It’s been 32 years since the release of Brian Gibson’s follow up to the 1982 Tobe Hooper classic Poltergeist. The film is an interesting follow-up and the horror ante is definitely upped, and we aren’t just talking about JoBeth Williams’ perm and Craig T. Nelson’s mullet. Let’s take a look back at Poltergeist II: The Other Side.
Back with the Freelings
It’s been one year since the events of Poltergeist and Cueste Verde has been excavated. Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), with the help of Taylor (Will Sampson), have discovered a mass grave located in a cave. And, of course, that mass grave sits right below where the Freeling’s home once stood. The many found dead died while following Reverend Henry Kane, a psychotic preacher whose spirit is after Carol Anne.
The “freaky Freelings” now live with Grandma Jess, Diane’s mother. With Steven (Craig T. Nelson) now selling vacuum cleaners and the family in a constant battle with the insurance company about their disappearing home. The insurance company keeps denying their claims, with the latest reason being “if the house disappeared then technically it’s just missing”. We quickly learn that Grandma Jess is clairvoyant and apparently its runs in the family, explaining Diane and Carol Anne’s abilities. Sadly, Grandma Jess passes away in the night and that’s when the trouble starts.
Kane comes in contact with the family several times, testing them, trying to enter their lives. With the help of Tangina’s friend Taylor, the Freelings are able to learn more about Kane and the monster he has become in death. In a particularly gross scene, Steven drinks alcohol with a worm in it that causes him to become possessed by Kane. After attempting to rape Diane, Steven vomits up the worm, now gruesomely evolved which quickly grows larger and larger. After Steven gets him to go away, the family decides it is time to return to Cueste Verde. There, they descend into the cave and are taken to the other side. Then they must defeat Kane, and Grandma Jess ensures Carol Anne is safely with her family once more.
Behind the Specters
While this film has its own scares, the tone of the film seems distinctly different. Yes there is a similar plot structure, but overall this film seems much darker. Part of this comes from the fact that the set itself was under a shadow. The most obvious thing missing from Poltergeist II: The Other Side is the presence of the oldest Freeling daughter, Dana, played by Dominique Dunne. While the film intended to have Dana going off to college, no real explanation is given during the film as to where Dana is. Sadly, Dominique Dunne was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1982, not long after the release of the first film.
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While Julian Beck’s portrayal of the evil Reverend Henry Kane still scares me every time I watch it, there is a deep sadness to his performance in retrospect. Beck’s visage and voice always frightened me since childhood, and as the film’s villain that works great. But that sad truth is that Beck was in fact dying when he portrayed Kane. Beck was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1983 and passed away in 1985, before the film was completed. As a result, voice actor Corey Burton was asked to record some of Kane’s uncompleted dialog. During filming, Julian Beck was very thin and you can see just how so in his face. Beck’s thin skin and sunken features give him a skeletal appearance that adds the Kane’s creepiness. As effective as it is visually, one cannot watch the film and not feel sadness.
Amping up the Horror
Poltergeist fed our fear of clowns and televisions. Poltergeist II: The Other Side will make you question braces and toy phones. Instead of Carol Anne communicating with spirits via the family television, she talks to them via her toy telephone after she uses it to speak with Grandma Jess. Same rope, different means.
Personally, there are three scenes in this film that kick up the creep factor. The first one is when we first seen Julian Beck’s Kane walking toward Carol Anne. Gives me the shivers. Carol Anne can’t find Diane or Robbie and is calling out for them. Just then we see Kane approaching.He is translucent and moves right through others in the scene. It’s chilling and it sets the mood for Kane’s introduction.
The next frightening scene comes from Robbie’s braces. Every kid gets anxious and self-conscious about their braces. But what if your braces turned on you? Like literally. Well poor Robbie, that’s what happens the middle Freeling child. As if clown attacks, and tree attacks weren’t enough, now the poor kid has his braces attack him. The wires extend out from the braces and keep expanding until the kid is covered in wires. As Steven tries to free him from the wires, the wires attempt to strangle Steven, as well as move towards the light socket to electrocute them both. The zap finally frees them, but one can’t not feel sorry for anyone with braces watching the film.
The last scene that, for me at least, is very difficult the watch is Steven’s possession. From the disgusting worm swallowing, to the attempted rape of Diane, the scene is dark as can be. Then we are forced to watch Steven vomit up the mutated worm as Diane screams her head off. The whole thing feels so much more vicious that the horror scenes of the original film.
Native American Mysticism
While we’ve all heard the old “haunted house built of indian burial ground” schtick, this film seems to depend on the Native American angle a little too much. Taylor is depicted as this mystical shaman who uses mystical powers to help the Freeling’s defeat Kane. We see this in two instances.
Firstly, after Steven’s possession, Steven wards off Kane using a smoke spirit, given to him by Taylor. Then later in the cave, once we have ventured to the other side, Taylor provides Steven with a magical spear to destroy Kane. The original film had the Freeling’s turning to paranormal psychologists performing experiments and analyzing data to get Carol Anne back. But this time we are merely given a convenient solution to the problem, which is a little disappointing when compared to the intensity of the first film.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side was released May 23, 1986. The film grossed just under $41 million domestically, which was roughly only a third of what the original film had grossed. However, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for its visual effects. While Poltergeist II: The Other Side, doesn’t have the punch that Tobe Hooper’s original film did, Brian Gibson’s sequel is a good follow-up. Either way, there are plenty of 1980’s special effects and totally creepy moments to keep you’re eyes glued to the screen.
ADS ARE SCARY
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