26 Years ago, a movie came out that was so terrifying, so frightening…so ungodly, asshole-puckeringly, child-keeping-awakingly, “HOLY SHIT THEY ACTUALLY MADE THIS!” scary that I can’t imagine them ever making a movie that affected an entire generation like this movie did. The Exorcist is pretty fucking scary, but it has nothing on this little movie written and produced by the biggest thrill-ride director of all time and directed by a guy whose legacy was already set with a no-budget slasher flick from nearly 10 years before.
Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper came together in a perfect storm of scary when they decided to make Poltergeist. From the casting of Zelda Rubinstein (one of the most frightening ladies in film) and Heather O’Rourke (one of the cutest and most tragic young actresses in film) to the special effects by the ILM team, this movie was, when I was 8, enough to keep me awake for about a week. When I saw it again at around 10 years old, it did it again. Both times I didn’t manage to see the part where Spielberg peels the face off of the dummy staring in the mirror. Just couldn’t bring myself to watch it.
When I watched it again a couple of years ago…um…well…it nearly did the same thing. It is STILL fucking scary! Sure, some of the effects have dated a bit (that face peeling isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be…and the flying records are a bit much), but, for the most part, the movie has aged very well. Like a fine wine with a ghost in the bottle, it finds new ways to scare you at every age you see it at. As a little kid, it was the face peeling and the skeletons in the pool. (Yeah, that’s still pretty scary.) But that last time, as a 30 year old, it was the little brother realizing that his sister was in the tv. So petrified, he couldn’t even speak as he pointed at the tv, trying his best to say, “Ma…Ma….Ma….Ma!”
(It still makes me shiver a bit just thinking about it.)
Add to all of this the weird shit that went down after the filming of this and the sequels, then you have a legacy of fear that has run for just over a quarter of a century. (Holy shit, I’m old.)
Well, just when you thought the fear was over…Hollywood has found a way.
They are remaking Poltergeist.
Ok. Get all of your “What the fucks?!?!?!” out of the way now.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Now…let’s think about why this could be happening. The original is a very good movie. It is very much of its time, though. Think about the dad (Craig T Nelson) and mom (JoBeth Williams) smoking out in their bedroom while reading Reagan’s biography.
And let’s look at a little exchange between the kids and their mom:
Diane: Sweetheart, last night, when you said “They’re here.’…
Carol Anne: Can I take my goldfish to school?
Diane: Sweetheart, do you remember last night when you woke up, and you said “They’re here.’?
Carol Anne: Uh huh
Diane: Well, who did you mean?
Carol Anne: The TV People.
Robbie: She’s stoned.
Dana: Oh yeah? What do you know about it?
Robbie: More than you. Ask Dad.
Did Dad get Robbie high some night? And when Mom kept putting Carol Anne on the floor allowing the “TV People” to push her to the other end of the kitchen…she’s positively GIDDY! NO parent these days would do that! And that’s one of the really cool things about this movie. The parents are decent parents…but they have these weird little quirks that make you kind of wonder about them. Hollywood probably wouldn’t allow them to be this cool anymore.
Hell, let’s move out a bit and look at the state of suburbs these days. That’s what this movie was about! A brand new suburb was built on an old Indian burial ground and they didn’t move the bodies! That probably wouldn’t even make sense to today’s teenage audience! Suburbs ain’t what they used to be.
The movie was also about the family unit. In the early 80s, there was still such a thing as a complete family. It’s harder and harder to find these days. Not that it was always a good thing when it was found in the early 80s, but it was there more often than it is now.
And the kids were kids. They weren’t over-written little shit-bags who know everything. They weren’t “clever,” in other words.
So, what can a remake offer us?
Well, let’s see what the last horror movie remade by Spielberg brought us. That would be The Haunting in 1999. Spielberg, who denied us a glimpse of the shark until the very end of Jaws because it would add more suspense to the story, said that the audience of the late 90s would never understand a horror movie with no special effects. So his remake of The Haunting, instead of being an incredibly frightening character study of people scared to death without ever actually seeing anything, it became a “roller coaster ride” of a movie devoid of characters.
It was a special effect surrounding actors.
(To be perfectly fair to Mr. Spielberg, he didn’t direct the remake. He only produced it. Of course…he has also said that the only reason he didn’t show “Bruce” the shark until the end of Jaws was because the damn thing kept breaking. So, who knows? I still give him the benefit of the doubt back then. I love the guy, but he makes some bad decisions these days.)
But Spielberg isn’t involved the remake of his early 80s masterpiece of horror. This time it appears to be Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, writers of Boogeyman.
Let me say that again…the writers of Boogeyman.
Fuck, this is gonna suck.
There’s just no reason for this at all. Everyone has seen the original. Everyone loves the original. No one has said, “You know? I really wish that there was a bigger budget version of Poltergeist. That movie scared the be-shitting-Jesus out of me when I was a kid. I think it would scare me even more now with worse actors and a less talented director! Let’s get a really terrible version of the script and see what that does for the story! Sign me up for that!”
Fuck Hollywood. There’s just absolutely no reason for this. I mean, I can almost see if this movie was 50 years old. I can’t imagine that anyone is all that interested in seeing the original version of The Uninvited these days. Hell, I saw that movie around the same time I saw the original Haunting and I don’t remember it at all.
But Poltergeist is only 26 years old. And, while the special effects may not be seen as so “special” anymore, they’re still pretty damn good for the most part. It’s still a scary fucking movie! What could they possibly add to it?!
I’m usually ok with remakes. A screenplay is like a play. Anyone can interpret it at any time in history. If we were so reverent to all forms of storytelling, then no one would be allowed to do Shakespeare except for the original Globe players.
But there are certain movies that the book should be closed on. Poltergeist is kind of one of them. When someone does such an amazing job the first time around and that job is caught on film, why bother? Would you remake Citizen Kane or Casablanca?
(Ok, they’ve both sort of been remade as Velvet Goldmine and Barb Wire…but that’s a bit different. They took the basic story and put it in another world. Different animal all together.)
And I absolutely put Poltergeist up there with those two films. It’s a different genre, one that doesn’t ever get any kind of respect. But it is just about as good as those amazing films. Poltergeist and The Exorcist are the Citizen Kane and Casablanca of horror. Stop touching them! PLEASE!!!
As always, you can read more of Professor Wagstaff’s mad cinematic ramblings at his official website: http://www.profwagstaff.com