Poltergeist trailer – reaction

The horror genre is often dismissed by critics, and frequently they are right to do so, as in no other genre are the audience so willing to accept low standards of scripting, performance and production on the promise of a bloody payoff. As a consequence, there are very few horror films which are regarded as classics: The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963), Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) and in 1982, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist. Grossing ten times its budget and nominated for three Academy awards, it won three of the six Saturn awards for which it was nominated and spawned two sequels, but it was a series marked by tragedy, with four of the principal actors having died before the release of the final film, the last, Heather O’Rourke, tragically only twelve years old.

As has become inevitable in Hollywood, a remake was announced to be produced by Ghost House Pictures, responsible for 30 Days of Night, Drag Me to Hell and the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. Monster House and City of Ember director Gil Keenan was announced, working from a script by Oz the Great and Powerful‘s David Lindsay-Abaire, and the cast includes Moon‘s Sam Rockwell, Men, Women & Children‘s Rosemarie DeWitt, Fringe‘s Jared Harris, soon to be seen in The Expanse and V‘s Kennedi Clements in the crucial role of Madison Bowen, the young girl abducted by the hostile spirit in the house. The team have viewed the first trailer, released yesterday and their unvarnished first impressions are below.

Glenn Jones – Although it looks fairly authentic to the original, what I’m not seeing is that wonderful “Americana” feel that Spielberg (and let’s face it, the original was directed by Spielberg…) was so good at injecting into his early eighties movies. Tangina’s a guy now, the clown doesn’t actually look as scary as the original. I’m feeling fairly “meh” about this. The original is one of my favourite horror films, so I don’t really see the need to mess with perfection. I’ll only go see this for curiosity’s sake.

Les Anderson – Visually it’s impressive but it suffers from the curse that afflicts all modern trailers, that of showing too much from the last reel (do we still have reels?). I prefer films to have a sense of suspense and the trailer should be instrumental in setting up that suspense leaving the payoff for the film itself in the cinema. This just shows me far too much.

Matthew Rutland – Well, upon opening, the first screen already provides the biggest scare of the film, the dreaded PG-13 rating. Terrific. But that’s okay, because some PG films were scary right? Well, yes back in the eighties that may have been the case, but nowadays there isn’t much that scares me apart from the amount of control Michael Bay has over Hollywood.

But on to the movie proper, and the trailer. In order to get an idea, I watched this and then went back to the original, and I would like to quote Wayne Campbell from Wayne’s World, when discussing the merits of originals.

“Ah yes, it’s a lot like Star Trek The Next Generation. In many ways it’s technically superior but will never be as recognised as the original.”

You see, the original trailer had Steven Spielberg in the title straight away giving it an instant kudos this one cannot boast. It also built the idea this is just another house in suburbia, whereas this reboot gives a more isolated feel to proceedings, loses a lot of the feel of something magical that then turns to bad, and goes straight to the horror, giving away a lot of the scares to come, such as the clown doll, the ghostly possession of the daughter, etc.

Sure it has the now all too familiar grey-blue filter, and the jerk rag-doll physics made all too popular by the likes of the Paranormal Activity.  But no sense of wonder, fantasy or fear. The practical effects seen in the eighties in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Poltergeist and Ghostbusters in particular all stand up a lot better than the lazy CGI of today. So, all style and no content, much like Raimi’s other over-hyped supposed return to dark horror roots, 2013’s Evil Dead reboot.

Ohh, and no Tangina? Booo, Hollywood, Booo!

Dario Persechino – My first thought on seeing the title is “oh look, another unnecessary remake.”

The trailer is suitably creepy. The effects look adequate as you would expect from any studio these days with the amount of similar titles churned out. There’s nothing new or standout about it though.

It will probably be creepy and put chills down my spine, but you know the old one still creeps the bejesus out of me, and this just doesn’t look like it will hit that mark.

One thing that did grab my attention though is the casting. Both Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris are a pleasure to watch in most things and they may be just enough to get me watching.

Michael Flett – I had little interest in this from the word go. Some films you look at and think – yeah, that was an alright little film, never really got the recognition it deserved, the budget was a little tight for the ambition, there were ideas there that could have been developed more fully, why not give it another shot, rework it for the modern age understanding and acknowledging all that has changed since then. The prime example of this is Battlestar Galactica, which became so much more when it was revamped, more than the original could ever have been because of the way the show was produced back then, as family entertainment on a major network.

Then you have the untouchable classics and you just go – why would you even want to go there? What can you possibly have to add to that? The film is not only pretty damn near flawless, it is loved by a whole generation, and likely their children too. I remember the first time we saw it, staying at my grandparent’s house, watching it on video, I think on a Saturday night with all the lights out, and it was like no horror film we had seen before. It was modern, it was utterly believable, it was visually stunning, it was funny in places, it was scary throughout, and at times it was terrifying, horrifying and revolting. And we were watching it on television, the very medium through which the story was told, the magic box which was the centre of everyone’s living room.

Everything about it reeks of Spielberg – he co-wrote it, he produced it, and his fingerprints are all over it, suburbia, extraordinary events affecting the nuclear family, that beautiful Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack. It was Tobe Hooper who directed it, but I think Spielberg had spelled out exactly how he wanted it all to go down, as it bears no resemblance to anything else I’ve seen by Hooper, not Texas Chain Saw Massacre, not Lifeforce, Texas Chain Saw 2, not even ‘Salem’s Lot.

I can’t help but think that the producers of this remake felt the same way, as it seems to be a slavish remake, with the concessions that the trailer has been made for idiots. They actually say in the trailer that the estate was built on a graveyard? In the original there was a strict divide between “here” and there, and the camera never crossed over, but here we venture into the closet with the kid and see her get snatched.

Oh, and we have exploding houses, rolling cars, scary kids with big eyes and people hauled across the room on wires like Paranormal Activity.That’s the audience they’re going for, the moron audience. And fine, they’re welcome to it, because they don’t deserve my Poltergeist.

Mr Anderson is right when he says this shows too much – the original was a very contained film very reserved; when Carole Anne vanished, it happened offscreen, but here they’re fighting for Madison, they’re aware from the outset there is a paranormal force which has abducted her. Where is the mystery, the atmosphere?

When Doctor Lesh walked into the room and saw the floating objects it was a shock to her and the audience – when her hands shake when she sips her tea in the next scene, that’s us because we were unprepared. Here, they’ve already blown the money shot in the trailer. Where else can they go? How can they generate suspense when we already know what’s going to happen? Do they really think making this in 3D is going to change the audience experience?

I like Sam Rockwell, and he will be brilliant in this, he always is. Jared Harris I have a problem with, but I know it’s not his fault – the last thing I saw him in was The Quiet Ones, which was wretchedly misconceived in every way, and since he’s playing the same part here that’s all I see.

But what I don’t see is Heather O’Rourke or Zelda Rubinstein. They’re irreplaceable, and their loss is part of what makes the original film so special.

As remakes go, I think it will be adequate, likely better than what we had with Evil Dead and Carrie, certainly better than the remakes of The Fog and The Haunting (I shudder at the very memory, but not for the reason a horror film should make you shudder), but the question remains – why?

Further than that, why has it been made by a director who makes children’s films? Perhaps because they recognise an adult audience will reject it? It’s the same idea as The Woman in Black – an introduction to horror films for kids. If you’re past your teens you’re no longer a desirable demographic. Too much experience, too much discernment.

Still, one blessing – it’s not found footage.

Wes May – No JoBeth Williams. No Zelda Rubinstein. No Beatrice Straight.

And no interest.

Poltergeist is scheduled for release on 30th July 2015



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