Back in 1993, Electronic Arts was still small time compared to the entertainment siege engine that we gamers recognize today. The fun thing about old school EA, I would argue, is that they were more willing to take chances on unique IP.
The Haunting Starring Polterguy (THSP from this point on) is one such game; wholly unique and so ahead of its time I’m not sure we’ll see anything like it again. While the story could have used some tooling, and the difficulty level perhaps tamed a bit – THSP is still easily one of my favorite Sega Genesis offerings.
Polterguy is dead, and he’s looking to use the Sardini family as a means to remedy this by haunting their newly bought home. He targets them for no other reason than perhaps that Vito, Flo, Mimi, and Tony are collectively dicks. His name being key to the gameplay, Polterguy must frighten the Sardini family using items in the home, freaking each member out so badly that they run screaming from room-to-room – eventually abandoning their abode altogether. As they flee, each Sardini leaves behind a pool of ectoplasm. Collect enough over the four homes you’ll chase the family through (while avoiding the only thing that can see you; the curiously pesky family dog), and Polterguy will be restored to a flesh and blood punk with torn jeans and a studded leather jacket; presumably to stick it to the man and smoke behind the local Circle K.
The gameplay and visuals were unique, with a 3/4 overhead view and 400 items between four different homes to possess and use to scare the f*@k out of the Sardinis. I was so obsessed with seeing every animation, that I actually put together a spreadsheet to make sure I covered each one. Visually, I’d say that THSP was also ahead of the game; and I noticed years later to my delight that the characters seem to have a very Plympton-esque design about them.
What it needs to make it film worthy
While Beetlejuice took a pretty solid shot at the whole freaking out douchebags living in your home bit back in 1988, I think there is a lot more mileage in that idea to be played with using this title, and its potential can be lived up to best via a CG animated film.
Yes, I’d be handing the reigns of THSP over to the good folks at either Pixar – or as a distant but worthy second, Dreamworks. Both studios would provide the visual care that a film so effects laden would need to truly bring out the character of Polterguy; though more than Dreamworks, I’d entrust the writers that Pixar brings on to provide a punk like Polterguy with enough heart to endear himself to viewers.
As noted, the story is lacking. While it’s clear the Sardinis are meant to be an example of American excess, and thus pretty unlikeable by default – we need an established reason for Polterguy to have it out for them. The fun thing about using Pixar and the talented writing staff they bring to the table, is they’re not afraid to bring some dark subject matter to a flick aimed at kiddos, and finding a way to weave it into their story in a way that’s not jarring. Pete Docter and crew did it with Up, dealing with the subject of mortality and the lack of dignity in aging, and further in WALL-E with mass consumerism, a trashed planet, and morbid obesity. That’s some heavy stuff, and I’ll submit not many would be able to thread all of that through a fantastical, kid friendly animated film without beating people over the head with it.
So, could the writing crew on a Pixar offering have Vito Sardini indirectly responsible for the demise of Polterguy (they’d also have to work on that awful name) and still not Bambi us? Without question.
Finally, and I think this is the kicker – change up the family dynamic a bit. In the game, the Sardini kids are little bastards; as bad as their parents if not worse. While Polterguy is fun, children in the audience may not be able to fully identify with a dead green guy. Win Mimi and Tony over to Polterguy’s cause, and you’ve got a fun little hook that will certainly be a pleaser in theaters.
Click over to the next page to see who should be involved in a Haunting film adaptation…
To me, the trifecta of awesome that is Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, and Jim Reardon are the perfect team to take on a story that, with a little tweaking, can be a lot of fun – and bring their ability to inject heavy doses of personality and hooks to emotionally connect to. What industry types wouldn’t salivate over the idea of the team that brought us WALL-E working together again?
While two of the three on the list above could easily slip in to the director’s chair, I’d love to really see THSP really stacked with talent – so who better to bring into the loop than Academy Award winner Brad Bird? He’s been at the helm of two of my favorite animated features; The Iron Giant, and The Incredibles; and even wrote one of my childhood favorites, *batteries not included. He’s almost a thirty year veteran of all things animation; an almost peerless choice so far as I’m concerned.
This is where it gets a little tough, because while there are great voice actors out there – it almost doesn’t matter who they are unless you’re going for a particularly unique voice. I personally have nothing for the kids, and that’s fine. Despicable Me chose industry newbies for two of the three girls that were the focus of the story, and the film didn’t suffer for it. I do, however – have some personal favorites for the remaining three main characters.
James Gandolfini as Vito Sardini: Yeah, yeah – pick the Italian guy to play the Italian guy. While voice-casting in type is part of it, because let’s be honest – he’s got the freakin’ voice, I have other reasons. I absolutely loved Gandolfini’s voice work in Where the Wild Things Are. He easily shifted between having so much warmth in his tone, to sounding absolutely deadly and off-kilter. He’s unmistakably Gandolfini – which I think is a fantastic thing. I think he could bring a huge level of depth to what would otherwise just be a nasty character.
Lori Alan as Flo Sardini: Lori has been doing voice work almost exclusively; and you’d likely know her best as news anchor Diane Simmons from Family Guy. That voice in particular, just a bit more shrill and broad, would be perfect for Flo; grating with a hint of condescension.
Billy West as Polterguy: I love me some Billy West; the guy can do just about anything with his voice. From Elmer Fudd, Invader Zim, Mr. Horse (look it up – thank me later), Popeye, and a huge swath of characters on Futurama; Billy West is the go-to fella to make a uniquely memorable character in any animated fare. He’d be perfectly cast as any character in THSP – but more than anything, he’s my Polterguy.
Will it be made?
A seventeen year old Sega game who’s heavily hinted at sequel never saw the light of day? Not a chance. Still – I can dream…
Chances of box office success
Look, nobody has to know that the story is based off of an old cartridge game from the early nineties, and the fanbase certainly wouldn’t care; iPods have been around longer than most of the target audience of a film like this. You could release THSP any time of the year, and it would be a success simply because the name Pixar means so much to moviegoers these days. Still, why waste an opportunity? Slap Polterguy and company in theaters leading up to Halloween, and come time for tricking and treating – you’ll have streets full of kids in leather jackets, torn jeans, and green Polterguy masks. Win-win. Done right – and when do they do anything else – this would be yet another fantastically successful addition to Pixar’s stable of animated films. Box office platinum.
Check out more fantasy video game adaptations with Pixel to Projector.