Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986) / Horror-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for scary images, violence, and language
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Julian Beck, Oliver Robbins, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald
Director: Brian Gibson
Screenplay: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Review published November 10, 2006

Poltergeist II: The Other Side seeks to give more back story to the events of the first film, why the youngest child in the Freeling family had been wanted by the spirits, and the nature of the cult from which the spirits culminated, headed by Reverend Henry Kane (Beck).  Kane manifests himself in human form in this sequel, tenacious in his pursuit of young Carol Anne (O'Rourke), now moved away with her family in the hope they could start a new life for themselves.  Tangina Barron (Rubinstein), the paranormal investigator from Poltergeist, sends out a Native American shaman (Sampson, Orca) to help protect the family once she discovers the hidden cave buried in the ground where Kane and his followers died, knowing that the family will not be able to escape Kane's interest no matter where they might go.  

Not nearly the effective scarefest that Poltergeist had been, this sequel capitalizes on the momentum generated by its predecessor, but doesn't quite have enough fresh, new material to feel like it really warranted us coming back for more.  Nevertheless, most of the cast has returned (save Dominique Dunne, killed shortly after work completed on Poltergeist -- oddly, her character is ignored in the theatrically-released version), and the special effects are still top notch for a mid-1980s release.  The creep factor is high, particularly when some of the gorier effects come into play late in the film, but director Brian Gibson is never able to generate the requisite suspense and tension to make this anything more than an occasionally uneasy shocker.

Writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor return (also producing), which does keep the characters consistent with the first film, but without Steven Spielberg's guiding vision, the delivery is never remarkable.  While Poltergeist easily featured a handful of memorably scary scenes and moments of genuine intrigue, Poltergeist II only stands out for Julian Beck's formidable performance as Reverend Kane, whose harrowing face and imposing demeanor makes him a good foil for the naive but tight-knit family to test themselves against.  The effects are the real show for most of the frightfest, and while effectively rendered for the most part, they aren't always used in ways we'd ever find truly terrifying.  A chainsaw attacks the family's station wagon, Robbie's braces come to life, and a few other mild jolts, but your hands will never cover your eyes out of fear.

Reportedly, a 130-minute cut of the film exists, gutted down to about 90 minutes to increase showings at the theater -- a move generally done when a studio thinks it has a dud on its hands that won't last more than a week.  It isn't a dud, but it's certainly a disappointment, only of interest for curious fans of the first film's back story.  Poltergeist II isn't as bad as its reputation would have you believe, but, if anything, it does prove that the grass isn't always greener on "the Other Side".

Qwipster's rating

©2006 Vince Leo