Poltergeist II: The Other Side is a sequel that misunderstands what made its predecessor great. Poltergeist was a box office and critical smash in 1986 thanks to its honest scares and script that skillfully blended supernatural spooks with domestic drama. Poltergeist II increases the slime and gore, and furthers the story by way of increased exposition into the events behind the first film. Part two has up its sleeve a few genuinely creepy moments, but for each there is a corresponding scene of laughable absurdity. Poltergeist II forgets that sometimes less is more.
A year after their home succumbed to a supernatural malady, the Freeling family has returned to normalcy in a new city far from their old spook house. Patriarch Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is scraping by selling vacuums while his wife, Diane (JoBeth Williams), keeps watch over young Robbie (Oliver Robins) and the formerly abducted Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Sadly, actress Dominique Dunne, who played elder sister Dana, was murdered in 1982 shortly after the release of the first film. A scene where filmmakers explained her absence by placing her at college did not make the final cut. Gramma-Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald) also lives with the family, and discovers that she shares clairvoyant abilities with Diane and Carol Anne. When Gramma-Jess dies, Carol Anne again receives a message from beyond, and announces to her family, "They're back!"
The descending spirits and their interactions with young Carol Anne are still creepy, but Poltergeist II wastes its energy on silly jump scares and images of skeletons and rotting corpses. The somewhat convoluted narrative seeks to explain why the Freeling family is targeted by the spirits. Involved in the proceedings are a creepy reverend (Julian Beck) and Native American Taylor (Will Sampson), who arrives to protect the family. Spiritual medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) also returns to provide some childlike advice.
I am willing to accept the film's explanation for the disturbances, but director Brian Gibson is too willing to rehash scares from the original film. Ghosts in the mirror, rocking furniture and malfunctioning electronics all are accounted for. And more than a few scenes roll over the line into unintentional parody. The scene where Steve becomes possessed after eating a Mezcal worm is one example. His near rape of wife Diane is only upstaged by his vomiting of some hell spawn onto the carpet. At least the family wastes little time reasoning with the unreasonable spirits, least of all Carol Anne, who quickly hides in the family station wagon.
The principal cast is strong despite the uneven material. It is pretty heartbreaking to watch saucer-eyed Carol Anne flail in terror with the knowledge that O'Rourke died two years later following surgery to repair a bowel obstruction. O'Rourke, Dunne and several others connected to the series died in the years after the first film's release, fueling reports of the "Poltergeist Curse." Whether or not the use of real cadavers as props in the films is the root cause has yet to be determined. Beck, who plays Rev. Henry Kane in the film, was incurably ill during the shoot, and his skeletal appearance is quite frightening. The scene where he commands the family to let him inside their home is rightfully remembered as the film's most intense.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side is not the disaster that many claim. The filmmakers and cast clearly wanted to continue the story in a satisfying way, but the train leaves the tracks a bit early during the trip. I suppose Gibson wanted to give audiences more of the jolts and gags they loved in the first film, but he misjudges the correct balance of scares and story in part two.
Fox releases Poltergeist II: The Other Side on Blu-ray for MGM with a 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer on a dual-layer disc. The film unspools with a healthy bitrate in the mid '30s, and the image looks surprisingly good. Culled from a pristine print, Poltergeist II is given a transfer full of detail and texture and lacking in digital manipulation. A nice layer of grain is retained, and the image is often quite deep. Flesh tones are accurate, blacks are solid and colors are nicely saturated. There is little aliasing and no pixilation, and black crush is never much of a problem. Overall, Poltergeist II pleases on Blu-ray.
The film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is similarly impressive. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the audio track for this 25-year-old film is unexpectedly immersive. Ambient effects are frequent, and more active scenes get the surrounds and subwoofer rocking. The score, effects and dialogue are nicely balanced, and I only noticed one or two instances of distortion. French and Spanish 5.1 DTS tracks also are available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
The film's theatrical trailer is all you get! Interestingly, the packaging drops "The Other Side" from the film's title.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side is not the worst sequel to a successful horror film. In fact, the film has more than a few effective moments of suspense and humor. It's too bad the filmmakers decided to dial back the family drama and replace it with sight gags and rehashed jolts. The winning cast handles the uneven material with grace, especially young Heather O'Rourke, but even their solid efforts cannot keep the film on track. The Blu-ray lacks extras, but fans will be pleased with the solid picture and sound quality. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.