Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Poltergeist II: The Other Side Movie Review

This film might have scared me even more than the first one. That guy playing Revered Kane is just eerie and scary as hell. Every scene with him stuck with me for a long time, and still does really.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

In your best soft southern drawl: "Are ya lost, little girl?" Good luck sleeping now.
The success and strong positive reception of Poltergeist pretty much necessitated a sequel. Sure, most horror movies even in the early 80s had sequels following a year or two later, but Poltergeist is not your average horror movie. It has a real story. While it’s easy for most people to write off the horror genre in its entirety as easily digestible junk and not ‘real’ movies, this one had a good story and identifiable characters with real things to say. And their story was not yet complete, both in terms of the paranormal psychic terror inflicted on them and the unresolved issues of family dynamics. Poltergeist II is an admirable follow-up that delves into the story behind the psychic horror that invaded the Freelings’ home and further develops the patriarch Steven’s character as a man struggling with his inability to adequately protect his family.

Steven and Diane (Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams) have since moved with their two youngest children, Robbie and Carol Anne (Oliver Robins and Heather O’Rourke) to Grandma Jess’s (Geraldine Fitzgerald) home. Strange occurrences begin again and it isn’t long before Carol Anne declares, in a variation on her famous line in the first film, “They’re back!” The family continues to be terrorized by unseen forces attempting to steal their youngest away from them into their inter-dimensional existence. Grandma Jess helps elucidate some of the reasons that Carol Anne is targeted. In a screenwriting move by Michael Grais and Mark Victor that attempts to provide more story, but ends up as touchy-feely hokum, grandmother and granddaughter share the special ability to see and feel presences that others cannot. Perhaps Diane possesses the ability too, but in her pragmatic way, she blocks it.

Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina. We see her briefly in the film’s prologue investigating an underground cave full of human skeletons beneath where the Freelings’ house used to stand. Will Sampson was added to the cast as an Indian named Taylor. Tangina sends him to protect the family. I find the use of an American Indian in the role of a spiritual guide who can guide and protect people from underworld beings a little tedious and rather obvious. But the introduction of the character Taylor makes for one of the film’s most interesting themes – that Steven feels incapable of looking after his own family. Here is this bear of a man – to see these two very tall actors face to face in one shot illustrates how imposing each man is – who steps into the Freeling house. This is not exactly what Steven, already with feelings of inadequacy, needs for his emotional well-being and some of the best dramatic moments and also the funniest are the result of his relationship with Taylor.

All in all, the sequel is not quite as terrifying as the original except in one respect. The evil has now been personified in the form of an old minister with gaunt features, sunken eyes, and a southern drawl that implies equal parts kindness and menace. He is played by Julian Beck who, it turns out, was dying of stomach cancer during filming, thus explaining his haggard appearance. His Reverend Kane, the man who led all those people into the cave below the old Freeling house to receive judgment day, used to give me terrible childhood scares and is still one of the most haunting images to come out of this month of horror movies I’ve sunk myself into.

If director Brian Gibson had relied more often on shiver inducing scenes like those involving Kane, Poltergeist II could have been much better. Instead it sinks to a cheesy ending that tries to outdo the first film in terms of visual effects by having the entire family cross over to the other dimension (some Indian hooey about the whole family sticking together to defeat the evil) to save Carol Anne. This sequence is laughably bad following ninety minutes of fairly tense material and decent special effects. It’s an unfortunate dark mark to close out the film.

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