Poltergeist (2015)

“They’re here.” Again. Does this 2015 update of the terrifying 1982 classic haunted house chiller have any new tricks up its sleeve worthy of your time and money?

They did it. They dug up “Poltergeist” from its 1982 grave and moved it to a nicer, slicker 2015 neighborhood, but they didn’t move the bodies or the soul of the movie. They only moved the title! Why? Why?

Well, if you grew up psychologically scarred by Tobe Hooper’s (and, let’s face it, probably mostly Steven Spielberg’s) groundbreaking paranormal thriller, you more than likely get my drift here, but in the interest of all of you Generation Y horror fans out there who have never seen the 1982 original and have no idea what I’m getting at, I’m going to try to also access the qualities of “Poltergeist” (2015) on its own merits.

“Poltergeist” (1982) was groundbreaking in its time for a couple of reasons. First, it blatantly broke every rule of the ghost/haunted house film genre, the number one rule being that “what you don’t see is always much scarier than what you do see.” It was made during the Golden Age of practical effects and the special effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic were on creative fire, bombarding us with the most amazing phantasmagorical images we had ever seen before. Second, it was a novel idea at the time to set the haunted spectacle in a tract suburban home, a setting most of the audience would have been very familiar with, instead of a crumbling Southern mansion or Gothic castle.

Over 30 years later, “Poltergeist” still shows up on many Top Ten Scariest Movies lists and holds a place in the conversation among horror fans regarding their favorite supernatural horror films. I doubt very much that the 2015 remake will inspire such devotion.

Remember that remake (prequel/sequel) of 1982’s “The Thing” in 2011? No? Expect the same fate for “Poltergeist” 2015.

Having said that, this new version of an old favorite isn’t really terrible. It changes the names and the family dynamics of the characters to address contemporary family issues. Sam Rockwell plays Eric Bowen, who has been recently laid off from his job with John Deere, forcing his family to downsize and move to a less expensive home. His wife, Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), is currently a stay at home mom/writer who has been struggling with writer’s block.

Unlike the successful couple portrayed in the original film who smoked pot in bed at night recreationally, the Bowen’s are struggling and the father is drowning his troubles in alcohol.

The three kids in this version are characteristically very similar to ones in the original and it is the youngest daughter who is again the one to be stolen away by supernatural forces emanating from the TV set after moving into their new home.

From the first hint of strange goings on, the film hits every major scene and plot point in the original from the scary tree outside the son’s bedroom window to the creepy clown doll on his nightstand to the glowing portal to the other side in the youngest daughter’s closet.

The Bowens seek help from the Paranormal Department at the local college. (Has anyone ever really known of a Paranormal Department at any accredited college with “Paranormal Department” stamped on the office door?) When the three investigators from the college find themselves overwhelmed by the forces inside the Bowens’ home, they call in an expert who hosts his own reality TV show called “Haunted House Cleaners.”

In one of the best decisions made by director Gil Kenan (“Monster House”), British actor Jared Harris is cast as legendary “house cleaner” Carrigan Burke, who is a completely different kind of psychic Jedi Master than the one portrayed by Zelda Rubinstein in the original. Any attempt at recasting that character with a similar performance would have been an act of futility, and Harris brings his own unique qualities to the role that gives the film a much needed boost of energy at just the right juncture.

In one of the worst decisions made by screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire (“Oz the Great and Powerful,” “Rise of the Guardians”), one vital component of the 1982 film’s plot has been removed. This goes into SPOILER territory, so skip over the next paragraph if you don’t want any of the new movie’s secrets revealed.

“Poltergeist” 2015 is missing a proper villain. In the original film, we are told by Zelda Rubinstein’s character that Carol Anne is being watched and lied to by “the Beast.” There is a truly evil entity that has the girl in its clutches, not just a bunch of innocent spirits upset by the relocation of their graves. This makes the astral rescue sequence much scarier and potentially more dangerous.

When Burke and the Bowen family engage in a plan to rescue the girl from the spiritual abyss in which she is trapped, modern tech is brought into play in the form of a remote control drone. Apparently WIFI radio signals can pass through to “the other side.”

It’s a little disappointing that this film is brought to us by none other than producer Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”). It’s not a complete disaster, but it just feels completely unnecessary at a time when much better supernatural horror films like “The Conjuring,” “Insidious” and even “Paranormal Activity” are covering the same ground with much scarier results.

They’re back, but they should have just stayed in their graves.

The Phantom of The Ville

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