Poltergeist Revisited


Poltergeist Revisited


by Sherif Awad
It is no secret that Hollywood is keeping on remaking and rebooting its classic library of films and that the period between the original and the re-imagined is becoming more and more petite. Just to give few examples: After 20th Century Fox produced two Fantastic Four films in 2005 and 2007, a new reboot is scheduled for release next August. And although Sam Raimi delivered a successful Spider-Man trilogy of films in 2002, 2004 and 2007, Sony Pictures decided to cancel a forth film by Raimi then ordered a complete reboot of the series five years later. But because The Amazing rebooted Spider-Man and its 2014 sequel were less impressive than the first trilogy, additional sequels were cancelled and so Spider-Man will be starring in another reboot or other films belonging to Marvel Cinematic Universe in the near future.
When it comes to horror films, “butchering” the classics is sometimes more sinister. The Amityville Horror (1979) was so original and successful that it spanned two theatrically released sequels then five straight-to-video. However, a less than impressive remake was released in 2005 and a part remake, part sequel called Amityville: The Awakening is scheduled for a 2016 release (actually it was supposed to come this year but the producer ordered some reshooting). There was also the immortal classic Halloween (1978) that spanned seven sequels then later was mistreated by a remake in 2007 and sequel to the remake in 2009, both by rocker-cum-director Rob Zombie.
The worldwide release of the new remake of Poltergeist continues the legacy of unnecessary remakes. Crediting Steven Spielberg as a screenwriter and a producer, the original Poltergeist was a paranormal story about the Freelings, a suburban California family whose young daughter Carol Anne, played by child actress Heather O'Rourke, is kidnapped by ghostly forces that uses the TV set and the closet to be transferred inside their house. Back in 1982, when it was first released, Spielberg was already a household name being the director of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. A week after the release of Poltergeist, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, another film by Spielberg, came also out after being one of the most anticipated films of that same year.
In Egypt, Poltergeist was shown in Metro Cinema at Downtown Cairo. It was a big theatre with one screen showing new films from MGM, Universal and Paramount. I was eleven years-old when I first watched Poltergeist that year in that cinema but I did not know that one day I will land an office upstairs to handle the Egyptian marketing campaigns of these companies. Like many worldwide countries, films can have another local title not so similar to the original in order to attract the public (according to the local distributor’s way of thinking) and so Poltergeist landed the Egyptian title of al-Fazaa al-Rahib that translated into The Great Panic! I remember that the entrance of Metro Cinema was decorated by repetitive copies of one campaign of Poltergeist, the one featuring Carol Anne screaming: “They’re here”. The lobby of the cinema also featured stills and the most remembered were the ones featuring JoBeth Williams with the skeleton in the unfinished pool and the Freeling family standing altogether to bring back their daughter.
Watching Poltergeist, the original and the new, back-to-back doesn’t do justice to the 2015 remake. The original Poltergeist had many creative and artistic elements: It had an effective photography by Matthew F. Leonetti, a rousing score by the late Jerry Goldsmith who also composed the immortal film scores of The Omen, Basic Instinct, The Russia House,... just to name a few and believable special effects by Industrial Light & Magic before the Computer-Generated Imagery era. The acting was as well far better as the actors were directed by both Tobe Hooper and Spielberg who had a strong creative input in the film. And yes, Poltergeist has developed an urban legend or a curse around it because two of its actresses died young: It started with Dominique Dunne who played Dana, Carol Anne’s elder sister, who was murdered by her boyfriend in 1982. Then came Heather O'Rourke who, after reprising her role as Carol Anne in two more Poltergeist sequels, died at the age of twelve due to health complication. In 2002, on a TV interview, JoBeth Williams, who played the mother in the original, revealed that the production used real human skeletons while filming the swimming pool scene because it was cheaper those days to purchase them rather to design plastic ones. Some believe that it was the reason behind the curse related to the film…
So what the 2015 Poltergeist version is offering us? A running time of 93 minutes (compared to 114 minutes for the original) that offers less character development and no plot surprise or revelation: even the secret behind the haunting of the house is revealed 30 minutes through the film. The writer of the new film not only decided to change the characters’ names but also gave some of the characters a gender swap. The most obvious swap was the character of Tangina Barrons, the spiritual medium that played by the late Zelda Rubinstein in 1982, which was changed into a TV host called Carrigan Burke played by Jared Harris. In one scene, Burke tells the family that the house was haunted because it was built on a cemetery and the constructors lied about moving the bodies and so they only moved away the headstones. To me, it was a funny line because it was like Burke might have gotten this inside information in these details after seeing the original film!
In a nutshell, rent and see the original Poltergeist!

But don’t watch it alone in the dark…