When a family is forced to downsize they move into a seemingly average suburban house when almost immediately unusual activity presents itself to the younger children. This activity soon turns hostile, culminating in a little girl being dragged into an astral plane, so the whole family and a team of paranormal investigators must overcome their fears and band together to find her.
Lets face it, when it comes to horror remakes the sublime is far outstripped by the mediocre. The general rule is that when a horror concept is kind of repurposed by creators of vision it can be as good as, if not better than, the original. In the former case films like Dawn of the Dead and Maniac are good examples, in the latter such remakes as The Thing (1982) and The Fly become classics way beyond their source material.
The mediocre or outright terrible horror remakes are too plenty to get into, but such repackaged junk as The Fog, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Wicker Man at least stick in the memory as being very bad. There is a middle ground too, of course, and that ground is taken up by films that are well produced, but are based on films that haven’t aged so badly and themselves add little to the mix, leaving a sense that the movie was fine, but what was the point? Remember they remade The Omen? It’s here, unfortunately, where Poltergeist falls.
Lest we forget, horror remakes generally make money, and oft times the originals themselves, though fondly remembered, were aimed at mass audiences and were far from classics, as was the case with The Amityville Horror and it must be said, the original Poltergeist.
From Gil Kenan, the director who came from nowhere to direct the woefully underrated animated film, Monster House, went on to direct the forgettable City of Ember then dropped off the map for seven years, Poltergeist holds the same merits as the original and suffers many of the same pitfalls.
What it has on its side is a likeable cast, a brisk pace and running time, and a story that kicks off the ‘scary’ stuff within the first ten minutes. For the most part, the changes made are cosmetic, but a nice little character arc has been given to the young boy in the story, who has been given more to do (eventually) than fret and worry.
The problem is, as with the original and numerous other ghost films, if you’re watching it beyond waiting for scares, with any kind of eye to logical storytelling, the actions of the ghosts (or poltergeists, in this case) don’t always match up with their eventually explained intentions.
I personally find it kind of irksome when there are no ‘rules’ set for what an entity can do, then they use these unfocused abilities to arbitrarily scare not just the characters, but the audience watching the characters. I mean, why would a ghost, powerful enough to manipulate any and all matter, push a door ajar after a character has left the room, or appear in the reflection of a mirror when a character isn’t even paying attention? It’s cheap writing that too few people question simply because it’s become part of the genre.
I suppose it would be in some way excusable if the scares where 100% successfully terrifying, but honestly, apart from with attention seeking teenage girls, when was that actually the case? Here, the fact that the pissed off graveyard ghosts need a little girl to show them the light and can follow that aim through quite efficiently, pays no heed to why they’d terrorise the rest of the family in an ever more escalating fashion when they already have what they need; or why, being that they can manipulate all matter and energy, they don’t just lead a new type of lifestyle here in the material world… they could be invisible superheroes, for instance…
Anyways, that quibble aside, the story sticks pretty rigorously to the original’s, and, predictably, goes a little overboard with sometimes dodgy CG to ramp things up in some small way, which might be in danger of taking the otherwise suburban setting too far, if not for the fact that Poltergeist was always a little more fantastical than most ghost films, and originally included a living tree and a pretty clunky looking animatronic beasty.
Perhaps too respectful of its source material, Poltergeist suffers in all the same areas. It’s by no means a terrible film, in fact it’s perfectly entertaining through the course of the proceedings but has the bitter aftertaste of pointlessness.