10 June 2015


(3D Remake)

USA, 2015
Director: Gil Kenan


The "Poltergeist" 3D remake (that no-one wanted) isn't a terrible film. It's well-made, well-developed, has a good cast and is full of pretty solid CGI effects. However, it's so incredibly unoriginal, so unimaginative, so paint-by-numbers, there's absolutely no reason for it to exist. And it's so similar to the original, there's no reason to watch it, especially not if you grew up with / are a fan of the original. It fails even as a stand-alone film because it uses the same old haunted-house tropes from the last 20 years over and over again without even trying to add something new, to create something we haven't seen before.

The movie feels like screenwriter David Lindsey-Abaire ("Oz the Great and Powerful") thought it's creative enough to only do minor changes. There was a dead tree in the original? Let's replace it with a living tree (uh, a weeping willow, how scary...). There was only one clown in the original? Let's just put in a few more clowns. "They're here" in the original, "They're coming" AND "They're here" in the remake (wow...) + more verbatim dialogue. A TV set in the original, a flatscreen in the remake etc. etc. The list goes on and on. It's a drag.

The whole new set-up of a family moving into a house, the father is unemployed, the mother is unable to focus on her hobbies because kids... *sigh* we have seen these things thousands of times before. James Wan and Leigh Whanell showed us that it's possible to make haunted-house films that is old-fashioned and surprisingly fresh at the same time, while Lindsey-Abaire, director Gil Kenan ("Monster House") and producer Sam Raimi ("The Evil Dead" trilogy) play it safe and feed the audience the same old story by ticking off some sorta "Poltergeist"-checklist - or as Steve Pulaski (Influxmagazine) nailed it: "(it) races through plotpoints like it has a checklist and a stopwatch tethered to its script." The few things that are new (power drill, unicorn pig with cape...) aren't exactly satisfying either, because they're all way too predictable.

Kenan's direction isn't bad, at least when it comes to the actors whom he directed in a delightful way, resulting into charming performances by the ever-so-great Sam Rockwell ("Moon"), the cool-as-always Jared Harris ("Sherlock Holmes 2"), the lovely Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married") or the 'super-expressive' Jane Adams ("Hung"). When it comes to scariness and tension, Kenan fails horribly. Every scene turns out the same way: a few quiet, calm seconds, then suddenly a super-loud noise and/or a special effect - yup, jump scare followed by jump scare followed by jump scare ad infinitum. And omg, how clichéd these jump scares are: person facing the corner, person gets dragged away violently, toy ball out of fucking nowhere etc. etc. *yawn*

Probably the four worst thing about it are [1] how they introduced the whole cemetery thing... erm, no... not introduced, they just mention it and then they mention it again, both times without any set-up, both times in a dull, trite and uninspired way. It would have worked much better if they wouldn't have mentioned it all, [2] that they show us exactly how the netherworld looks like: not just completely unscary and unoriginal (French catacombs anyone?), but... hell, why even bother showing it to us? The original made us so frightened, made us feel so anxious about Carol-Anne because we could only hear her voice and had no idea about where she is, who is with her, what is scaring her. Here, we get to see exactly where she is and what is scaring her, and believe me when I say that what we get to see is sooo not frightening, it's just awfully unimpressive, [3] the shockingly unscary clown scene (jump scares, jump scares, jump scares and none of the clowns look scary), and [4] how they turned the completely unlikable boy brat into a hero, which actually makes Jared Harris' character pointless and needless. Dafuq?

Actually, the non-scary scenes are the only 'highlights', especially because of Sam Rockwell's hilariously awesome performance (Squirrel!!), and his believable chemistry with Rosemarie DeWitt. I also enjoyed the movie's gorgeous look [production design by Kalina Ivanov ("Little Miss Sunshine") / cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe ("Warm Bodies)] and was immensely surprised about how subtle and unobtrusive the musical score is (Marc Streitenfeld, "Prometheus"). Plus: some unexpected nods to "Poltergeist 2" (character vomits something ghastly out after drinking alcohol) and "Poltergeist 3" (character gets drawn
into a mud puddle)

Yet, overall, this turned out to be exactly as I expected: another unnecessary and rather loveless rehash of a stunning horror classic. They could have made so much more of this (why not let the parents disappear and let the children try to save them?), but unfortunately, they didn't even try. Don't bother if you're a fan of the original. If you've seen the trailer you've seen it all.

The "Poltergeist" trilogy


USA, 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Tobe Hooper


In 1982 at the height of the slasher genre's popularity, director Tobe Hoober (who basically revolutionized the horror genre with his 1974 hit "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre") and director / writer / producer Steven Spielberg (who revolutionized not just the horror genre, but also the landscape of cinema AND the movie industry by inventing the summer blockbuster with his 1975 hit "Jaws") teamed up and created yet another movie that revolutionized the horror genre, particularly the haunted house sub-genre: "Poltergeist", one of the scariest and most influential horror films of all time, telling the story of an all-American suburban family whose home abrubtly gets invaded by an armada of ghosts which at first seem to be harmless Poltergeist-like entities, until they abduct the youngest daughter into the netherworld and show their true ugly face...

Next to "Halloween", "The Thing" or "The Shining", "Poltergeist" was one of the very first horror films I've ever seen (I was 9 years old - thanks Mom!). Back then, I was impressed and fascinated by it, and I immediately fell in love with it, which resulted into me constantly talking about it AND drawing several of the movie's scenes and ghosts (with crayons and felt pens) for weeks and weeks. More than 20 years later, my excitement for this landmark masterpiece is still there, because holy ghost, it's such a well made movie and it's so scary, and suspenseful, and entertaining, and it's sooo much fun!

The story about who actually directed it (Hooper or Spielberg) is old and well-trodden, but... well, it can't be denied that the whole thing feels as if it was indeed directed by Spielberg, and only a handful of scenes carry Hooper's thumbprint. I'm also sure everyone knows about the ominous "Poltergeist" curse which seemingly caused the deaths of various actors involved in the "Poltergeist" franchise. Well, that's all damn fascinating and fun to research - but you know what? That all means nothing when you sit at home, lights off, your eyes glued to the screen, experiencing the "Poltergeist" experience. No curses, no deaths, no speculations, just you and the best haunted house movie ever. What a feeling!

It's packed to the brim with still-awesome-looking special effects, such as the ghostly skeletal demon, a gnarled tree coming to life, an almost lava-like maw in the children's bedroom, ethereal spirits coming down the stairs, a haunted room full of flying toys, vinyls and bedside lamps, a raw piece of beefsteak that moves itself over the kitchen counter, as well as the ghostly hand that comes out of the TV (one of the best and most effective jump scares in history). Best of all: the super-spectacular and breathtakingly tense boy vs. clown doll scene which is simply incredible, the stunningly lit let's-bring-Carol-Anne-back sequence with monster heads, strobe lights and tennis balls, the fantastic finale where countless dead corpses and coffins explode out of the ground, and the insane dream sequence where parapsychologist Marty rubs his rotting flesh from its skull, one of the very few things in "Poltergeist" that feel totally Hooper-esque.

Jerry Goldsmith (won Oscar for "The Omen", received 16 more Oscar nominations!) treats our ears with one of the most beautiful, most memorable scores in horror history. Spiritual, bombastic, frightening - wow, just wow. Similarly impressive is Matthew F. Leonetti's ("Commando") colorful, almost majestic cinematography which makes "Poltergeist" undoubtedly one of the 80s' most beautiful genre films. Acting-wise, the entire cast is just fabulous, especially Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as adorable couple with great chemistry (the smoking-pot-in-the-bedroom scene is just hilarious!), Beatrice Straight as heartwarming parapsychologist, Zelda Rubinstein as her quirky but simply wonderful 'colleague', super-talented child actor Heather O'Rourke (who died much too early in 1988 from cardiac arrest aged 12), Oliver Robins as her anxious brother and Dominique Dunne as her defiant sister (got strangled to death by her boyfriend in 1982 aged 23).

"Poltergeist" is a pitch-perfect piece of perfection!


Alternate Title:
Poltergeist II

German Title:
Poltergeist II - Die andere Seite

USA, 1986
Director: Brian Gibson


Watching "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" right after watching the first part is like watching "House II: The Second Story" right after "House", or "Insidious: Chapter 2" after "Insidious"... it's just not right and it just doesn't work. The 1986 sequel is a terrible disaster of a movie, stupid, boring, ridiculous and utterly superfluous. Neither Spielberg, not Hooper were involved in making this needless cash-in. Brian Gibson ("The Juror") took over the director's chair and did a really awful job. With no experience nor knowledge of horror filmmaking, and with absolutely no sense for how a sequel to one of the most groundbreaking horror films of the 80s should have been, he took the already lame screenplay by Michael Grais and Mark Victor (who co-wrote the first part) and turned it into a complete mess.

Suspense? Atmosphere? Entertainment? No chance. Right from the beginning with the opening scene of two indians making shenanigans with fire and smoke, you realize something is wrong. Soon, you get to see a hippie-haired Craig T. Nelson doing embarrassing over-acting, Heather O'Rourke and Geraldine Fitzgerald basically re-enacting the ice cream scene from "The Shining", and a few corpse leftovers from the first part - that's when things get really stupid. But wait, there's more: a funky Indian who has a really hard time being some kinda comic relief (Will Sampson, died in 1987 from post-operative kidney failure aged 53), a weird reverend that looks like some creepy old pederast and Zelda Rubinstein who somehow forgot how acting works - what happened to her after 1982? No wonder she got a Razzie nomination for this dreadful performance here.

The direction is immensely dull, the pacing is slow as fuck and there's clearly way too many bland dialogue scenes that simply go fucking nowhere. The second half is a bit faster and parts of the finale are quite action-packed and diverting, but nowhere near the awesomeness fo the original. There's some fun with braces that, erm, come to life, flying chainsaws, more corpses, spooky toy telephones and the infamous scene where Nelson vomits up a Mezcal worm that grows into a not-quite Lovecraftian tentacle monster (designed by H.R. Giger).

Pretty much the only really good thing about it Jerry Goldsmith who returned to compose another terrific score, this time with lots of chorals and electronic stuff. Most of the acting is neat, though you can feel how no-one really wanted to do this sequel. JoBeth Williams is the only one who delivers a truly great performance, while Nelson is only good when he becomes possessed and batshit insane. Also neat: Julian Beck as Reverend Kane (died during filming
from stomach cancer aged 60).

*sigh* I just can't believe that this movie has a 5,6 on Imdb... *shakes head*


Working Title:
Poltergeist III: We're Back

German Title:
Poltergeist III - Die dunkle Seite des Bösen

USA, 1988
Director: Gary Sherman


Just when you think it doesn't get worse, "Poltergeist III" comes along and proves you totally wrong. Holy fuck, now this movie is bad! I appreciate the fact that they tried to do something different by leaving the suburbs behind and moving to a highrise in Chicago, and I can perfectly understand that it wasn't easy finishing this movie after the death of main actress Heather O'Rourke, and Zelda Rubinstein leaving midway because of her mother's death which led to re-writes, re-shoots and re-edits, as well as to a complicated marketing due to MGM not wanting to exploit O'Rourke's death. Nevertheless, that all isn't excusable enough for how unbelievably crappy it turned out to be.

"Poltergeist III" is a disaster of gigantic proportions and almost everyone involved is responsible for that. Gary Sherman's direction is so incredibly awful, it's shocking, especially considering how great his earlier films were ("Raw Meat", "Dead & Buried", "Vice Squad"...). What was supposed to be a classy variation of a contemporary classic, ended up as atrocious b-movie that looks as if it was made for video, and NOT for theaters. Was Sherman even on set? The whole thing feels as if he gave the actors a few script pages, vaguely told them what to do
and then left.

The writing is even worse. Brian Taggert ("Omen IV") and Sherman created a horrible script packed with gaping plot holes, pointless and/or utterly ludicrous plot points, extremely unlikable characters and huge amounts of bad dialogue, ranging from corny to stiff to embarrassing. Yet, the absolute worst thing about - aside from the absence of any tension, suspense or atmosphere - is the indescribably lousy score by Joe Renzetti. 10 years after he received an Oscar for "The Buddy Holly Story", he composed one of the worst scores ever heard. Imagine a really drunken person plunking aimlessly on, and vomiting over a couple of keyboards. Pure ear rape.

O'Rourke's acting is solid. Everyone else is either miscast (Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen), unremarkable (Lara Flynn Boyle, Kipley Wentz) or just plain terrible (Zelda Rubinstein - EVEN worse than in Part 2, WTF happened to this woman??? | Richard Fire - simply one of the most annoying acting performances I have ever seen). The practical effects are all very well, though apart from the cool scene where Boyle claws/crawls out of Rubinstein's supposedly dead body, some fun with mirrors and a neat scene with frozen cars in a parking garage,
nothing stays in mind.

Oh btw, I forgot to mention what is actually the absolute worst thing about "Poltergeist III": the fact that "CAROL ANNE", the name of Heather O'Rourke's character, is spoken a total of 121 times!! It's insane!! Proof here:

Love what Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel said in their video review:
"The screenplay for this movie is also amazing, because it makes a serious tactical error. It uses too many scenes in which the characters incessantly cry out for each other. CAROL ANNE! CAROL ANNE! BRUCE! BRUCE! PATRICIA! PATRICIA! CAROL ANNE! BRUCE! Finally, the night that I saw it, even the audience was joining in. CAROL ANNE! CAROL ANNE! BRUCE! I mean, I must have heard the name Carol Anne a thousand times!"


"Poltergeist III" is one of the worst theatrical horror sequels ever made. Nuff said.

1 comment:

  1. I actually think the Poltergeist remake was cool. Although I did watch the original also along with the first sequel. Normally I have no problems with the remake because for me it worked really well and I love how the characters were close to the original. I also read that Stiles White and Juliet Snowden were supposed to do the remake but they weren't able to do it because MGM was having financial problems until the rights were secured to producer Sam Raimi. I love the original Poltergeist also Maynard even the first sequel and I remember watching the original Poltergeist on TV back in my elementary years. Then later on I saw the first sequel next and I admit it wasn't as good as the original but it was entertaining for me and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed watching the original Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg classic. I never watched Poltergeist III but since I read your review on Poltergeist III I didn't bother at all. Anyways cool reviews Maynard.


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