Who Wore It Better?
Gil Kenan’s remake of Poltergeist opened this weekend and grossed $22,620,386 which is fairly respectable for a movie in the paranormal genre. But as I read reviews, it seemed largely to be panned by audiences and critics alike. The most I really saw was: “It was OK but failed as a remake”. In fact, if there was anything I was really getting as an overall consensus it would be a big resounding… “meh”.
This intrigued me, I saw the trailer and thought to myself “OK, obviously it will never compare to the original, but it was modernized and looks more gritty… surely it can’t be that bad?” So I made it a point to see it.
Let me start off by saying the original movie is near and dear to my heart. It came out in ’82 when I was 5. Of course my parents didn’t take me to see the movie, but after a great deal of nagging and pleading my mother (as always) would cave and describe these R rated horror movies to me in detail. As she sat there telling me this movie, I was scared and captivated at the same time. It blew my little mind and that was just her description! A few years later it came on HBO and I must have watched it 20 times before I was 12 years old. When part 2 came out I watched it just as much. They became a part of who I am.
Coming into this movie, All of these thoughts were swimming around in my head. I knew it would never tap into the raw emotional feelings I had for the original. So I tried to overlook that and see the movie detached from those feelings. Of course, that sounds great on paper but in reality it is very hard to do. In fact it started to kick in from the very beginning with the little irksome changes. Sure they were minor but they befuddled me and even angered me a little. They added nothing to the story. In fact if anything they were already diminishing the setup and character buildup. For example: Why change the little girl’s name from Carol Anne to Madison? I knew right then this wasn’t going to end well.
But I kept watching. Sure some of the effects were neat if not a little sterile (as so many CGI effects tend to be) but it felt more like I was watching a tribute put on by some acting trope rather than the actual story as intended. It felt rushed and very short. I checked, in reality it was 21 minutes shorter than the original. Believe me it shows in character development and tension. Sam Rockwell (Eric Bowen) seemed to be taking the whole movie as a joke most of the time. Rosemarie DeWitt (Amy Bowen) seemed very unconcerned with the loss of her child and could not hold a candle to JoBeth Williams and the passion she poured into Diane Freeling (the original mother’s name). The only characters I found convincing were the children. Kennedi Clements did a pretty decent job of capturing the innocent and playful demeanor of Carol An… oops I mean Madison. However, my biggest qualm with the characters was that they just didn’t feel like a cohesive family unit. They didn’t have that impenetrable bond that was the linchpin of their power over the spirits.
But I guess I could forgive all that if the tension was off the charts. Sadly, there was little to no tension. There really wasn’t time for it. They combined a good portion of the best scares from the original and just threw them all at you as one big jumbled mess. The clown, the tree, the closet reveal, and a basement floor gag all in the span of 4 minutes. It left it all feeling quite clinical and far from threatening. It was more like a check list of what needed to be hit from the original movie.
I titled this article “Who wore it better?” because it’s like the director took the skin of the original movie, spruced it up a little with some modern doodads and then draped it over a wooden mannequin. It has no pulse. It has no heart. It just sits there hoping you will see the similarities and it’s praying that will be enough. But it just isn’t.