Kindertrauma Classic:: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986) may not glow with the bright raw power of its superior predecessor, but its corny heart is in the right place; it sports some great performances, has a fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score (which I’m listening to now), and is the home to more than a few potent as hell kindertraumas. Here are some that spring immediately to my mind; feel free to add your personal favorites in the comments.

Reverend Kane at the Door. Don’t blame the self-confessed, downwardly mobile Freeling family for their temporary digs, shacking up with Grammy Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald) in Arizona; keep in mind their previous home up and disappeared into another dimension. One day while playing in the front yard Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) spies the same ghoulishly macabre, slinky man, who freaked her out earlier at the mall approaching with an apparent rain cloud over his head. Now, every scene which features Julian Beck’s incredible performance as sinister, deceased cult leader Reverend Kane is gruesomely effective but his attempt to enter the Freeling’s current temporary place of residence really takes the cake. After ignoring every possible not-so-subtle cue that he’s very much not welcome, insulting our favorite father’s manhood while attempting to Jedi-mind trick him, and even getting rebuffed with a whimper by the family dog (the heroic Pooch E. Buzz) he takes his gloves off and cuts to the chase screaming, “You’re all going to die in there!” It’s simple, to the point, and considering the family’s track record, hard to dispute.

The Demonic Tequila Worm. Rightfully frazzled thanks to the current onslaught of supernatural activity, Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) understandably turns to a bottle of tequila to buffer the perpetual chaos. Unfortunately, he also inadvertently swallows a worm from the bottle which houses the spirit of Reverend Kane (aka The Beast), and soon he is cackling like a maniac, hurling hurtful accusations and forcing himself upon his mortified wife Diane (JoBeth Williams). In a last-ditch effort to break through to her husband, who is clearly possessed by an evil entity, Diane reaffirms her love for Steve which results in him puking up a humungous, mucus-covered creature with Kane’s snarling face which slithers away to wreak havoc elsewhere. The scene works as a pure gross-out extravaganza (the special effects are amazing) but hits much deeper on a psychological level as it’s truly disturbing to see such a beloved character behave in such a fashion. Simultaneously, it stokes fears of losing control over one’s actions as the audience has grown to empathize with this character (who may possibly be horror’s greatest father figure). It’s all very off-putting and must be particularly so for anyone who has ever known a loved one who suffered from mental illness or alcoholism.

Lawn of the Dead. Poor Diane Freeling always seems to be a corpse magnet! While processing and grieving the death of her beloved clairvoyant mother Gramma Jess (sorry for the spoiler), Diane has a very bad dream. She’s out in the front yard next to the lovely rose garden she and her mother once planted when a bunch of skeletal hands pop up from the ground and grab her. Worse still, a multitude of decrepit corpses yank her into the ground and then the soil returns to its previous state as if she never existed. There is a multitude of in-your-face dangers carousing about in P2 (even a floating chainsaw) but for some reason, this incidental jump-scare nightmare that pointedly expresses the unanimous fear of the grave is always a direct hit to my morbid heart.

Subscribe
Notify of
4 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
JennyD13
JennyD13
1 month ago

Ah yes. The movie that made me refuse to answer the door for most of my childhood.

Geoff
Geoff
1 month ago

The original Poltergeist was an extremely seminal film in my horror fandom. I was 12 when it was released and saw it in the theater at least 13 times (it played all summer at our local 2-plex and I think kids tickets were only a dollar so I dragged my sister with me at least once a week.) I read the novelization and even attempted to write a stage adaptation to perform in our back yard! (Talk about youthful naivete!) So of course I was thrilled when a sequel was announced and I read everything I could about it, clipping newspaper and magazine articles to create a scrapbook. My mom knew how excited I was to see it so she took me and my sister and brother the week it opened. That was my first experience with a crushingly disappointing sequel. All the mystery and wonder of the original was gone, the kids were older and not as charming, the parents weren’t nearly as likable. A lot of the effects were really cheap looking and cheesy dialogue and bad acting abound. I know I’m extra harsh in my assessment because I love the original so much but that experience really showed me how rare it is to get a good sequel. I was spoiled by The Empire Strikes Back and Superman II, great sequels to two other childhood favorites.

HOWEVER, all that said I 100% agree about evil Reverend Kane. Hands down the best part of the movie and such a terrifying character. I wish he had been in it more but I know his health at the time probably made that impossible. He makes such an impression with relatively little screen time. If he could have returned for Poltergeist III *maybe* that one wouldn’t have been such a mess…? (Probably even he couldn’t have saved that one haha)

Also now that I’m older I appreciate more the struggles Steven and Diane were going through in the sequel. The scene with drunk/possessed Steven cruelly attempting to manipulate Diane with her unspoken fears is very disturbing and scary in an all too realistic way. It also felt like it could have been a scene out of The Shining and I think Nelson could have been a really good Jack Torrance.

I don’t mean to dog on your review. You make very good arguments. Just relating my personal experience. It might be time to give this one another watch and see if I can appreciate it more on its own merits and not compare it so much to the original.

Chuckles72
Chuckles72
1 month ago

The scene with Rev Kane at the screen door is so memorable. Actually, I feel like shooting through a screen door is under-utilized in film. The result looks very interesting and puts many viewers in the familiar position of engaging through the screen of the door. I can’t remember much of anything about the Cohen Bros “A Serious Man” except for a scene showing the protagonist talking to his beautiful neighbor through the screen door – I remember watching that scene and marveling at how great it looked.