I'm going to put a spoiler warning in now. If you have not seen the original Poltergeist or the remake and don't want to be spoiled, read no further!
I love a good horror movie. And sometimes, I even enjoy a good horror movie remake. This time, not so much. Last week, I sat down with my husband to watch the remake of 1982's Poltergeist, highly anticipating what 2015's technology might do to a movie I'd loved so much as a child.
I was bored.
But why? Most of the story beats remained similar to the original. So why was I so disappointed? Maybe my memory of the original was tainted by my child-self's mind?
I settled in to watch the original a few night's later, and here's what I discovered: Though the story beats were similar, they were only surface beats. The heart of the story was missing from the remake. I don't expect a remake to be an exact copy of an original. Heck, I'm even one of the rare people who enjoyed the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween. But what is the point of remaking a movie, stripping away all the heart, only to make a newer version that really made no sense whatsoever?
SPOILER ZONE: Comparisons
In the 1982 version, a family has been living in the first house built in a suburban subdivision for what I assume has been years (there was one comment made by son, Robbie, about the tree that scared him that made me question this... but given the family's seemingly long disdain for their neighbors, I'm guessing that was just to call attention to the tree.) The father works for the company that built the division, therefore, he's the reason his family is living in that house. Very early in the movie, not only do we have a death (poor little Tweety bird), but we also show the breaking of ground in the backyard as the family begins to build a pool. Then, things begin to happen. The scary tree Robbie didn't like basically eats him, providing a distraction for the poltergeist to get little Carol Ann alone so they can take her. When she goes missing, only her mother can call out to her... which leads to a lot of other scenes that makes me believe the biggest theme of this movie is feminism and a testament of motherhood. While the mother remains strong in fighting to bring her daughter back, the father is pretty much useless, falling apart, becoming a shell of himself. I don't think this is meant to be seen as male-bashing, either. Just a sign of the times in which this film was made. Mom was mom and dad was dad and those roles were far more distinctive I believe in 1982 than they are today.
We progress from there to actually saving Carol Anne, which again, brings Mother back to the forefront. She is the one to bring her baby home, not only by risking her own life, but by very metaphorically maternal means. A rope tied to her as she walks into a gaping hole and emerges on the other side covered in membrane and holding her daughter. Hello... umbilical cord, womb, birth sac, birth... Maybe I'm making too much of this, but the script was written by Steven Spielberg, so I'd like to think that was one of the main reasons this movie still holds up in 2015. Well, that and Jo Beth Williams was sexy as hell (still is) and they used mostly practical effects that don't make me groan the way old CGI efforts likely would.
At the end, you find out that the house was built on a cemetery that was supposed to have been relocated before building began. Only... the company left the bodies behind and only moved the headstones, so we have a bunch of angry spirits in the house who really started to stir once the pool construction began. And what does dad do the minute he thinks his family is finally safe? Goes to work. Leaves them alone in that same house for what turns out to be a very long meeting, and leaving mom there to save the day in the final, big showdown. I'm not saying I care too much for the dad is lame, mom is strong theme... but at least it had a THEME. So yeah, this movie.... still fantastic in 2015, and puts its remake to shame. Here's why:
In the 2015 version, a family is buying a new home. Problem 1: The father has been fired from his job and the mother (used to be a great writer, he says) is a stay at home mother. Forget the question "how are they buying a new house with no one working?" Maybe they have a huge savings or something, who knows? But why? Not like a new job brought him out here.
Okay, so there's my first problem. Second problem: There was no Tweety death or pool construction to spark things. They just "start happening" for no reason. Dad not only remains pretty useless as in the original in this version, but now, apparently mom is, too. Gone are the mother metaphors. No. This, my friends, is a tale where brother gets to play hero. Bye-bye theme, metaphor, meaning. The tree doesn't "eat" the boy, it merely swings him around a little, and again, for no reason. There was no plot to distract the family with this to take the little girl this time. It was just there to be there. Third major problem: there was no explanation as to why the poltergeist chose THIS house in this version. The cemetery, I believe, was built beneath the subdivision. Not the house. Why this family? And why now, since no ground was broken, etc? There was a small mention that the little girl was innocent and susceptible to ghostly presence, but she can't possibly be the only young girl in the whole neighborhood?
So yeah, this was a rant. And usually, when I go back to watch movies of my childhood, I regret it because my nostalgia-tinted glasses are forever removed. But the original Poltergeist holds up. The acting. The humor. The fear. The effects. Okay, maybe not the clothes. But I'd still watch this a dozen more times before I'll ever watch the remake again.