Poltergeist II: The Other Side - Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (5th March 2017).
The Film

The 80's were fertile ground for horror sequels, with nearly every film that was a remote hit scoring at minimum one follow-up. So, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Tobe “Collect the paycheck and let Steven do the work” Hooper’s “Poltergeist” (1982) would exhume (most) of the original’s cast for another go-round. The problem, however, is the film that followed, “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” (1986), proves a sequel rule not only for stellar original movies but for Spielberg titles, too: it isn’t needed. Key word: “needed”. This isn’t commenting on those rare sequel exceptions; this is a fact true of sequels in general. And also sequels to Spielberg films. Look, I enjoy the subsequent entries in the “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” series as much as every fan of killer sharks and dinosaurs, but were any of them remotely as good as the first? Spielberg has an incredible ability to capture awe and wonder and discovery better than almost any other director out there, but those are filmic qualities that are extremely difficult to replicate.

“Poltergeist” took time to uncover the mystery of what is afflicting the Freeling family, specifically young Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke). Characters were richly developed, a strong familial bond was established, unexplained events grew in frequency and fear level as the movie progressed… all of this felt organic, never contrived. I can still watch “Poltergeist” today, after a couple decades and nearly as many viewings, and it gets me excited each time.

Alright, enough effusive gushing – how’s the sequel? Not that good. Most of the Freeling family is back with the exception of Dana, since actress Dominique Dunne was killed by her boyfriend in the fall of 1982. They now live with Diane’s (JoBeth Williams) mother, “Grandma Jess” (Geraldine Fitzgerald), in Phoenix (which is definitely not Altadena, CA; a stone’s throw from the first film’s primary location). The old site where the Freeling house once stood in Cuesta Verde has now become a site for paranormal archaeology, where Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), continues to look for signs of the afterlife. Her digging reveals an underground cave where the body of Rev. Kane (Julian Beck), a long-dead, crazy preacher is discovered. Tangina confers with her Native American shaman buddy, Taylor (Will Sampson), who drives to the Freelings’ new home to help protect them.

The Freelings, meanwhile, have been trying to adjust to their new lives. The family seems mostly back to normal, although they refuse to own a TV. Robbie (Oliver Robins) seems to resent the situation they are now in, though it doesn’t seem to bother Carol Anne at all. One night, Carol Anne gets a call from Grandma Jess on her toy phone; the next morning we learn Grandma Jess died that night. Rev. Kane and his spirits attempt to enter the home via Carol Anne’s plastic phone but the family flees before undergoing a repeat of their last paranormal encounter. Taylor, however, catches up with the family and tells Steven (Craig T. Nelson) running will do no good because these spirits will find them wherever they go. Taylor brings everyone back to their home and strengthens it with his shaman magic, but a final fight with Kane still looms on the horizon.

I really want to like this movie more than it allows but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. Worse, it actually devalues some of the actions and characters from the first film. The idea of a faceless horde of malevolent ghosts is a scary concept because it isn’t a single, recognizable antagonist, whereas making Rev. Kane the villain here creates not only a weak moment of retconning (suggesting it was him all along) but also diminishes that fear of the unknown. Kane is certifiably creepy, don’t get me wrong, but he is less effective as a villain than the entities of the original. Secondly, all of this is old hat for the Freelings. We’ve seen them go through the paranormal ringer already, and nothing done to them here is as enthralling as last time…

…except for a potential cool moment: the other side. As the film’s subtitle suggests, viewers are likely going for a trip to that otherworldly dimension only glimpsed in the first film. And once the film takes us there we’re astounded to see… actors hanging from wires in front of a blue screen projecting pastel paint swirls? The hell? Talk about a missed opportunity. Look, it’s one thing if your movie is, say, “Phantasm” (1979) and you don’t have much of a budget to make your netherworld something grand, but “Poltergeist II” spent more on craft services than Don Coscarelli had for his entire shoot. It would have been great to see some crazy, inventive production design in there. Make it memorable.

Of course, MGM also cut this film to ribbons – the final conflict with Kane lasts all of 47 seconds, Dana’s absence is never even touched upon, Tangina’s role was cut significantly – so there is clearly some blame that lies with the studio.

There’s also some garbage in here from Grandma Jess, conveniently just before she dies, talking about how Diane is clairvoyant and so is Carol Anne and Grandma, too, so viewers can know to expect her to show up as Ghost Grandma at the climax and do something big to help the family.

Other than a genuinely unsettling performance from Julian Beck as Kane – the actor had cancer during filming, which gave him that skeletal appearance – the best moments on screen come from the film’s impressive FX team. Creature design duties were handled by H.R. Giger, with realization coming from Steve Johnson, Screaming Mad George, and Richard Edlund. Unfortunately, a lot of Giger’s work was discarded and what did wind up on screen was blasted by the artist but, ironically, those fleeting moments of the legendary artist’s designs are the highlights. When Steven yaks up that bubbling bag of bile and it slithers under the bed, it’s gross and awesome. When the Kane creature wriggles out from under that bed, having gone through some lightning-fast metamorphosis, it is the stuff of nightmares. The gelatinous, malformed body that offers up a grim smile to Steven and Diane is unsettling and provides the film with its best moment by a mile.

Thank Christ for Jerry Goldsmith. Similar to how John Williams elevated “Jaws 2” (1978) immensely by delivering a killer score Goldsmith returns for another go-round on the strings here. His work isn’t as good as it was on the first film but that’s like saying the same thing about Williams’ score – you’re still getting a score from one of the masters of composing.

I know it probably sounds like I hate “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” and that isn’t true. There just isn’t any reason for it to exist. The Freeling family story was succinctly wrapped up at the end of “Poltergeist” – the house was sucked into oblivion! – and dragging them through the mud once again just feels… cheap. Believe me, I feel odd saying this because I love and defend plenty of horror sequels but in this case it really follows the sequel formula to a “T”: make it like the first film with minor changes. Kane isn’t the most compelling villain but Beck played him beautifully, and I really enjoyed Will Sampson’s role. Dude spends the entire film trying to help out the Freeling family and we learn at the end it was all because he wanted their station wagon. And once Steven agrees to hand it over Taylor just takes off, leaving the family stranded! What a bizarrely humorous ending for a horror film.

Video

Taken from a new 2K scan of the inter-positive, the film’s 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image looks great. This is a pristine image, completely free of dirt and damage, with accurately saturated colors and strong contrast. Black levels are deep and dark, never hazy. Fine detail and overall definition are both on-point. Film grain appears natural and fine, with the obvious exception of optical effects shots. There are some moments of softness that appear sporadically, and occasionally dark shadows can swallow up the picture, but overall this is a very strong picture.

Audio

As is usually standard, Scream Factory has included an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound. Levels seemed a little low to me, with some dialogue being a bit hard to hear. The entirety of the track is clean and presented with good fidelity; there are no issues to report. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is one of the film’s highlights – and definitely the standout in terms of the audio presentation – providing the few moments of real immersion. His use of new and recurrent themes plays a big role in tying this in to the original. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

Extras

This is another stacked Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory, full of commentary tracks, interviews, featurettes, and promotional materials.

There are two audio commentary tracks – writer/producer Michael Grais, and one with “Poltergeist” webmaster David Fortney.

“Robbie’s Return” (1080p) is an interview with co-star Oliver Robins that runs for 14 minutes and 25 seconds.

“The Spirit World” (1080p) is an interview that runs for 22 minutes and 9 seconds. Special effects designer Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson, and Screaming Mad George sit down for a long talk about all of the amazing creative work they were able to achieve with this film, even if some of what was planned wound up being compromised.

“Ghosts of Giger – A Look at the Contributions of Artist H.R. Giger Featuring Rare Photos and Illustrations and An Interview with Friend and Agent Les Barany” (1080p) is an interview that runs for 21 minutes and 2 seconds.

“They’re Back – The Making of Poltergeist II” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 6 minutes and 15 seconds. This is a standard studio EPK, but it’s fun in a retro kind of way.

“Monster Shop” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 2 minutes and 45 seconds. This brief piece shows some of the on-set shooting of the film’s FX work.

“Ghost Makers – The Magic of Poltergeist II” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 6 minutes and 28 seconds. Here is some more FX coverage.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 22 seconds.

Four TV spots (SD) run for 2 minutes and 4 seconds.

A still gallery (1080p) runs for 6 minutes and 12 seconds, featuring 74 images.

You can read the “Poltergeist II” script (if you pause on each page) as the entire thing has been included here, running for 10 minutes and 17 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is reversible and a slip-cover with the new art is included on first pressings.

Overall

While nowhere near as good as the first, there are a few minor moments of merit in this unnecessary sequel that, at the very least, makes it a decent follow-up to one of the greatest ghost stories ever produced.

The Film: C+ Video: A- Audio: B Extras: A- Overall: B-

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.