In an age when Hollywood haunted house movies are all the rage, the remake of Poltergeist has its fun moments but brings nothing new to set it apart from the original—or make a stronger impact than all the other ghost films flooding the market. While sticking closely to the original plot, it actually leaves a bunch of stuff out, running a half hour shorter than the 1982 film. Honestly, it feels like a fast, cheap cash-in on the familiar franchise.
So what’s different? The family this time is broke. The husband (Sam Rockwell) doesn’t work for the developer, and doesn’t even have a job. Neither does the mom (played by the sister from United States of Tara). So how did they afford a new house? The brief reference to it being a foreclosure in a not-so-great neighborhood is explanation enough. Kind of feels like The Amityville Horror. The family now has a different last name, as do all the characters, including Carol Anne!
The young son and daughter sleep in separate rooms—the boy is in a barely finished attic room and hates it. Aside from having dark hair instead of blonde, the girl playing the Carol Anne character has eerily similar features to Heather O’ Rourke.
The older daughter (a Lindsay Lohan clone) is a total bitch, but she sticks around for the whole movie and doesn’t go AWOL as did the pointless old sister in the first film. Why wouldn’t the older sister want the attic bedroom, since it would provide the most privacy and isolation from the rest of the family she can’t stand? Simple—there’s a skylight in the attic, which offers a unique way for the tree to get in and get the boy later.
There’s an attempt to capture some of that “cute, lovable family” Spielberg feel, but it’s kind of fleeting. For starters, they don’t have a dog! What’s a movie family without a dog? There’s no dead bird or burial in the yard—instead, mom and daughter dig up a bone while planting flowers. Dunh dunh dunh! They just bury it once more and it’s never referenced again! The kids also don’t get the chance to sleep in bed with mom and dad, even though the boy is afraid of his room. Hell, he finds a whole secret compartment in his closet full of scary clowns! That’s right, multiple clowns this time. Yet they still leave him alone up there.
All the build-up signifying mysterious occurrences in the home is missing (including all the chaos in the kitchen), but we do get the daughter finally touching the (flat screen) TV and saying “they’re here” (in a much less singsong voice). What’s cool is that hands actually touch the screen from the inside. Creepy.
We learn early on that the houses in this (apparently lower class) development were built on an old cemetery. The shit hits the fan when the parents are out and the older daughter is babysitting, so the fact that they immediately accept that their younger daughter has been sucked into the TV when they get home is kind of weird—why wouldn’t they think their bratty kids were using some sort of “Original Poltergeist Me” app to project the daughter’s voice into the TV? Anyway, during the babysitting scene (my favorite segment of the whole movie), the older sister gets grabbed by a hand that comes out of the garage floor while the younger sister is being sucked into the closet (which has accordion doors in this remake). At the same time, one clown attacks the son before the tree goes full out giant hand and chases him through the house! It’s a fun and fresh take on the original…and the best part of the whole movie.
When the family calls in two paranormal investigators, one of them goes off the set up equipment, and has his arm held in a wall while a drill pops through. No face ripping or meat walking as in the original. Actually, this scene makes more sense, since it could be the work of an evil poltergeist. There’s no logical reason why the guy in the original movie would have had such a hallucination because of a haunting. However, while that guy got the fuck out of the house, in this film, he sticks around—and never mentions to anyone that the ghosts tried to skull fuck him with a drill!
Instead of trying to find a little lady to fill Zelda’s shoes, the powerhouse called in is a Graham Norton looking dude with a ghost hunting web show.
Rather than keeping the other dimension a mystery, these modern day ghost hunters have equipment that lets them take video of it by sending a drone into it, so we see the little girl hanging out in a ghastly world of corpses. The fact that a little girl isn’t having a total meltdown surrounded by such horror is kind of ridiculous.
Most of the closet, rope, and rescue scene is the same (with the son jumping into the dimension to rescue his sister instead of the mom), but we don’t get that whole “calm after the first storm” break. As soon as the house is supposedly clean, the family piles into their vehicle to leave. The house won’t let them, so they are dragged back inside. Forget all the coffins impeding their escape. One single corpse jumps out of the ground to scare the mother. You can also forget about the pool scene—this family has no money, so naturally, they aren’t having a pool installed. In order for the family to get away, the ghost hunter dude sacrifices himself to the “TV people,” who are actually “wall people” in this movie.
Finally, because the Poltergeist remake is over in a flash, and you’re never actually scared senseless, you’re guaranteed to mutter “that’s it?” when the credits role.