The 1986 sequel, to the highly successful Stephen Spielberg and Tobe Hooper horror film, ‘Poltergeist’ – which I reviewed, along with ‘The Poltergeist Curse’ last week.
The sequel features the return of the original family, apart from of course, Dominique Dunne, who was tragically murdered after the first movie and was also the first part of ‘The Poltergeist Curse’ Once again we see a spirit’s and vicious ones at that, attacking the Freeling family and trying to harm their young daughter, Carol-Anne (Heather O’Rourke.) The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for best Visual Effects.
This sequel explains in much greater detail the real reason why Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) was targeted in the first film by the poltergeists (who took her into the spirit world.) As it turns out, the Freelings' house in the first movie was built over a massive underground cavern that was the final resting place of a satanic utopian cult that died there in the early 1800s. This cavern was below the desecrated native American graveyard that wasn't relocated in the first film. The cult was led by Reverend Henry Kane (played by the haunting Julian Beck who died after filming), a power-hungry zealot anxious to control the souls of his followers in both life and death with the power of the Devil, and also incensed on getting his hands on poor little Carol Anne.
This film, for me, is the scariest in the franchise – mainly due to Kane, who is played as a very creepy and charismatic preacher ghost by the late Julian Beck. His voice, his emaciated frame, his entire posture and being are truly scary to watch. One stand out scene is when he is first introduced. Carol Anne, whose clairvoyant properties have grown (she can now see colour’s with her hands, talk to animals as well as talk to dead spirits and sense things), becomes lost from her mother, Diane (JoBeth Williams reprising her role) and her brother, Robbie (Oliver Robbins.) He finds her running through the shopping mall and appears behind her singing an ominous hymn. Carol Anne is scared of him straight away though and relieved to see her mother, she then looks back to him after she is pulled away to see people plainly walking through him – he’s a ghost; due to Julian Beck dying of cancer while making the film, his gaunt appearance is very scary and he does look like the dead.
The second film is set one year after first, with Cuesta Verde, the Freelings' neighborhood from the first movie, being evacuated and turned into an archeological paranormal dig (primary the location where the Freelings' home once stood) and the discovery of this cave by a ground crew, and its existence is revealed to Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein), the psychic from the first film that "cleaned" the house that is now missing. She also tells Taylor (Will Sampson, who also died after filming), an American Indian shaman whose connection to Kane is hinted at but never fully explained (when Kane comes to the Freelings' home and tries turning Steve against Taylor, Steve (Craig T. Nelson) acknowledges that Taylor is there by name, and Kane quietly laughs and says "So that's what he calls himself now." Although this could be to put doubt in the family’s minds about their trust for him.) After investigating the cave for himself, Taylor realizes Kane has located Carol Anne and goes to defend her, joining the family in their home.
Like the first, this film has some beautiful and natural scenes between the entire family; the parents, JoBeth Williams (Dianne) and Craig T.Nelson (Steven) are again amazing together, playing off each other and acting like a loving married couple, again with some great comedic lines. The children are both fantastic, as they were also in the original. You can see that Heather O’Rourke in her role as Carol Anne, the protagonist, shows great aptitude towards acting, and along with her angelic looks would probably have become a huge Hollywood star if not for her tragic death. There are some brilliant scenes with her, one of them being the iconic line “They’re back!” called ominously in the night to the rest of her family, upon realization that the poltergeists have returned. Oliver Robbins as her older brother, Robbie is funny and plays a lesser role in this movie than the first – although there is a very memorable scene involving him and his brace. His newly affixed mouth brace begins to spiral all around his face with the help of the evil spirits, causing most of the family to leave Carol Anne alone, the parents arrive to his screams in the bathroom to find him literally plastered to the ceiling by his brace which is making it’s way to the electric socket to electrocute him. But as Taylor tells them while holding Carol Anne, when they demand to know why it was he didn’t help them, the poltergeists aren’t after Robbie – they’re after Carol Anne.
This is a really good movie, the score is again magical and there are some outstanding scenes. It’s a shame that more of the cast didn’t return for the third film, but perhaps they were scared. This film however delivers, the ending is a little weak in comparison to the original classic, but this movie, directed by Brian Gibson is a solid horror with hints of innocence which the children and music brings.
The Poltergeist Curse
The eldest daughter was supposed to be written as being away at college; however that scene never made it into the final theatrical version leaving the character of Dana completely unmentioned in this sequel. In real life the actress who played her, Dominique Dunne, was murdered by her boyfriend shortly after the first film came out.
Julian Beck, the sixty year old actor who played Kane in ‘Poltergeist II: The Other Side’, died in 1985 of stomach cancer diagnosed before he had accepted the role. Because Julian Beck, who played Kane, died during filming, the filmmakers enlisted the help of H R Giger, who created the "Beast" version of Kane to replace Beck's remaining scenes. Giger created several designs but only two appeared, receiving limited screen time in the final cut of the film. Giger's designs are displayed on his official website.
Will Sampson, the fifty three year old actor, who played Taylor, the Medicine Man, in Poltergeist II, died as a result of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems in 1987 after making the film. This heighted the word of mouth around Hollywood and the world that the films really were cursed due to their narrative.
I look at Poltergeist 3 starring Heather O’Rourke next week...