For a horror remake to be successful there are some fundamental requirements. A) It must include the most iconic and effective beats from the original. B) It must remove any of the dead weight that negatively affected the original. C) It must bring something new to the table whilst also not encroaching on the spirit of the original. Few, if any remakes have achieved this, though I will cite Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween (non-theatrical release) and Friday The 13th as being successful endeavours in the above criteria. I am happy, and surprised, to say that I can add Poltergeist to that list.
First of all, let’s not kid ourselves, the original Poltergeist is a classic but it’s not exactly an untouchable cornerstone of the horror genre. There are some famous conflicting reports from the set that it was indeed Steven Spielberg, not Tobe Hooper, who took the directorial reins for most of the film. Whether confirmed or not, the results of a conflict like this seem to be clear on screen as the original straddles the line of balls out horror and PG family spook story, with the two never properly blending. Come this 2015 reboot, director Gil Kenan retains only the smallest trace of the lighter family moments, all of which come from more natural situations this time around, and has done the unthinkable – he has produced a horror movie remake that in many ways outdoes the original.
There are certain things missing from this reboot, namely Craig T Nelson and JoBeth Williams, that keep it from being out and out impressive, but in all it is a lesson in how to refine the already solid foundations laid by a classic. Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt fill the roles of the aforementioned Nelson and Williams as a married couple who move into a new house with their three children, only to find it is less than the perfect three bed detached. My only full on criticism of this film lies in the needless subplots, namely the fact that DeWitt’s character is a stay at home mom and Rockwell is unemployed. Aside from wondering how they can afford the house, what relevance does it have to anything? There is no conflict generated by these two situations, only some flippant remarks about that is how things are for them. With Rockwell as the unemployed father, maybe we could have explored how this makes him act a little erratic? On edge? A likely suspect in the kidnapping of his daughter? Or better yet just drop the subplot, it adds nothing.
Since the original film released way back in 1982 there has been dozens of haunted house features. In recent years films like The Conjuring and Insidious have formed a cinematic landscape where a note for note remake of the original Poltergeist just wouldn’t go down well. Insidious in particular owes more than a debt of gratitude to the 1982 original and if this reboot had followed too closely, the reverse comparisons would be unavoidable. With this in mind, Kenan makes sure to hammer home the point that there are an awful lot of electricity pylons in this housing estate, and he of course retains the original concept that the spirits have the ability to travel through power lines and ultimately Maddy(Carol Ann in the original films) communicates via the TV, it’s the defining hook of this film to remove it from other haunted house genre that is so saturated. Maybe it’s not the most intriguing or original of plot points, but Kenan puts a different feel om his film by constantly showing us these sweeping shots of the neighbourhood and specifically the pylons; it’s a little odd, it’s new and it works.
In all, this is probably a film you’ll enjoy most if you approach it as I did – with the lowest possible expectations. Rather than simply rise slightly above that bar however, Poltergeist impresses in its ability to circumvent those expectations and what we wind up with is one of the better horror remakes of our time.