Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

There can always be hope that Hollywood can figure out when to just leave something well enough alone.  It's a vain hope because, despite what everyone wants to say about the "art of cinema" it is all focused around making money.  Poltergeist made a lot of money, so of course there were studio executives who were eager to double dip despite the fact everything was tied up in a nice little bow at the end of the first movie. 

Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) Freeling and their children Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) and Robbie (Oliver Robins) are in a shambles after the events in the first film.  They are now staying with Diane's mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald) and trying to put their lives back together.  Back at their old residence Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) and a Native American associate named Taylor (Will Sampson) have made the disturbing discovery of a tomb filled with skeletons beneath the swimming pool in the Freelings' back yard. 

Soon after Diane's mother dies the events that plagued the family begin again, this time starting with a visitation of a gaunt preacher named Henry Cane (Julian Beck).  He seems to have an unhealthy obsession with Carol Anne as do the spirits that trail in his wake.  Taylor agrees to help the Freelings fight Cane, but that means once again coming together as a family, something they have found hard to do in light of their recent tragedies.

The original cut of Poltergeist II: The Other Side was over two hours long.  The studio had it cut, which was probably a good decision, but in this case they cut too much.  Thus, the motives of Cane's followers are left vague, as is why Taylor would have a rivalry with the preacher.  There is also a confrontation between Tangina and Cane that is completely removed, a decision that upset Rubinstein as she thought it was one of her best scenes.  Because of the cutting there are some harsh edits here and there that do not look like they belong in a big-budget Hollywood film.

The troubles don't stop there.  Because much of Taylor's story is left on the cutting room floor we are once again treated to the "magic Indian" that Hollywood eventually replaced the "marauding savage" and "noble savage" with over the years.  It may have been an improvement over the treatment of American Indians in cinema in comparison to the past, but it is still embarrassing to watch, despite the fact it's a trope that still shows up way too often.  

Craig T. Nelson is almost unbearable in this.  He had a few goofy, comedic scenes in the original, but here he is an incompetent oaf, cracking bad jokes throughout.  The only time he gets to show any real skill is when he is briefly possessed by Cane.  He is overshadowed not just by JoBeth Williams but also by Heather O'Rourke, who for her age was a great actress and most likely would have only improved if she hadn't died so young.  Julian Beck, in his portrayal of Henry Cane, is what most people remember this movie for, and it is sad that parts of his performance didn't make it into the final film since this was his last before passing away of stomach cancer. 

There are some decent effects, including the creature that Steve expels after drinking a possessed mescal worm.  However, for a movie that is just barely over an hour and a half it is quite boring and, despite having some great creature designs by H. R. Giger, most of it is barely shown and the whole confrontation with Cane is anticlimactic.  They did stretch this into a third film before losing O'Rourke, but it should have ended with the first, since this is a perfect example of the type of movie that comes from caring more about dollars than sense. 

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Oliver Robins, Will Sampson, Julian Beck
Director: Brian Gibson



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