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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.”

First Im­pres­sions

“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.”

Hor­ror Show

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.”

Ori­gin Story

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?

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