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Movie review | You can’t help but compare remake of ‘Poltergeist’ to the original

Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) desperately try to hold on to their daughter, Madison (Kennedi Clements), in “Poltergeist.”
Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt) desperately try to hold on to their daughter, Madison (Kennedi Clements), in “Poltergeist.” THE WASHINGTON POST

You might feel a little sorry for “Poltergeist (2015)” screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire and 38-year-old newbie director Gil Kenan for having had the thankless job of remaking what was one of the scariest supernatural horror thrillers of the last 40 years.

For anyone living under a rock who hadn’t seen the 1982 original about a gang of pissed-off ghosts and an unwary all-American family, this new re-tooling might come across as a pretty decent summer horror flick. For the rest of us who know the original, seeing this remake is just an odd and somewhat disappointing way to watch “Poltergeist;” like seeing a Metallica tribute band when you had your heart set on seeing Metallica.

Movie buffs might enjoy the decisions made by the director and screenwriter on which elements would essentially remain the same, and where the story would differ.

Some of the choices were good. Sam Rockwell, reprising Craig T. Nelson’s character, plays the same quippy, dry, borderline alcoholic dad played so perfectly by Nelson, but without Nelson’s heart.

Rosmarie DeWitt is believable enough as the guilt-ridden, anxious mom trying to save her 6-year-old daughter from the evil, but, again, JoBeth Williams’ portrayal in the original was infallible.

The cute 2015 star, Kennedi Clements, as 6-year-old Maddie, was every bit as adorable as Carol Anne, played originally by Heather O’Rourke, but therein lies the problem; constant, unavoidable comparisons.

Other characters reprised from the original include Jared Harris as the “cleaner” of spirits, played originally by little person Zelda Rubenstein. He was fine, but come on, how are you going to follow Zelda “this house is clean” Rubenstein?

The plotline of PG 1982 vs. PG 2015 hardly differs at all, so there are no real surprises, and little suspense, because you know what’s coming, and how the tale ends.

Overall, “Poltergeist (2015)” is enjoyable with a few clever new twists (that I won’t spoil here), enough to keep you engaged, but you can’t help but wonder if the producers would have been better off making something original? Nah, that would have really been scary.

What do those stars mean?

* Really, really, really bad. Don’t bother.

** Pretty bad, with one or more redeeming scenes.

*** Pretty good, but maybe not great, worth seeing for most

**** Really great, a winning combination of story, casting, and directing

***** The rarest gem, an all-around perfect motion picture

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