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Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

August 7th, 2012 by unkle lancifer · 15 Comments

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.

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15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 lottie_of_millhavenNo Gravatar // Aug 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I remember watching the trilogy back in high school and loving the first and third,but really hating the second. Perhaps it deserves another chance,as I don’t even remember the Caine scene and I think I associated the “vomit worm”with one of the later Amityville sequels.

    That’s one of the great things about this site, it makes me look at things with a different lens.

  • 2 Matt SunshineNo Gravatar // Aug 7, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Thank you so much for doing this! Love the Poltergeist series, and the first 2 films are 2 of my favourite movies. I was so happy when I saw this, great write up…thanks Lance.

    P2 was listed in my IAHTKY as one of my 3 most underrated. I don’t love it as much as the original, and although I can admit that nostalgia plays a small part in my love and enjoyment, I can defend it against anything. And I don’t joke or lie, I loved the other side, though I admit it did end abrubtly.

    You are also right on about Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which I love. This is my favourite score he ever did.

    I was surprised you didn’t bring up the introduction to Kane at the mall. When Carol Anne turns to see his spectre in the distance, I think we understand the sinking look on her face, that there is just something very wrong here. It also works with an awareness of our shared fears of child abduction, which really frightened me as a child, not to mention the disturbing way he sings that song to her.

    lottie_of_millhaven’s last sentence is correct. One of the reasons I love Kindertrauma.

  • 3 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Aug 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    I pretty much loathe the Poltergeist movies… particularly the first one for having so many good ingredients but lacking any sort of courage to actually make the movie scary… even as a kid I felt it bluffed it’s way out of every corner.

    That said, the moment with Kane approaching the house and trying to get in is something I always refer folks too when they insist that horror films without FX aren’t as scary.

  • 4 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Aug 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Lottie,

    I had a similar experience with the series, something always felt a bit off with part 2 as if giant chunks of it were missing. Still, there’s some great stuff in there too and Kane really does work when he’s given the chance.

    Speaking of missing pieces: I enjoy the scene with the car getting attacked in the garage but then it drives me crazy that the car drives away with damage (paint all over it, a multitude of holes) and they never show any of that happening in the scene. I guess it ended up on the cutting room floor but it makes for an awkward edit.

    I know they must have meant for something more dramatic at the end. I may have to track down the novelization and see if I can figure it out!

    Matt,

    Oh, that scene in the mall is good especially if you ever got lost as a kid in the store! I wish they didn’t show the people walking through Kane in it though. I think it would be better without that but I’m kinda weird about ghost rules in movies! I guess Kane can only be seen by the Freelings?

    Jerry Goldsmith rules! He really tried to make that ending work! My favorite of his is either Psycho 2 or Gremlins I think! Oh wait, ALIEN!!!! ALIEN is out of control perfect!!!!

    Knob,

    Wow! You didn’t like the first one at all? I didn’t know that was possible! I’m glad you can still appreciate that Kane scene anyway. I think you could show just that scene out of context as a short film and it would absolutely work and still be just as scary. I even like the texture that the screen door puts over his face. It almost looks like canvas.

    btw knob you should do a IAHTKY! I want to hear your picks!

  • 5 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Aug 8, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Do I complain too much?
    Probably…
    It’s not that I don’t like the first one at all, that I could just ignore… instead it frustratingly walks up to the edge of scary and then pulls its punches… over and over.
    It’s the first movie I remember looking forward to seeing and then feeling like someone pulled a fast one on me.
    It’s well made, well acted… but so many of the gags look like leftovers from Indiana Jones and Close Encounters… it’s just too damn much FX… the same cock-up Spielberg handed out with his remake of ‘The Haunting’ (I continue to curse him for that one). With less it could have been so much more.

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Aug 8, 2012 at 8:28 am

    KNob- No, you don’t complain too much! You always have an interesting opinion! And I see your point, I really love the original film but there are scenes (like the one with the guy ripping his face off in the mirror) that are chained to the time period. On the other hand, I think the series is really unique in showing a child’s eye view of terror and that stuff holds up. The approaching storm, the clown doll and even that canary in the cigar box hit on something universal.

  • 7 eyesofbenNo Gravatar // Aug 8, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Hi, this is the artist formerly known as Ben S (I finally decided to register)! I love this review. POLTERGEIST II was the first horror movie I ever saw, so it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

    In addition to all of Kane’s “present day” scenes, I also find the scenes with Diane’s “psychic-vision” cult flashbacks wonderfully traumatic (Tangina screaming “TELL ME WHAT YOU SAW!” while Diane recounted the horrors of the cult kept me up a little the night after I saw it for the first time).

    Have you ever noticed that the song that plays during Diane’s first flashback (cross-cut with “Let me in!”) sounds an awful lot like the Kellerman’s song from the end of DIRTY DANCING?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5mereCM83Y

    Yeah, um, neither did I.

    POLTERGEIST II is very tonally different from POLTERGEIST, and I think I actually appreciate its extra sappy sentimentality (juxtaposed, as you mention, with so much real life nastiness). I am probably also the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who actually is moved by the “Goodbye Grandma!” ending, and also the scene where Geraldine Fitzgerald emerges through the body of the unhappy diner patron. Makes me miss my own grandmother. I primarily think of both POLTERGEIST movies as tearjerkers.

    Finally, I will embarrass myself further by noting that, for some remarkable reason, the “Other Side” finale (which intellectually I know is really subpar) has always oddly satisfied me. That’s what I imagined that The Other Side looked like when I saw the first film! Possibly because a) I saw the second film first, and b) I was 6.

  • 8 eyesofbenNo Gravatar // Aug 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

    For evidence that DIRTY DANCING ripped off POLTERGEIST II, fast forward to :30.

  • 9 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Aug 8, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    eyesofben,

    You’re right those flashbacks are pretty darn good and I like the weird angles used and Jobeth Williams crying will always move me! I guess it’s safe to say that every morsel we get of Kane is worthwhile.

    and OK, I may get the smallest tiniest tear in my eye at magic grandma ghost but only when nobody else around.

    Ha- I never noticed that Dirty Dancing song was so creepy before!

    Alas, I will always be disappointed by the “other side” and all the floating around. It reminds me too much of the inside of the top hat in Lidsville….

  • 10 Lynette FrommeNo Gravatar // Aug 9, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Totally agree with knobgobbler.

  • 11 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Aug 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    H. R. Giger did some really amazing concept art for Poltergeist 2. It might have been cool if more of his stuff made it to the screen.

    Check out these 2 pages…..

    http://lcart3.narod.ru/image/fantasy/giger/po/1.htm

    http://lcart3.narod.ru/image/fantasy/giger/po/2.htm

  • 12 Matt SunshineNo Gravatar // Aug 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    Lance, though I love Poltergeist II as is, I agree and wish more of his stuff made it in to the film. It’s been years since I read the novelization, but I’m positive there was more to it and at least one scene would have involved expansive special fx.

    Lance & eyesofben – you’re not alone, I also have to admit there are scenes and Poltergeist 1 and 2 that are very emotional for me. And eyesofben, you aren’t the only one…I agree with what you said. I do love The Other Side and feel some strange mix of sadness and joy, as well as in P2, the conversation between Carol Anne and Grandma Jess in the kitchen. Especially when Carol Anne tells her she doesn’t want to grow up, and even more so now that I am older and the actress playing her, Heather O’Rourke died as a child.

    Lance, do you own any albums of Goldsmith scores? I love P1 and 2, and agree Gremlins, Alien and Psycho II are fantastic…even on their own. The opening credits of Psycho II have always struck a nerve with me and I never told you at the time because I wasn’t a member, but your Psycho II tribute from a few years back absolutely killed me. I could have said literally every single word.

  • 13 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Aug 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Matt, I just re-watched Pyscho II recently with some friends and I swear it never fails to blow me away. It just seems to get better and better with age. That score is one of my all time favorites and yes, I do own that one! I’m very glad you appreciated that post! I could watch that movie again in a second and it’s one of the main reasons I ignore people when they complain about sequels. It’s so well done and because I so enjoy the relationship between Norman and Mary, I actually prefer it to the original.

    It’s too bad that a decent collector’s edition of Poltergeist II has not yet come to be. I would love to hear more about what was originally intended and what was lost. (I have to read that tie-n book!) I’m sure you have already been to this place, but I highly recommend this exceptional fan site for anyone interested in the movie….

    http://www.poltergeistii.poltergeistiii.com/

  • 14 Matt SunshineNo Gravatar // Aug 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    I feel the same Lance, and I also prefer Psycho II to the original. Everything you mentioned, the score, Norman & Mary, I love the twist ending and the look of the film and camera work. I also think Perkins’ performance is crazy good and goes way over the first. Maybe you could do a post about the finer sequels…I forget if there is one already.

    BTW, I do love that site very much…thank you.

  • 15 boxxxerNo Gravatar // Aug 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    you got me up at 3 in the morning to tell me this? you are a pack o’ trouble, girl

    thanks for showing appreciation for this much maligned sequel. though heavily cut, i love P2 almost as much as P1, balancing the happy family cheesiness with healthy humour and horror.

    another great kindertrauma was Robbie’s Evil Braces scene

    P3 is hilariously terrible. half the script was ‘Carol Anne’ repeated 113 times

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