned and certain aspects are not parked at or explained even though they are more thoroughly done so in the original. Those who are unaware of the original will easily be confused by the lazy storyline Lindsay-Abaire has formulated.
For a precarious and unexplained storyline to be given the benefit of the doubt, the scares must be effective, but they are not. Even Rockwell made the point that the remake is more for kids, whilst the original is more for adults, which does leave horror fans in disarray. It is funny how the film uses tried and tested components of horror because the original, embarrassingly for the former, did the opposite. The boring scares are not even constant, they are irregular and if it was not for Rockwell’s regretful presence, some could doze off. Again though, the attempted scares could have meant something if there were any forms of explanation behind them.
Poltergeist is one of the greatest horror films ever made and is certainly up the top somewhere when narrowing it down to just the sub-genre it is categorised within. When a film is that good it occasionally justifies a remake, but just by watching the 2015 reboot it is clear that it was grossly unnecessary. Not only that, but the film is genuinely quite bad. The Kenan and Lindsay-Abaire pairing have attempted to place a fresher touch on the film, but have sacrificed required explanations of monumental story elements without many decent scares whatsoever.
When the little girl (whatever character/actor) squeaks ‘They’re here’, your heart sinks, only because you’re desperate for them (remakes and this damn sub-genre) to return to the television set she is communicating with and stay there.