By admin | October 27, 2003

Something about “Poltergeist” scares me, but it is not the same as what did so when I was a kid. What scares me is the inevitability of a “Poltergeist” special edition or remake. Think about it. The film is 20 years old, the special effects haven’t held up well, and Hollywood is afraid of new ideas. Can a new re-mastered and re-edited version of the film, a la “The Exorcist,” be far off? Or even a “Star Wars” style special edition, with new and improved battle scenes? Why not just a remake, with Sarah Michelle Gellar as the eldest daughter and Freddy Prinze Jr. as the creepy tree?
As the film has been discussed and parodied endlessly over the last 20 years, most people know the fairly simple plot. The Freeling family moves into a house built by the father’s company, and everything seems nice and peace at first. But unbeknownst to the Freelings, an evil spirit in their house has its eyes on Carol Anne, the youngest of the three children. The spirit speaks to her through the television, and sucks her in through her bedroom closet. The rest of the family quickly learns of her fate, and spends the rest of the film trying to rescue her while dealing with their own ghostly encounters.
Unlike modern horror movies, “Poltergeist” relies more on mood and suspense than blood or gore. Several scenes are still quite chilling, especially early in the movie. The characters are given ample time to develop at the beginning of the film, and become very human and sympathetic over the course of the film. However, as the film progresses, the focus switches from the Freelings to a team of paranormal investigators brought into the house. Once it does, the film begins to weaken. The investigators are flat and practically nameless. The suspense begins to wane because the characters the audience actually cares about are marginalized. It’s hard to feel fear for characters that aren’t on camera.
With the shift away from the central characters, the focus becomes the special effects, which become far more prevalent in the latter half of the movie. While they have held up better than many other old horror films, they definitely appear dated. Fortunately, the closing minutes of the film shift the spotlight back on the Freelings for the famous climax.
The weakness of the middle of the film is exactly what will doom it to the inevitable new version. It has name recognition, a tag line everyone knows (they’re here!), and room for improvement. But are new versions EVER better?
Let’s assume the worse, and that an all-out remake is what happens. Buffy the Vampire Slayer would play Dana, the role originally held by the late Dominique Dunne. Of course, Dana would be shifted from a marginal character to the star. In order to reach the WB crowd, Dana would be the sole guardian of her younger two siblings, as her parents died in a horrible “Party of Five” style accident shortly after moving into the haunted house. After Carol Anne (played an Olsen Twin) disappears, Dana would hire a team of hip and sexy paranormal investigators, led by Dr. Lesh (Paul Walker) and his assistant, Matthew Lillard. With the help of a streetwise urban psychic, most likely played by Eve or Rah Diggah, the group would rescue Carol Anne, and Dana would move her family into Dr. Lesh’s condo. I can see the ad campaign now: They’re here…the sexiest ghost hunters ever! Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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