More tales from the dark side
Legend Of Zelda
How do you replace the legendary Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina? According to Kenan, you don’t. “We didn’t try to reinterpret Tangina. It was one of the first decisions I made, because so much of Tangina was the magic of Zelda. Jared [ Harris] occupies a similar role, but in some ways we really had to beef up the character, not just of Carrigan Burke, but of the academic played by Jane Adams, to create a charge that could give the film the jolt of adrenaline it needs at that point.”
“I saw [ Poltergeist] in the mid- 1980s. I watched it on my own on VHS as a kid and felt the same thrill that many of the kids in my circumstance did, which was a feeling of absolute clarity of the environment in which the film takes place to my own experience. Obviously it was stylised and it’s fun and funny, but it had such a ring of authenticity that it made the dark turn the story takes that much more terrifying. It left an indelible mark.”
Do films need gore to be scary? “I certainly don’t feel so now, but I will say the thing I aspired to when I was a kid was to be a special effects make- up artist. So I have that part in me; that thrill at seeing gore on screen. But I never felt the movies that made the biggest impact on me were gory. All of them were scary because of suspense woven by the storyteller. I’m much more thrilled by a tightly- wound experience than I am by entrails and brains splattering across the floor.”
As a fan of the original, what was it that Kenan thought he could improve on? “The originals were almost a deterrent at the beginning because they had been created so well… and so for me it was a much greater challenge to have to find my own creative spark. And luckily that came quite quickly in starting to work with David Lindsay- Abaire, the screenwriter and with Sam Raimi as producer. I found that once that spark had been generated it was much smoother going.”
“Hopefully it can be a reminder that homes are terrifying places”
Having made his name with animated horror comedy Monster House, Poltergeist’s similarly domestic setting begs the question: does Kenan have a thing for haunted houses? “Specifically I have a thing for domesticated horror and generally I have a thing for houses!” Kenan enthuses, a jovial presence even on the other end of a crackly transatlantic phone line. “There is nothing more potent than the idea of walls having a story to tell. In any story that I get excited about there is some essential component connected to the history of the place.”
The original film was a sequel- spawning smash in 1982, so much so that it’s generated its own legend in the years since – did Steven Spielberg really direct it? Was the set cursed? And what’s with the Alien poster on the kids’ wall? Naturally Kenan thought long and hard before taking on Poltergeist’s mantle. “I had every trepidation about making it. To a certain extent that anxiety is still there, although it is totally mitigated by the feeling I’ve honoured at least the expectations of myself as a Poltergeist fan. And hopefully we’ve also created new characters and new scares that can join the original trilogy as a reminder that homes are terrifying, dangerous places and you should never let your guard down!”
The film retains the original’s suburban setting, but rather than the idyllic homestead of the ’ 80s, the suburbs are now the reluctant destination for downwardly mobile big city family the Bowens, who have everyday hardships to deal with alongside Indian burial grounds and an influx of dimension hopping child snatchers.
“There was a cultural moment in the early ’ 80s – the idea of the suburbs as the place every good, hard- working family should strive for was something that was irresistible for filmmakers to poke holes in. Having grown up in those same suburbs at the time those films were coming out they spoke directly to me. I was intrigued by the prospect of placing characters into this challenging environment from the beginning of our story, and it does end up reframing their relationship with this place. Watching those results play out was thrilling.”
Much like the Freelings, the Bowens are a five- person family, with dad Eric ( Moon’s Sam Rockwell), mum Amy ( Rosemarie DeWitt) and a trio of young ’ uns ( Saxon Sharbino, Kennedi Clements and Kyle Catlett), all of whom have subtly different roles thanks to the family’s new circumstances, particularly middle child Griffin. “It was important for me that Griffin has the eyes and ears of the audience. Especially as we first discover this space and get a sense that there’s something beneath the surface we should be more concerned about. The one role that is most analogous to the original is the pure soul of the youngest daughter, Madison, in our film, the one who is most susceptible to the influence of the spirit.”
Rockwell kicked up a controversy earlier this year after describing the film as “more of a kids’ movie”, so will it be scary? “If you ask Sam he’ll say that the words were bent and shaped and used out of context,” says Kenan. “I don’t want to do the same thing, but I will say what Sam’s told me he meant is the film takes time to allow the awareness and the terror of the journey to dawn, and that we have this opportunity to slightly lower the camera, bring it below the height of an adult to wander the halls and discover the dark nooks of this house. For me that’s a more exciting way to discover an environment, so I greedily took it and made the most of it.”
Poltergeist haunts cinemas from 22 May.
He tried to keep his face neutral as he realised he’d left his porn collection out again.
Never push towards a wall of disembodied hands, kids. Just never. It’s possible she was overreacting to the new energy- saving lightbulb. She always got overemotional putting the kids to bed.
Is there anyone left who finds clowns funny and not terrifying?