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Review: Poltergeist


*Caution: Spoilers Ahead*

Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt) move into a new home with their three children, Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and little Madison (Kennedi Clements). At first the house seems normal with a few quirks like a wooden stair railing that shocks you when you touch it or a giant pile of clown dolls in the attic. Madison begins talking to people who aren’t there, while Griffin desperately tries to convince his parents that things are moving on their own and something just isn’t right. Things escalate quickly and soon Madison is missing, only to be heard through the television set. The Bowens must find help to get Madison back before the spirits in the house take her away forever.

Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Back in 1982, Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg released Poltergeist, a terrifyingly original horror film that has become a staple in the genre. It is films like Poltergeist that become that main target for Hollywood producers to remake these days because they know they can make big money off a big name. While these producers do make their money, they aren’t always making films worthy of being called classics like Tobe Hooper did.

Poltergeist (2015) wasn’t a bad movie. In fact, it was good. It wasn’t great, amazing or fantastic, but it was good. Had the original Poltergeist never existed and we were learning the story for the first time through this remake, the film still would never succeed to be as big as the original film did.

To explain myself, the original Poltergeist took more time to tell the story. We learn that Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) had been born in the house and that was her connection to it. We learn that the home building company that Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) works for relocated the headstones but left the graves when they built his neighborhood, giving him a connection to the activity. We get more time to get to know the family and experience the gradual incline of activity in the house, so our fear grows with the family. There was Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) who made that connection with Diane (JoBeth Williams) when Carol Anne disappeared and we felt Diane’s pain over the loss of her daughter. Then there was Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), the creepy and eccentric psychic who is brought in to help get Carol Anne out of the world of the dead.

The film had character development, a connection between the audience and the family and a fear that was built gradually instead of being forced upon the audience.

Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

Poltergeist (2015) changes the story a bit. The Freelings are now the Bowens. Eric Bowen lost his corporate job at John Deere and was forced to move his family into a cheaper home. There is no connection between the home and Madison, who has taken the place of Carol Anne. Most of the film focuses on the brother, Griffin, instead of Madison, who is supposed to be the main focus of the story. Since the changed the story to remove Madison’s connection, they made Griffin afraid of everything, making him difficult to believe when things get strange and giving them a way to make him the hero of the film.

Amy Bowen is no Diane Freeling. There is barely any time spent between Amy and her children, making the loss of Madison less devastating for the audience because we just don’t have anyone to really sympathize with. This is not the fault of Rosemarie DeWitt, however, because her part as a mother was made minimal in order for the story to rush right into the paranormal activity.

While the original film had the activity start years after Carol Anne was born in the house, Poltergeist (2015) has activity begin almost immediately. The first night in the house, Madison is talking to people in her closet that aren’t there and discovers that there is a static charge to her doorknob that will make her hair stand straight up when she touches it. Griffin discovers a pile of clown dolls in his closet, one of which seems to move on its own. All of the electric items in the house begin to go off at once in the middle of the night. Madison is found downstairs talking to the static on the television before half a dozen hands appear to be pressing on the screen from the other side.

The next day, Eric and Amy go to a dinner party, leaving the children in the care of their eldest daughter, Kendra. It is at this dinner party that they are casually told their neighborhood was build on a “relocated” cemetery. In almost no time after being alone, Kendra’s leg is pulled into the garage floor by disembodied hands while Griffin is pulled through the skylight in his room by a giant menacing looking tree in order for the spirits to have full access to Madison, whom they pull into their world via the bedroom closet. When the Bowen parents return home, they find their son up in a tree and their youngest daughter missing, only to be heard through their television set. Instead of calling the police, they call Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), a paranormal investigator located at Amy’s old college.

Dr. Powell and her team come to investigate believing that they have an Amityville situation on their hands with a family who is poor looking to make money off the story of a haunted house and missing child. They quickly find that the Bowens have no such agenda and that the house doesn’t have ghosts,  but a poltergeist. In order to get Madison out of the spirit world, they call famous television ghost hunter Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) to help. Naturally, Carrigan is more than just a TV phony and tells the family that the graves were obviously not relocated as they have poltergeists, plural.

Instead of having that powerful moment where Diane goes into the spirit world after Carol Anne with some coaching by Tangina, we get Griffin running in because he feels guilty for leaving Madison alone to be taken. Instead of the unknown while Diane is inside, we see a CGI world of the house with the floors and walls made out of cheesy computerized corpses that didn’t even come close to looking real.

Carrigan is no Tangina and was a poor substitute they used to try to make the film more modern. He was hardly any help at all in the whole situation. I would rather they had cut his part entirely.

Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

I didn’t like that Griffin was made the main focus of the film. The story was really about him overcoming his fear more so than it was about the haunted house or the poltergeists trying to make Madison show them into the light — the exact thing that made the original so terrifying. They should have stuck to the original formula and made a few changes to update the film instead of completely gutting it and picking and choosing what parts to use.

Now, there were a few things I did like about the movie. I thought Sam Rockwell did a great job as Eric. His character was probably the only one I really did like, thanks to a little extra time spent on developing his character.

Madison was cute and really deserved to be the character given to Carol Anne but she was given the short end of the stick and her big role was instead given to her brother, Griffin. I would have really loved to have seen Kennedi play the role she should have had.

I also feel like Jane Adams’ Dr. Powell could have been everything that Dr. Lesh was had she been given the opportunity. Like with Madison, her talent was wasted in that role, but she did a great job with what she had.

There were a few moments where the scares were decent. The infamous clown scene was made slightly scarier with the addition of more clowns, the main of which had a nose on a string that would play creepy music until it found its place back on the clown’s face.

Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.
Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.

There was a scene where Griffin is carrying a box of comic books upstairs and finds a baseball that has rolled itself out of Madison’s bedroom. He lays the box down and brings the baseball back into her room only to watch it roll itself into the closet door. When he turns to run away, he finds all of his comic books have been stacked into a pyramid behind him.

Instead of the infamous face peeling scene with Dr. Lesh’s helper, Dr. Powell’s helper reaches into a hole in the wall to retrieve his drill only to have his arm grabbed and the drill used to drive holes near his face from the other side. The scene wasn’t anywhere close to as powerful as the face peel, but it gave us all a good nervous laugh.

As I said before, the movie was good, but it wasn’t great. I feel that a lot of what made the original so great was sacrificed in order to “modernize” the story. I’m not angry that I spent the time and money to see it and I wont go back to the theater for a second viewing.

Poltergeist is playing in 3D in theaters now.

Ann Hale is the horror editor for Pop-Break.com and a senior contributing writer, reviewing horror movies and television shows. She is also the American Correspondent for Lovehorror.co.uk and writer for Geekandstuff.com. Ann attended East Carolina University, majoring in English Literature. She is a collector of Halloween (the film) memorabilia and is a self-admitted opinionated horror nerd. You can follow her, her collection and her cat, Edward Kittyhands on Twitter and Instagram @Scarletjupiter

Ann Hale
Ann Hale
Just a giant nerd in love with horror, 80's action flicks, Star Wars and Harry Potter. Hit me up on Twitter or Instagram @scarletjupiter to talk horror or just to browse the horror collection.

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