Directed by Brian Gibson in 1986, Poltergeist II: The Other Side takes place a year after the events that ended the first film, wherein the Freeling family watched their house be destroyed by the evil spirits that had plagued them. When this second film picks up, Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams respectively) have moved with their kids Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) to Phoenix, Arizona. Here they've moved in with Diane's mother, Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald), an aging clairvoyant who feels that Carol Anne has inherited her abilities to connect with the spirit world.
Meanwhile, in the California suburb that they left behind, an archeological dig is going on in the Freeling's old neighborhood. Curious to see what she can learn about the area's history, the medium that the Freeling's used in the first movie, Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), has arrived to explore. She finds that directly under the Freeling's home is a massive old cave that holds the corpses of Rev. Henry Kane (Julian Beck) and his followers, members of a long gone doomsday cult. Tangina is able to figure out how and why Kane's presence effected the Freeling's the way that it did, and just as importantly, in the form that it took.
When Jess passes away shortly after the Freelings arrive, her predictions about Carol Anne's abilities prove to be spot on. Before you know it she's getting strange phone calls on her toy phone from dearly departed Jess and from Kane as well. When it all starts to hit the fan, Steve gets the family out of the house as quickly as possible, but it's then that they run into a shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson). It turns out he's been sent by Tangina and she wants the Freelings not to run away, but to stay and fight in hope that they'll be able to do away with the spirits that plague them once and for all.
A worthy follow up to the original picture, Poltergeist II isn't a perfect film (neither was its predecessor for that matter) but like the first picture, it is a fun one. There's enough entertainment value here that we can overlook some of the flaws and plot holes and, if you're of a certain age, there's some serious nostalgia at play here making the movie fun to revisit. The film does a few interesting things to differentiate itself from the original, the biggest plus here being the inclusion of Julian Beck as Kane. Though he was in poor health while filming this (and died from cancer shortly after) he effectively paints a macabre picture with his portrayal of the undead cult leader. The guy is just spooky looking and while he doesn't have a ton of lines here, when he speaks there's just something sinister about him. Throwing Will Sampson into the mix as the well intentioned shaman is also a nice touch, he's just got an interesting screen presence and he's fun to watch.
Of course it's also fun to see the main cast members of the original movie back in action. Nelson and Williams are perfectly likeable as the parents while O'Rourke and Robins are both good as the kids in seemingly constant supernatural peril. Bringing Zelda Rubinstein back as Tangina was obviously a no-brainer, given how iconic her work in the original film was, and she's a kick to watch in her typically bizarre role.
The movie also benefits from some genuinely solid special effects work. The makeup employed throughout the picture is quite good as are the opticals, even if they are clearly a product of the mid-eighties. There's some genuinely spooky imagery on display throughout the movie in addition to some impressive creature design work that tends to steal the spotlight from the human characters any time it's used. Add to this the fact that the movie is well shot, that it moves at a really good pace and that it features a pretty decent score from the great Jerry Goldsmith and this shapes up pretty nicely.The Blu-ray:
Shout! Factory's domestic Blu-ray release of Poltergeist II, taken from a new 2k scan of an interpositive, looks really solid. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation is properly framed at 1.85.1 and it typically speaking in very nice shape indeed. Some shots are definitely using an intentionally softer focus and there are scenes where the optical effects understandably affect detail levels a bit, but those stylistic choices aside the picture is impressive. Texture and depth are also impressive here and color reproduction looks great. Black levels are strong, and the image is free of compression artifacts, edge enhancement or any obvious noise reduction. It's also a very clean picture, in that there aren't any problems with print damage, dirt or debris while the obvious grain that does appear seems natural enough.Sound:
English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD in your choice of the original 2.0 Stereo or a 5.1 surround mix with removable subtitles offered in English only. Both tracks are clean, clear and nicely balanced with the 5.1 mix predictably spreading the score and effects around through the surround channels. Dialogue stays easy to follow and perfectly audible and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
Extras start off with a pair of new audio commentary tracks, the first of which is with Writer/Producer Michael Grais. This track (which is moderated by Michael Felsher) features Grais talking about the want on the part of the studio to follow up the success of the first film and how he tried to go about doing something different with the storyline while still keeping true to the spirit of the original. He also shares his thoughts on the effectiveness of certain scenes, his thoughts on the cast and crew, the director, the effects work and quite a bit more. The second commentary features Poltergeist fan site Webmaster David Furtney, who gives a really solid overview of the film and its history in his piece. Lots of detail here about what it was like behind the scenes, facts on the script and how it changed over the course of production, the locations that were used, the effects work, the cast and crew and quite a bit more.
Shout! Factory has also wrangled up some new featurettes, starting with Robbie's Return: An Interview With Oliver Robins which runs fourteen minutes. Though he was quite young when he made the movie, Robins speaks quite candidly about his time on set and clearly remembers things not only vividly, but pretty fondly as well. He talks about Brian Gibson's directing style, how he got along with JoBeth Williams, how it was hard on him as a kid having to film some of the more effects intensive scenes that he was involved with, some of the other stars he was cast alongside and more. The Spirit World: An Interview With Special Effects Designers Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson And Screaming Mad George spends twenty-two minutes going over the effects work that plays such an important part in the picture. Lots of interesting details here about what went into creating the creature effects as well as some stories from the trenches regarding who did what, some of the tricks of the trade that these guys employed during the shoot and other assorted effects related bits and pieces. Ghosts Of Giger: A Look At The Contributions Of Artist H.R. Giger is an interesting twenty-two minute piece made up of loads of photos and illustrations as well as interviews with Giger's friend/agent Les Barany and Special Effects Designers Steve Johnson, Richard Edlund and Screaming Mad George. Barany explains how Giger's agreeing to do the film affected him in the eyes of some of his contemporaries and how he didn't want to travel from his homeland to work on the picture, while the effects guys discuss having to create physical versions of Giger's exceedingly complex and bizarre designs. Interesting stuff.
Also on hand are three vintage featurette beginning with the six minute They're Back: The Making Of Poltergeist II. The three minute Monster Shop And Ghostmakers: The Magic Of Poltergeist II covers, as you'd expect, some of the effects work as does the similar Ghostmakers: The Magic Of Poltergeist II piece. Throughout these shorter, older pieces we get interviews with various cast and crew members as well as some interesting footage shot on set.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, two minutes of TV spots, three different still galleries (Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Stills, Posters), a collection of script pages, animated menus and chapter selection. The disc comes packaged with reversible cover art and a nice cardboard slipcover.Final Thoughts:
Poltergeist II is a pretty decent follow up to the original film. It doesn't retread the original story so much as it toys with some of the concepts and ideas that it dealt with, taking things in some interesting new directions and carving out its own place in the mythos of the franchise. Despite some missteps along the way, it's a pretty entertaining film made with a decent cast and featuring some solid effects work. Shout! Factory has rolled out the red carpet for this release, presenting the film in excellent shape and with a lot of genuinely interesting and worthwhile supplements. Recommended.