There were key movies in my life that helped to make me who I am today. Movies that I have loved from the moment the opening credit rolled and still love now. This blog series is about those, My guilty pleasures, my favorites, my escapes. Some were very popular, others not so much. Some of these will have some real life take-aways, others are just for fun.
Today we discuss Poltergeist II: The Other Side
Today’s Key Movie:
In an attempt to cash in on the highly successful Poltergeist, it would only be a matter of time before the studio started work on a second installment.
Bringing back the original family, the Freelings are once again in the path of the nightmarish Poltergeist when ‘The Beast’ from the first film continues to chase after the young Freeling daughter, Carole Anne.
Why this movie?
After watching the original film, you can bet I was excited when a sequel was announced. While I was still rather young when this hit theaters, I was surprised when my parents relented and let both myself and my cousin go see the film. You see, as I mentioned last week when we discussed the first film, Poltergeist scared me to no end. While it frightened me, it also caused the preteen child I was to start to have a deep interest in the paranormal.
While I was already pretty interested in ghosts and spooky things, I had never before seen a film as nightmarishly impactful as Poltergeist. The Spielberg/Hooper film was one that set the bar for me on what a horror movie could be and I went in expecting more of the same.
I remember distinctly sitting in the theater in rapt anticipation of what could only be one of the most frightening films I would see that year. While I remember this film fondly, I can’t say that it has aged well and it certainly doesn’t match my memories of it from that first theatrical experience.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
There is something in film refereed to as sequelitis. This affliction is something that happens to many popular films where, after a successful box-office release, studios are determined to capture lightning in a bottle again by continuing a narrative where, sometimes, there is no real room to continue it. In the case of Poltergeist II, the sequel is not entirely without it’s merits, but it has some pretty significant downfalls as well.
First off this film represents a major shift in the narrative set up by the first one moving from being a simple ghost story to attempting to do something that really never needed doing in the first place, explaining ‘why’ it all happened.
By the end of Poltergeist, it was clear that the reason the Freelings were under attack by spirits was a simple one, their subdivision was built on a cemetery and the contractors decided not to remove the graves. Naturally, the spirits, led by The Beast, were unhappy and chaos ensued. Simple and effective. However, someone read deeper into that story and thus, Poltergeist II The Other Side was born.
In the first film it was well established that there was an evil presence named ‘The Beast’ by Tangina. This creature makes a comeback in the form of a new character a creepy preacher simply known as Reverend Henry Kane. At the beginning of the film we are informed that, now not only was the subdivision built on a cemetery, but the Freelings’ house was built atop an ancient cave that had, guess what, A DOOMSDAY CULT died in while being let by the same crazy Preacher known as Henry Kane. Not only that, the reason the Freelings were specifically targeted was because both Carole Ann and her mother also happen to have psychic abilities. Talk about a shitload of coincidences huh?
As the story progresses this strange confluence of coincidences keep piling up literally over explaining the reasons behind just about everything in the first film. Personally, I have felt that sometimes it’s best to let things go unexplained leaving a air of mystery. This allows the viewers to use their own imaginations to expand on the narrative giving it a little more strength over time. When filmmakers decide to remove that mystery, many times it only serves to cheapen the initial story elements damaging what made the original so great to begin with. I won’t even mention the rather convenient appearance of the psychic dead grandmother story line. Yeah, you read that right.
One of the biggest issues in the film is it’s insistence of perpetuating the myth of the ‘Magic Native’ that was overly prevalent in the mid to late 80’s. From the start of the film, we are introduced to veteran actor Will Sampson in the role of Taylor. Taylor is the Native American friend of Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein from the first film) who is sent to help protect the Freelings from the continuing menace of The Beast. Not only is Taylor a Native American, he also happens to be a mystic shaman who, literally at the start of the film, we see him communing with the spirits. While Sampson’s portrayal of the character is a solid one, sadly he is forced to perpetuate his own stereotype making his character feel a bit shoehorned into a story about ghosts, even at one point having him ‘talk’ to a car. Please don’t judge Will Sampson to harshly though. Sampson is best known for his work in One Flew Over The Cukoo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson and is honestly pretty amazing in his own right. Sadly this is not one of his better films.
While this film is indeed filled with some pretty obvious tropes, some rather unfortunate stereotypes and some pretty convenient plot points, the film itself is still pretty well produced supported with yet another solid score by Jerry Goldsmith. Despite it’s overall lackluster story, the studio certainly pulled out all of the stops to make sure it had the budget it needed. Taking the special effects to the next level, it seemed Director Brian Gibson took a nod from films like Nightmare on Elmstreet and even lesser known horror flicks like House, giving the film a somewhat campy feel at times while it desperately tried to hold onto the horror themes of the first entry. That being said, the effects are quite memorable with some of the most iconic scenes of any horror film, including a very insane attack by braces that I will never forget. Trust me, I was happy I never needed braces thanks to this film.
Cast wise, in addition to the truly creepy portrayal of Kane by Julian Beck, the Freeling family somehow manages to retain it’s believably as a real family despite the oddball story. This is mostly thanks to the fantastic casting and acting by the members of the film family. Craig T Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Oliver Robins and of course Heather O’Rourke do a tremendous job bringing their characters back and are truly convincing in their terror as Kane and his followers attempt to destroy their lives. The only Freeling not returning is that of eldest daughter Dana played by actor Dominique Dunne. While this goes completely unexplained in the film, the truth behind her disappearance is all the more tragic. Just prior to the release of the original film, Dunne was murdered by her ex-boyfriend after a brutal argument with him.
Oh and while Zelda Rubinstein was incredible in the first film as Tangina the Psychic, her role in this one was reduced to little more than a cameo and even that was shoehorned into the film to give the overall story some legitimacy. Frankly, she could have literally phoned it in and no one would have noticed. Come to think of it, if Tangina was psychic and the mother and daughter had abilities as well, why didn’t that come up in the first film…hmmmm…
Overall, the overuse of creature effects, native magic themes and coincidental plot points make Poltergeist II a mixed bag of, well, everything. The cast do an excellent job in the roles they are given but even that is not enough to even get near the bar set by it’s predecessor. I can’t recommend this as a film on it’s own but it is worth seeing if you like campy horror films with some pretty crazy special effects, including a nutso battle in the afterlife that gives this film it’s subtitle. My recommendation, avoid The Other Side and stick with part one even though somehow, this film managed to get a part III, which we will talk about next week.
OK, where do I get this movie?
If you must have a copy of this film, you should just go all the way and get a copy on bluray. The transfer is fantastic and frankly even with it’s campy nature, it is pretty visually appealing. Plus, it will make you look at toy phones in a very different light.
As usual, the trailer:
Late To The Game 6/18/2020
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
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