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When I first heard that Hollywood was planning a Poltergeist remake, my initial response could best be described as "dull surprise". Seriously, these remakes come and go so fast now my brain barely has time to even register them. I mean, does anybody even remember The Hitcher, Fright Night, Carrie, The Crazies, The Last House on the Left, My Bloody Valentine, or Prom Night remakes? So, just another famous horror film is being remade to make a quick buck, Tobe Hooper's (and Steven Spielberg's) directorial touches would be replaced with cookie-cutter, assembly line movie-making and the film would be forgotten before it even leaves the theater. Let's dive in, shall we?

The most surprising thing about the film is the fact that it isn't completely terrible. Of course that just makes it all the more forgettable, but I'll start this review positively by pointing out all the things the film got right.

1. Sam Rockwell. Proving once again that he's one of the most under-rated actors working today, Sam Rockwell takes what easily could've been a generic role and infuses it with enough pathos that he actually feels like a real human being. Rockwell's performance doesn't exactly save the movie, but the movie would've been worse without him.

2. Most of the special effects are practical. The film feels much more grounded in reality when the objects flying around the room are really interacting with the actors and not some CGI cartoon. What's even better: when the CGI does show up, it's done in tandem with the practical effects making them feel more real. When the effects feel real, the audience can immerse themselves in the story more. Now, was that really so hard? How come more films don't do this?

That's really all I could think of; so, now I guess it's on to...

1. As with the Carrie remake, this film doesn't seem to have its own identity and just comes off as a greatest hits album of the original movie. Creepy tree tries to eat the little boy? Check. Creepy clown doll? Check. Little girl stands in front of the TV saying "They're here"? Check. As a result, everything comes off as familiar and there's nothing scary about familiarity. Tobe Hooper (and Steven Spielberg) is a great director who knows how to take the audience into a familiar setting and twist everything around to play with our expectations. Um... Other Guy (seriously, I can't remember who directed this remake) just takes his audience along on a track, hitting all his marks but never making us feel like things might go off the rails at some point. Also, this movie lacks Hooper's grisly edge that made the original so fun. Even though the original was rated PG and this one is PG-13, there's nothing nearly as memorable as the face melting scene from the original.

Little girl stands in front of the TV saying "They're here"? Check.

2. They got rid of the whole Indian burial ground subplot. I really like the idea that the quiet suburban neighborhood is built on an old Indian burial ground. It's such an apt metaphor for the United States as a whole; our peaceful little community is standing on the graves of other peoples and cultures. Poltergeist worked great as a straight horror film, but that little touch of white guilt was what made it really special. The remake tries to pay lip services to the recession and the whole idea of just sweeping our problems under the rug, but it doesn't have the same punch as the idea of the restless spirits of Native Americans coming to get their revenge.

3. They... I don't know how else to say this... they made the little old medium lady into a dude! Yes, I know, this was doomed from the start as Zelda Rubinstein was absolutely perfect as the ghost hunting, "this house is clean" lady, but they could not have got this more wrong! It's the same problem I had with the Evil Dead remake. In the same way I feel that Ash has to be a male character, the ghost hunter from Poltergeist has to be a female character. It's a brilliant scene where everyone is expecting this bad-ass ghost hunting extraordinaire, and instead we get this sweet, unassuming old woman and she proceeds to turn our expectations on our head by battling the ghosts and saving the little girl. This time we have some scarred, grizzled old vet type that just doesn't work at all. Let me put it this way: it would be like if someone replaced your grandmother with Robert Shaw and then everyone pretended that it was perfectly normal. Just a horrible, horrible decision.

And now, all that leaves us with is...


One of my favorite things about the original Poltergeist is the idea that the parents are former hippies who are now trying to live the 1980s suburban yuppie lifestyle and every now and then, you see their hippie origins peeking through. This is most evident when we seeing them in bed talking about their kids and just casually smoking pot. It's probably the only instance I've seen in a major Hollywood movie where marijuana is used only as a prop and not as some means to condemn the characters. Seriously, name one other Hollywood film where a character smokes pot and he's not meant to be an unemployed loser or a possible psychopath. It was very refreshing to see marijuana users portrayed as ordinary, everyday people. In the remake they still have this scene except... they got rid of the pot smoking, and my guess is (and this is just my theory, but I'd make a million dollar bet that I'm right) that the director had to get rid of the pot smoking in order to keep the PG-13 rating. Come on, people! It's 2015, marijuana is now legalized in three states and Washington D.C. and Hollywood is still treating it as a taboo subject! As an avid supporter of legalization, it depresses me that Hollywood's depiction of a pot user is still the stereotypical stoned deadbeat living on his buddy's couch. This film had an opportunity to break that stereotype and they blew it because... won't somebody please think of the children!

As for the film itself: it's just the original with slightly improved special effects. A cookie-cutter, assembly line remake designed to make a quick buck which will be forgotten before it even leaves the theater. What a surprise.


★ ★ ½