Craig T. Nelson - Steve Freeling
JoBeth Williams - Diane Freeling
Will Sampson - Taylor
Heather O'Rourke - Carol Anne Freeling
Oliver Robbins - Robbie Freeling
Julian Beck - Reverend Henry Kane
Zelda Rubinstein - Tangina Barrons
Geraldine Fitzgerald - Jess
Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Supernatural/Ghosts
Running Time - 91 Minutes
A year after the events of the classic POLTERGEIST, the Freeling family decided to move away from their haunted home. The unit decide to stay with Diane's (JoBeth Williams) mother, Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who seems to possess psychic powers like her youngest grandaughter, Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Even though they're miles away from their previous terror, the presence of evil spirits continues to follow the family, especially after Jess passes away. It seems the evil force has taken the physical form of a creepy reverend named Henry Kane (Julian Beck), who is after Carol Anne. Luckily, psychic Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) senses the problem. She sends a Native American spiritualist named Taylor (Will Sampson) to go seek out the Freeling family and help them deal with their new problem. However, Taylor may be helping Kane indirectly, as Steve (Craig T. Nelson) sees Taylor as someone stepping on his territory as the patriarch of the family and making him feel inadequate. This negativity is being fed on by the evil, making the Freeling family more vulnerable to these poltergeist attacks than ever before.
- Special effects. POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE is a pretty disappointing sequel overall. But the SFX are probably the highlight of a film that honestly should have never been made to begin with. While pretty hokey now, the possessed braces scene with Robbie is still a great moment and once that stuck with me for years. Loved the floating chainsaws, which is obviously a nod to POLTERGEIST director, Tobe Hooper. We get some cool looking zombies as well. And probably the best, and most disgusting, effect of them all - the tequila worm that's regurgitated into a giant monster. To this day, it's probably my favorite effect in the entire franchise and the one thing that's mentioned first whenever I discuss this movie with anyone. Just really creepy and gross.
The only real effects I have issue with involve those on "the other side", which just looks really cheap and rushed. It was probably a green screen and wire work - and not good work either. But nothing beats the tequila worm creature and that's probably why the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. Even today, I think it still looks pretty damn awesome.
- Characters. Even though the script isn't good, at least the characters are still themselves enough that we can still care about them. The chemistry is still there for the Freeling family and you still feel connected to them. I liked that the characters were still effected by what happened in the first film [refusing to own a television in case events occur again]. I liked Steve getting jealous and feeling inadequate compared to the women in the family who had psychic abilities, and Taylor, who the family bonded with really quickly. I also liked that Taylor brought a new perspective to the poltergeist stuff and was pretty funny in doing so. And Kane is just so creepy, that anyone would be afraid of this dude - young and old. So while the storytelling is severely flawed in POLTERGEIST II, at least the characters are likeable and interesting. So that's definitely a plus.
- Acting for the most part. Besides a couple of people [JoBeth Williams seems bored and going through the motions and Zelda Rubenstein does nothing of note really in her really short appearance], the acting is solid for everyone else. Craig T. Nelson still has a great presence and handles the comedic stuff well. He also gets to play a villain for a bit, which he seems to have fun with. Heather O'Rourke gets to act more in this installment and does it well. I think she would have been a decent adult actress had she lived longer. Oliver Robbins plays off the rest of the actors well, but he doesn't really stand out or anything. Will Sampson is great as Taylor. He's funny and has a charismatic presence. And Julian Beck, who was dying of cancer while filming POLTERGEIST II, is one of the creepiest villains as Henry Kane. The illness he was suffering from actually enhances the performance.
- The screenplay. The first POLTERGEIST is still a hit amongst horror fans because the story it told had depth in terms of characterization, its wit and comedy during a scary situation, and that mystery as to why the poltergeist were after Carol Anne - as well as what "The Other Side" looked like. This sequel exists for the simple fact that it wants to make business off of a popular ghost film that many people cherish. Whatever was mysterious in the superior POLTERGEIST is diluted in the sequel.
Carol Anne isn't just an innocent victim, nor are the Freelings a regular family. Now it seems that the women in the family have psychic powers that the ghosts seem threatened by, or want to feed on to become more powerful - I'm never really sure why they still bother Carol Anne and her family. What worked in the first film was that the family were just normal people who happened to, unknowingly, live over a Native American burial ground - which is why the ghosts were bothering them. But now the family has special gifts. Now the spirits can haunt the family as actual physical people. I can understand the need for a villain we can actually see, as it'll create more scares and opportunities for fear. But it takes away that feeling of normalcy and makes things more predictable than they were before.
Also, we learn more about the ghosts and why they're doing what they're doing. Since this is a sequel, this is actually expected. You can't keep the mystery forever, unfortunately, since many will find that frustratingly boring. So we learn about how Kane was the leader of some religious cult and how they all perished underneath the home the Freelings had lived in the first film. This does create more opportunities for scares, but it also takes away the mystery of the unknown. Once you know the deal, the fear factor is pretty much gone. So the story is weakened because of that. Also, we find out the origin of the poltergeist and nothing is really done with it. It's never really followed through and just seems to be there because there needed to be an explanation. That's never good.
Also, the whole Native American spirituality deal is treated as an afterthought as well. In a film like this, this should have been an asset. It could have created an interesting and compelling counter to the malevolent poltergeist angle. Instead, it's just shallow and random, never really going anywhere above cliche. Native American spirituality is a very interesting subject that could have made this film more interesting. But it's just a cheap gimmick here to give Taylor and Steve something to do really.
And don't get me started on the idea of "the other side". First of all, no one needed to see what this dimension looked like to begin with. I had an issue with that in INSIDIOUS, which in a lot of ways follows the structure of the POLTERGEIST franchise. Once we see what's behind the door, the mystery is gone and all tension and suspense is lost. It doesn't help that it looked cheaply done, as if nobody on the production crew gave a damn. Still, I didn't see why the entire family had to take a trip there to battle the film's villain in a five-minute confrontation that was way too short and uneventful. Also, the explanation for Dana Freeling's absence [due to Dominique Dunne's tragic murder in 1982] was cut out [she was supposedly at college]. Very classy. This sequel is the epitome of pedestrian and just makes you realize that it should have never been done period.
- The direction. Whether Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg directed the first film, it's still better than what Brian Gibson brought forth with this sequel. It's competently shot for the most part, with some decent style and lighting. But the pacing is off and disjointed due to the terrible editing of the movie. POLTERGEIST II was originally 130 minutes long, but cut down to a mere 91 minutes. And from the final cut, you can see it. Things happen too suddenly without much build up. Why does the family love Taylor so much? Why is Steven so jealous of him? One minute Taylor arrives to the home and the next, he's admired by everyone but Steven. Where's the rest of this section? It's a pretty important plot point that got erased. Also, the final act must have been longer than it actually is because the confrontation on "the other side" is so short, it leaves you completely unsatisfied. The whole sequence feels uneven and cheap, as if Gibson gave up on giving audiences a conclusion worth caring about.
Plus the film doesn't seem to have the heart and warmth that the first one had, as this sequel definitely feels like a cash in. And this film was originally planned to be in 3-D, judging by some scenes where objects hurl towards the screen - although the fad was pretty much dead by 1986. For a $19 million budget, it looks cheaper than the original's $9-$10 million budget. Gibson uses more of a light show to create cheap scares rather than to actually create some memorably creepy moments that people will remember like in the first one. I would really like to see an original cut of this because I know there was a decent flick in here somewhere. At least the film looks nice and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is used well. Gibson has its moments, but still proves he's inferior to Hooper and Spielberg.
THE FINAL HOWL
POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE isn't a horrible film, but it is a true disappointment. The film's narrative and direction are too uneven, as both are cheap and empty compared to the first film. Making the family just as powerful as the spirits is a mistake. Editing a long film into a disjointed mess is a massive flaw. Having important ideas and plot points made to look like afterthoughts is very questionable. But at least the sequel has solid acting, decent characters, a scary villain, and groovy special effects. So while POLTERGEIST II isn't the sequel it should have been [I still think it shouldn't have been made], it's not as bad as many make it out to be. Still, only POLTERGEIST fans should check it out only if you haven't yet and want to know how the story continues. Otherwise, THE OTHER SIDE is nothing special.