Review Date: October 6, 2011
Released by: MGM
Release date: September 13, 2011
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 2.35 | 16x9: Yes
In the 80’s the old adage about death and taxes being the only things certain in life probably could have been amended to read: the only certain things in life are death, taxes and horror sequels. As surely as the new millennium is the era of remakes, the 80’s was a breeding ground for sequels of all stripes, but most prolifically the horror genre. Franchise after franchise was born and cranked out a new film every year or two during the 80s, desperate to capitalize while the proverbial iron was hot. Although it took a bit longer for MGM to hop on the bandwagon, the biggest horror hit of the decade, Poltergeist
, finally received a sequel four years after the fact. Despite the death of one of its cast and the absence of both producer-writer Steven Spielberg and ostensible director Tobe Hooper, Poltergeist II: The Other Side
is no quickie cash-in. The blending most of the original cast with some welcome newcomers, a concerted (though mixed) effort to expand the mythology and high production values, including some startling creature designs by surrealist painter H.R. Giger, make The Other Side
one of the better sequels churned out during the 80s horror boom.
It’s been a year since the Freelings fled their haunted manse in Cuesta Verde and Steven (Craig T. Nelson
), Diane (JoBeth Williams
), Robbie (Oliver Robbins
) and precocious Carol-Anne (Heather O’Rourke
) are having a tough time adjusting. The family has moved to Phoenix to live with Diane’s mother, Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald
), although the whereabouts of oldest daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne
, who was murdered shortly after the first film was released) are never mentioned. Steven, dealing with the stress of trying to wrest money from the insurance company for their vanished house and out of steady work, has taken to the bottle. Diane, meanwhile, is doing her best to repress the memory of her trip to the other side to rescue Carol Anne. Robbie is managing the best of the family though life without TV is tough for a preteen boy. Carol Anne, on the other hand, is again being stalked by malevolent supernatural forces. This time, the “beast” appears to her in broad daylight taking the form of a ghoulish preacher, the indescribably creepy Reverend Kane (Julian Beck
, who was dying of stomach cancer during production).
Enter Taylor (Will Sampson
) a Native American shaman who is also friends with Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein
). She consults him regarding the Freelings and after he visits the now exposed mass tomb that sat under their house, he’s convinced the family is in danger and sets out for Phoenix. Not a moment too soon, either. Grandma Jess, as powerful a clairvoyant as Carol Anne and far more in control of her gift has been acting as a buffer, keeping the family safe from ghostly visitation while they’re staying at her house. When she passes on in her sleep one night, however, the family’s protection vanishes and the paranormal activity from the first film resumes almost immediately. Not staying a second more than they feel they have to, the family takes off. Stopping at an all-night diner to try and decide their next move, they run into Taylor. He persuades the family to return to the house and sets up camp in their backyard. Taylor promises to act as a new guardian to the family and teach them how to combat the evil spirit that’s hell-bent on wresting Carol Anne from their safe embrace and whisking her away to the void that lies on the other side from this plane of existence.
Two things become immediately apparent when watching Poltergeist II: The Other Side
. Firstly, the filmmakers really wanted to recapture the appeal of the Freelings from the first film. With the obvious exception of Dominique Dunne, the entire cast is reunited. I’m glad they didn’t recast Dunne but the fact that no mention is made of her character at all also kind of chafes. A throwaway line about Dana being away at school could have filled that gap easily. Secondly, they weren’t content to just rehash the first film. There’s an honest effort to expand the mythology. I appreciated the introduction of Native American spirituality into the story, even though that element is not fully explored. I can’t count the number of horror films and novels that use the cliché of an “old, cursed Indian burial ground,” yet never bother to incorporate any of the positive aspects of their beliefs into the mix. Not to read too much into this tendency, but there does seem to be some degree of entrenched colonial thinking at fault here. The religions of the aboriginal peoples of America are treated like they’re only ever the source of evil, while the western religions are always the solution to that evil. Here that cliché is reversed. In a genre that’s notorious for a lack of racial and ethnic diversity, it’s nice to see a film that has a central Native character that is strong and self-assured and whose spiritual beliefs are taken seriously and treated with respect.
The flip side of the expansion of the story is the introduction of Reverend Kane. While Kane does give the film some of its creepiest moments, Julian Beck is supremely unsettling and commands the screen every second he’s on it, this personification of the previously ethereal also makes the mistake of explaining away what made the first film scary. By giving “the Beast” a face the series becomes less a metaphysical and spiritual journey and more conventional horror series. It’s not surprising that they went in this direction considering the popularity of horror icons Freddy and Jason during the 80’s. The temptation to stamp a villainous face on the series was probably too great to resist. It’s not a decision that ruins Part II
but it paints the series into a very tight corner from which there is no retreat (as Part III
Even ignoring the larger problem with the mythos expansion, Poltergeist II: The Other Side
suffers from some genuinely cringe-worthy writing. As much as I like Will Sampson and the character of Taylor, he’s saddled with some of the worst dialogue I’ve ever seen in a studio film. “Band together - the light of the family can defeat him!” is awful enough on its own, but it’s followed moments later with a literal visual representation of this conceit, a jaw-droppingly tacky moment sure to inspire howls of laughter. Worst of all, the denouement to the film is a total deus ex machina, with angelic Grandma Jess returning from the nether realm to save little Carol Anne at the 11th hour. It hammers home how strong the rest of the film is that these moments don’t sink the whole affair.
While Poltergeist II: The Other Side
lacks the high gloss Spielberg touch, including the moody, dark cinematography of Matthew Leonetti, it still boasts production values that are almost untouched by its contemporaries . Cinematographer Andrew Laszlo works the 2.35 frame to great effect, populating the corners of the frame with all sorts of ghostly goings on. This is one of the few films that really stages jump scares effectively. The special effects are top notch, too, including the aforementioned drippy monstrosities conjured up by Giger. The “beast” is a writhing mass of tortured souls worthy of the imagination of Clive Barker and the scene where Steven regurgitates a possessed tequila worm which then metamorphoses into an armless, legless monster is as grotesque and nightmarish as anything I’ve seen in an R-rated movie. Even if it did nothing else right, Poltergeist II
would still be worth watching for these moments alone.
seems to be a bit of a redheaded stepchild, so I was really surprised by just how stellar the video presentation on this Blu-ray is. Detail is fantastic, flesh tones accurately reproduced, blacks are dark without crushing and obliterating detail in shadowy areas. The annoying buzzing around the opening titles is gone, as well. Other than a warped frame in the opening credits and the occasional speck of dust or nick, the source material looks pristine. For a movie the studio really doesn’t seem to hold in high esteem, a lot of care seems to have been to make sure it got the best video presentation possible. Short of a full, frame-by-frame digital restoration, I can’t think of any way to improve on Poltergeist II: The Other Side
’s video. Outstanding.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is almost equally as good as the picture. Other than a couple of moments during the climax in “the other side” where the reverb effect applied to the audio caused some of the dialogue to crackle and distort, I don’t have a single complaint about the bulk of the audio. Again, outstanding.
Although not listed on the package, the original theatrical trailer is included and given a full HD upgrade, to boot. It looks as good as the feature itself and, also like the feature itself, is far more intense than one would expect of a PG-13 movie.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side
is worth watching for the Giger creature effects alone but, luckily, it does a lot more than just its creatures well. It doesn’t quite recapture the magic of the original film but it gives it a good go and in terms of the lowered expectations we tend to have for sequels, Poltergeist II
does a pretty good job. The Other Side
features slick production values, potent creatures, good scares, a genuine attempt to give the audience some new story elements and, most importantly, a central family that is still appealing and lovable. Stellar presentation and a more than reasonable SRP (and being very easy to find for far less than sticker price) make Poltergeist II: The Other Side
worthy to haunt your Blu-ray player this Halloween.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Movie - B
Image Quality - A-*
Sound - B+
Supplements - C
- Running time - 1 hour and 31 minutes
- Rated PG-13, 14A
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
- French 5.1 DTS
- Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
- English SDH subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Theatrical Trailer (in HD)