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FLICKS: Poltergeist

Posted on 28 May 2015 by LeslieM

flicks052815By Dave Montalbano


It has been 33 summers since I last ushered at the United Artist Movies at Pompano and the two big films playing that week were Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Poltergeist. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist was perhaps a satirical look about the influence of television on the suburban family unit. Spielberg incorporated his childhood fears into this noisy ghost story and it was a box office winner, until E.T. the Extraterrestrial was released a few weeks later.

MGM released two more Poltergeist films, that were critical and box office disappointments. Whereas the first movie could be labeled a family movie with a roller coaster ride between horror and humor, the two sequels strove to create a darker mythology that many Christian organizations found insulting.

The new Poltergeist avoids insulting Christians and strives to simply tell a haunted house story with noisy ghosts.

In this revisionist reboot, we meet the Bowen family, who are moving to a new neighborhood. Pop Bowen (Sam Rockwell) is an unemployed father who supports his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), who is a writer. The parents have three children, teenager Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), middle schooler Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and youngest sibling Madison (Kennedi Clements), who already talks to invisible people.

Unlike the Freeling family (JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson) of the first movie, the Bowen family faces instant hardship their first night in the house. A tree and a clown doll attack Griffin, while big sister has cell phone trouble. During these attacks, Madison is sucked into the netherworld and can only communicate via the television set.

The tree, the clown doll and the ghosts in the television are repeated motifs from the original film. After three decades, the use of cell phones and wireless Internet updates the technology; however, there is nothing new to add to this Poltergeist saga. Like the disappointing Super 8 from four years ago, modern directors seem more focused about reviving Spielberg’s 1980s hoopla than telling a new story.

Had this film not been named Poltergeist, it would have been more accepted as a Saturday matinee popcorn-eating flick. It is fun to watch Sam Rockwell play against type as a concerned father; it is his most heroic role in a big budgeted motion picture. The child actors are endearing.

Much like the opening of King Tut’s tomb, there is a superstition of a “Poltergeist Curse” from the original trilogy. Playing the teenage sister, Dominique Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend on Halloween Eve the same year that the film was released. As the youngest sister, Heather O’Rourke died on the operating table before the release of Poltergeist 3. Only Oliver Robins (who played the Freeling brother) survived to adulthood. Besides writing and directing independent films, Robins owns his own marketing business that is inspired by horror movies.

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