In the film industry, remakes are, unfortunately, inevitable. When news breaks that a classic film is going to be remade, one can only hope that it can come close to capturing the essence of the original.
This is especially true in the horror genre, as the special effects and technology can be drastically different for the remake than for the original film, which might mean that the story takes a backseat to the effects. A horror remake could go perfectly, like the “Evil Dead” remake or “The Fly,” or it could go horribly awry, such as the shot-for-shot remake of “Psycho” or 2005’s “The Fog.”
In the newest horror remake “Poltergeist,” director Gil Kenan and producer Sam Raimi have developed a horrifying, nostalgic and thrilling film that pays very nice homage to the 1982 classic.
In the film, the Bowen family of five move into a new house after the father (Sam Rockwell) was laid off. As their time in the house continues, they are plagued by hauntings that include electrical disturbances, a creepy clown doll, an evil tree and a closet that doubles as a portal into the supernatural world.
Compared to the original horror classic, “Poltergeist” is actually a really solid adaptation of the 1982 scarefest. Even without the computer-generated imagery (CGI) of today, the original was able to scare its audiences with dread and full-out explosive horror scenes.
Though “Poltergeist” does utilize a lot more CGI than the original, it still has the scary, and yet somewhat campy, feel of the original. The clown, while not in it nearly as much as advertised, is one of the creepiest aspects in the film and is done so well that it is almost as horrifying as the original.
In addition, the remake also brings back the evil tree from the original, though it is again only briefly at the beginning of the film. It also brings back the iconic line, “They’re here,” though the problem with the line in the remake is that it doesn’t have the same creepy feel as the original.
One other thing the remake did a little differently was how the youngest daughter, Maddy (Kennedi Clements), is taken by the spirits in the film. In the original she is sucked into the portal in her closet in quite the dramatic and terrifying fashion, whereas in the remake, she is lured in when the spirits drag her favorite doll into the closet and drag her off into the darkness.
While this isn’t necessarily a negative aspect of “Poltergeist,” it did sort of show how the remake was straying from the original a bit, but it was still a creepy sequence.
The visual effects, which are mostly CGI, with some practical effects, are really good, which is to be expected with today’s technology. The evil tree and the ghostly dimension that Maddy was being held in were two of the best visual effects, as well as the title displayed as a shadow below power lines on the open grass field.
The little amount of practical effects that “Poltergeist” does use are mostly disappointing when compared to the original. Though most of the evil spirits in “Poltergeist” are CGI, we do witness a couple manifested in “person,” for lack of a better term, and the look given to them, while fairly creepy, doesn’t quite scare enough.
One truly positive thing about “Poltergeist” is that, just like the original, it doesn’t rely on jump scares. Today’s audience tends to prefer loud and abrasive jump scares, compared to dread, but director Kenan avoided the jump scares as much as possible. While jump scares aren’t a bad thing in general, the remake still has a few, the lack of them works.
The performances in “Poltergeist” do leave some room for improvement, however. While Rosemarie DeWitt and Clements were fantastic as the terrified mom trying to find her daughter and the young girl the spirits are reaching out to, the rest of the cast don’t really capture their roles well.
Rockwell, a renowned comedic actor, does do well to provide comedic relief in the lines that request it, but as a kind of horror movie father hero, he just doesn’t execute quite well. Additionally, Jared Harris’ performance as the expert doctor who knows how to fight the spirits feels really campy and silly, whereas Zelda Rubinstein’s performance as the similar character in the original was actually serious and intense.
The direction and production are really solid throughout “Poltergeist.” Kenan, known for the family horror film “Monster House” and the film adaptation of “City of Ember,” does well to set up the shots in the truly horrifying scenes to truly capture a sense of thrill and terror. One of the best instances is when the son, Griffin (Kyle Catlett), goes to run downstairs to find their older sister and is grabbed by the tree and dragged into his attic bedroom and pulled out into the night, while the camera twists and follows him nicely.
The production, while not necessarily a major part of the filming, is still headed by one of the greatest horror directors still alive today, Raimi. Known for the original “Evil Dead” trilogy and “Drag Me to Hell,” Raimi is known for his horror films, so even having him involved was a good way of being able to get input on how to scare the audiences.
Overall, the “Poltergeist” remake is a great horror film on its own and, even compared to the original, it is still a pretty good adaptation that captures the look and feel of the original while also being a wonderful tribute.
Whether you’re a fan of the original or not, “Poltergeist” is a thrilling horror film that is a fun ride to experience.
Update: Monday 7:04 p.m. – “CGI” changed to “computer-generated imagery”