POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE falls apart like a subpar paper towel on several occasions and yet it somehow sports a scene so acutely chilling that it leaves most other cinematic depictions of evil looking hopelessly impotent. That it achieves that transcendent point without the aid of special effects (save a rain machine) compounds the impressiveness of what’s been captured. If you’ve seen the movie you know the bit I’m referring to. In it, JULIAN BECK as the reverend Henry Kane attempts to gain entrance into the home where the ill-fated Freeling family has taken up temporary residence. The day is bright and gorgeous and watching cadaverous Kane making his way to the front door is like witnessing a skull-faced wrecking ball rolling through a flowerbed leaving a trail of smoldering ash behind it. At the time of filming BECK was reportedly gravely ill and I can’t help wondering if his proximity to death allowed him to relay his grim tidings in a frighteningly unmodified manor. We peg Kane at once as a manipulative liar but wince at the base truth he dispels when he very nearly looks directly into the camera and bellows, “You’re all going to die in there!” The scene, taken alone, remains as ghoulishly powerful as it ever was and I know I’m not exaggerating its impact because we’ve received a slew of Traumafessions certifying its indelibility.
Running not so close behind is a lesser showstopper involving lovable (mostly due to cues provided by the impossible to argue with JOBETH WILLIAMS) dad Steve Freeling (CRAIG T. NELSON) getting trashed on tequila, gulping a possessed worm, and transforming into the antithesis of the good natured man we’ve come to know. NELSON mimics BECK’s mannerisms with wild gusto and even purses his lips to mime his facial structure and the result hits my favorite note of being both legitimately disturbing and borderline embarrassing. Love still holds some power in the POLTERGEIST universe so when Diane states her unconditional devotion to her hubby, he has no recourse but to puke up the demon, which then squirms and flaps about on the floor like a giant maggot. The slimy bastard even has the cheekiness to grimace like a Kane-o-lantern before hobbling out of the room! I am giving this scene less laudation because some of its success hinges on somewhat dated special effects but like the one previously mentioned, it hits a bona fide nerve. Vomit creature (as it’s listed in the credits) aside, Steve’s loathsome, post-possession behavior replicates that of an abusive alcoholic in a squirmy, uncomfortable way (not much of a leap considering the instigator he ingests is found at the bottom of the bottle.)
So with not one but two highly memorable, if not classic, scenes like these what could possibly be wrong with POLTERGEIST 2? Well, a lot. Director BRIAN GIBSON is fine when dealing with consummate professionals like BECK, NELSON and WILLIAMS, but every other cast member is left looking humiliatingly amateurish and hung out to dry. Matters are made worse by a title that sparks the imagination with a promise of revealing the afterlife when all we are delivered are poor blue screen flying effects, a badly realized miniature representing “the beast” and a too corny for even this cornball glowing grandma angel who saves the day to a furiously trying to pick up the slack JERRY GOLDSMITH score. In fairness, P2: TOS experienced more than its share of behind-the-scenes setbacks including the already mentioned death of its ace in the hole baddie BECK but that hardly explains all of the lack of creativity shown depicting the titular “Other side.” In addition, it’s a little difficult to buy the “We must do this as a family” schmaltz when the Freeling’s eldest child has disappeared and it’s deemed not worth mentioning why. The fact that DOMINIQUE DUNNE who played daughter Dana, was murdered shortly after the first film makes the mass denial all the more crass…or maybe it’s just sad.
Oh hell, you know what I have to do? I’m going to do it. I’m stamping this movie with my slightly unflattering but ultimately affirming GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME stamp! There. Bang. I just did it. Parts of it are crap and it reeks of negative energy but when it shines it shines and maybe there are better sequels out there but do they boast such monumental take away moments? Not much can alter the fact that THE OTHER SIDE is the least fun film of the trilogy (PART 3 is hilarious) but that’s the price you pay for raking up unpleasantries like spousal rape, alcoholism, child abuse, religious fraud and suicide cults (not to mention granny death) in a would-be summer blockbuster. Hey, at least it’s ambitious. People can go ahead and claim this is a retread of the first but its actually following its own dark guide. If the first film secretly worried about the teacher student relationship children have with their television this one boldly wonders if Sunday school was ever any better. I love the first movie, it can’t be beat, but one thing it doesn’t have is JULIAN BECK as Kane. If his character was all that this movie offered that would still be good enough for me. Yep, heaven is a let down but should anyone be surprised? Here’s hoping BECK is somewhere enjoying something grander than a blue screen cloud.
Wait a minute! I thought I was done with the above post but I have to add one more thing. If I had any pride in my work I’d incorporate this thought to the above text but I’m taking the easy way out and shoving this tacked on addendum here instead like a lazy bastard. While gathering the images for this pile of words I came across another scene that I’m strangely drawn to. It’s right after the grandma dies and Diane goes out to the garden, she sees a rose bush and she recalls planting it with her mother in a gauzy flashback (Me = sucker for gauzy flashbacks). A wind picks up and as petals fly by, Diane senses her mother still very much with her and how sweet. Then suddenly it’s night and a weird cloud is over the house. Diane gets up from bed to visit the area where she felt her mother’s spirit. I think she even hears her voice. Then all of the sudden rotting dead people jump out of the ground and drag her under the earth screaming (Don’t worry it’s just a dream). I don’t know, something about contrasting the earlier consoling scene with it’s pessimistic opposite so quickly afterward gets to me. One moment it’s suggested that the cycle of life is completed with one becoming part of nature and the next we’re being told it ends with one succumbing to an inescapable army of rot. See, this movie is so unapologetically morbid that I must forgive its slipshod moments. I have no choice.