[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 28 – Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Director: Brian Gibson

Cast: Jobeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Julian Beck, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Screenplay: Mark Victor, Michael Grais

91 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Poltergeist is now considered a classic American horror film, so it seems only natural that there would be a sequel, but it still surprises me whenever I talk to someone about the Poltergeist sequels, many of them do not know of their existence, but there is a strong cult following for them. It’s been some time since I visited the series, and now seemed a perfect time for it.

It’s been a year since the Freelings experienced powerful poltergeist activity at their home in Cuesta Verde, and they’ve moved on to a new home and life has returned, as much as it can, to normal, but when Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein, Southland Tales, Sixteen Candles) discovers that the evil at the old Freeling home is still present, she sends a friend, Taylor (Will Sampson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Outlaw Josey Wales) to meet with the Freelings and help them. At the same time, a mysterious preacher named Kane (Julian Beck, The Cotton Club, 9 1/2 Weeks) shows up with an interest in Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke, Around the Bend, Surviving).

The performances are all very fine in the film. It feels like the Freelings have evolved in the year since the first film. They are both distraught that the spirit is still wreaking havoc on the film, but it also feels like their prepared for it this time. Jobeth Williams (The Big Chill, Alex & the List) runs the house again as Diane. She wears the pants in the family and husband Steve (Craig T. Nelson, The Incredibles, Book Club) is just along for the ride. The two have great chemistry together.

Screenwriters Mark Victor and Michael Grais (Cool World, Secrets of the Unknown) did a great job of evolving and progressing the mythology of the first film. It’s one of my favorite elements of the sequel. The mythology around The Beast in this film is really cool. The big problem with their scary movie, though, is that it isn’t scary. There’s very little actual poltergeist activity for most of the film, and a lot of it is been there, done that. There’s only one moment that’s very memorable, and it involves a sequence beginning with tequila that I won’t ruin for you. It’s a great sequence in an otherwise unscary movie.

The Poltergeist Curse lived long through this film. There’s something very chilling about the real-life horrors surrounding this franchise. Actress Dominique Dunn, who played Dana, the eldest Freeling, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend just after the first film was released.Apparently, the plan was to send her to college in the sequel, but of course these scenes could not be filmed.  I respect that they didn’t recast or work around it because it lets her character find some peace. Then there’s issue of Julian Beck dying of stomach cancer before this film’s release. He wasn’t able to complete post-production work as Kane. I know it doesn’t mean anything to the merit of the film, but it’s interesting and disturbing the amount of real-world death that is connected to this film.

Poltergeist II: The Other Side is a lesser film to its predecessor, but there’s some interesting world-building to this sequel, world-building that doesn’t take away from the creep factor of its central specter. The flaw though is that the film isn’t as creepy or scary as the first and it’s noticeably devoid of anything scary for at least the first hour of the movie. Things start to heat up near the end, but it took me out of the movie by that point and I was really just watching for the story, which is engaging. Still, though, fans of the first film may find some enjoyment out of this second film. I found a bit.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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