Film Face-off: 'Poltergeist' 1982 vs 'Poltergeist' 2015

Film Face-off: 'Poltergeist' 1982 vs 'Poltergeist' 2015

May 26, 2015

Disclaimer: No matter how this Film Face-off ends up, or what we all think of this remake, your childhood memories have not been ruined. The original film still exists the same as it always has. It has been 33 years, and with every other notable horror franchise getting rebooted in some sort of way, it was only a matter of time before we got a new Poltergeist. So, let's see if they could maintain, or possibly improve upon one of the scariest PG-rated horror films of all time. It's 1982 versus 2015.


The Tagline

Poltergeist (1982)

They're here.

Poltergeist (2015)

They know what scares you.

Winner: 1982. First, let's take a minute and discuss the use of "they." Both films have it wrong, right? A poltergeist is a singular thing. "It" is here. "It" knows what scares you. Right? Unless we want to call the films Poltergeists. Wait, where are you going? Fine, I'll stop with the grammar. The '82 film also sports the tagline "The first real ghost story." In either case, '82 wins. "They're here," is one of the most significant taglines, period. Who is here? It's creepy. The '15 tagline is like a challenge. Oh really? They know what scares me? They better, otherwise I've wasted my money. It's the same feeling you have when someone says, "I have the funniest thing in the world to tell you." You doubt.


The Family

Poltergeist (1982)

Craig T. Nelson is the dad, Steve Freeling. JoBeth Williams is the mom, Diane Freeling. Their kids are Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke).

Poltergeist (2015)

Sam Rockwell is the dad, Eric Bowen. Rosemarie DeWitt is the mom, Amy Bowen. Their kids are Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett), and Madison (Kennedi Clements).

Winner: 1982. I worship Rockwell. You will too if you watch this -- Sam Rockwell: Dancing Machine. Sadly, none of this matters for the '15 film. While Clements has a good presence as little Madison, she isn't present for much of the film. Plus, they give Catlett (the slightly older brother) way too much to do, and end of missing the mother/daughter relationship. The '82 film establishes Diane as someone who is willing to do whatever she can, no matter how insane it might seem, to save her daughter. They also nail Steve and being completely overwhelmed and burnt out by the insanity. O'Rourke is a little blonde scene stealer.


The Others

Poltergeist (1982)

There are a group of parapsychologists from UC Irvine, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), Ryan (Richard Lawson), and Marty (Martin Casella), and Steve's boss, Lewis (James Karen). Most importantly, there is Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), a spiritual medium.

Poltergeist (2015)

Amy goes to her alma mater and recruits Paranormal Research department to come to their house. It's Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), Sophie (Susan Heyward), and Boyd (Nicholas Braun). Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris) is a spiritual medium.

Winner: 1982. I don't need Harris to ever try on that accent in a film again. But even without it he wouldn't come close to the impact that Rubinstein has as the spiritual medium. She's just so wonderfully tiny, and that odd voiced only makes her more mesmerizing on the screen. In the '82 film Marty has that iconic moment with the steak and then his face peels off. Even though it looks dated now, it's a great use of practical effects that mentally scarred me as a child. Plus, he had it coming. Who just takes a steak from someone's fridge without asking? In the '15 film they give Boyd a potential scare with a drill in the wall. His foolishness simply means I didn't care.


The Clown(s)

Poltergeist (1982)

There is one really creepy clown.

Poltergeist (2015)

There are many really creepy clowns.

Winner: 1982. This is close. The '82 film begs the question, who the hell thought it was a good idea to buy a really creepy looking clown for a easily frightened boy? Plus, the actual choking doesn't hold up as a quality scare. The '15 film stumbles upon a pile of clowns begging the question, who hides a pile of clowns? Sadly, we'll never know the answer. The reason the '82 film gets the win is because of the wonderful pace, and camera angles when the clown first starts messing with Robbie.


The Poltergeist

Poltergeist (1982)

First some tables and chairs move around, then Carol Anne slides across the floor with a helmet. A tree tries to eat Robbie, everything spins in a room, and then "the Beast" makes his presence known.

Poltergeist (2015)

There's some sort of stick coming up from the ground, lights flicker when no one is around, cards stack up, flowers die, a tree grabs Griffin, Eric vomits mud and worms, and then the spirits really want Madison.

Winner: 1982. In the '82 movie, there is a charm to discovering the poltergeist. Plus, when things happen, it's in front of the Freelings, not simply for the audience to see (like the flickering lights). Also, the reason the tree tries to eat Robbie is to distract the parents and nab Carol Anne. The '15 film completely misses that point. The CGI of a bunch of spirits/souls clawing their way around in the update doesn't scare compared to one really upset poltergeist simply known as the beast.


OVERALL WINNER: Poltergeist (1982) defeats Poltergeist (2015) 5-0

It's a sweep. I couldn't think of one category where the new film would beat the original. Even the technological updates are sometimes good (GPS trackers, a helicopter drone) and sometimes bad (HD TVs and smart phones don't get visual static). Another annoyance is the layout of the new house, especially not understanding how amazing the main staircase is in the original film, which helps stage the action wonderfully. There is no reason the new film exists, except its marketable name. Thankfully, the 1982 film still remains the same.

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