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POLTERGEIST II & POLTERGEIST III

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Steven Spielberg’s great 1982 horror yarn ‘Poltergeist’ spawned a couple of lesser sequels, and both are getting Blu-ray upgrades from the Shout! Factory. So here are my reviews of both films, published, respectively, on May 23, 1986, and June 11, 1988.

“POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE”: The law of sequels applies to “Poltergeist II.” That is, of course, that the follow-up to an excellent film is destined to be inferior and less satisfying than its predecessor.

There are exceptions, of course — “Star Trek II,” “The Godfather, Part 2,” etc. But “Poltergeist II” pales in comparison.

For the first film, which had a story by Steven Spielberg (who also co-wrote the script and co-produced the film, and some say directed over the shoulder of Tobe Hooper), the setting was a modern-day suburb and a typical, normal American family.

This was distinctive because most haunted house movies up to that time had been set in dark and stormy mansions somewhere in the backwoods or a swamp, populated by weirdos.

Putting an all-American family in peril, a family most of us could identify with in a setting most of us live in, upped the ante on “Poltergeist’s” scare factor. To make matters even more intense, the first third of the movie was a set-up, letting us really get into the lives of these people; we really came to know them and care about them, from Mom and Dad right down to the kids.

“Poltergeist II,” however, takes us out of the suburbs and into something of a small-town (or so it seems) with virtually no neighbors (there are houses around, but they are apparently unpopulated).

The time is one year after “Poltergeist,” and the sequel picks up the Freeling family (with JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke and Oliver Robbins repeating their roles) at the Arizona home of Williams’ mother, played by Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Nelson has gone over the edge, letting his hair grow and becoming rather irresponsible. He can’t get a decent job, and the family is mooching off Fitzgerald. There are a few humorous references to the first film (as when Williams and Nelson try to get their home insurance to pay off, and their young son begs for a television), but much of the homey atmosphere and jokey attitude in this film seems forced. It was much more natural in the first film.

“Poltergeist II” takes too much for granted, assuming everyone has seen the first movie, and doesn’t bother with much build-up. In fact, this movie is about a half-hour shorter than the first but seems to have just as much or more in the way of special effects. And there is definitely a higher level of glop and goo here.

   

This picture is also rather derivative of other horror films, such as “The Amityville Horror,” when Nelson is possessed a la James Brolin, and Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score, which takes a turn for the worse when it seems to be imitating “The Omen,” with a throbbing chorus of spooky voices.

The worst thing here, however, is the ending, which I won’t give away, but which — take my word for it — is rather ridiculous. Especially the comic punchline between the Freelings and Will Sampson just before the end credits. The worst place to have a joke fall on its face is at the very end.

But all of these complaints aren’t to say there is nothing worthwhile here. “Poltergeist II” does deliver a couple of jolts, has some interesting ideas as it tries to explain why the Freelings are haunted by these ghosts, and the performances by one and all are quite good, in particular Will Sampson as a sort of offbeat spiritual advisor.

If “Poltergeist II” could stand alone it would be miles above the average movie ghost story made these days. Unfortunately it has set itself up against a very high standard of comparison in the original “Poltergeist,” and it just can’t measure up.

“Poltergeist II: The Other Side” is rated PG-13 for violence, gooey special effects and profanity.

“POLTERGEIST III”: Things that are more pleasant than sitting through “Poltergeist III”: Having teeth drilled, eating escargot for the first time, searching downtown for a parking space, listening to a Tiny Tim album, riding a rollercoaster, helping children with math homework … the list goes on.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson have been replaced in this second sequel to “Poltergeist” by Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt, two appealing performers who, unfortunately, often show up in second-rate (or in this case third-rate) pictures.

We can only hope they were well paid this time out.

“Poltergeist III” takes pieces of themes from “Poltergeist” and “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” and mixes them in a blender, without any regard to common sense or even the directions the other films took those same themes.

Mainly this movie is a mirror trick, as things happen in mirrors that aren’t really happening in our earthly dimension, but which can cross over into reality anytime the filmmakers desire.

So what we have here is an exercise in special effects — sometimes good ones – overwhelming everything else. Story, plot, logic, character and substance all take a back seat to wild visuals and a pulsating music score.

The only actors back from the original are little Carol Anne (played by the late Heather O’Rourke), the child plagued by the nasty ghostly creatures of the title, and Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), the psychic who tries to help her.

This film has Carole Ann staying in a Chicago high-rise run by her doting step-uncle (Tom Skerritt). Her aunt (Nancy Allen), meanwhile, is a bit more reluctant to have Carole Ann around, particularly when ghostly things start happening.

Carole Ann is in Chicago to attend a special school for gifted children with emotional problems, and the psychiatrist attending her is convinced that she is practicing “mass hypnosis” on everyone — including the entire neighborhood from the first film, which you will remember was swallowed up by the spirits of a graveyard that was desecrated.

Just to complicate matters, the evil Reverend Kane (from the second film but with a different actor) is following Carol Anne around, hoping to bring her to “the other side” so she can escort him into “the light.”

    

In the process he freezes the high rise, breaks a lot of mirrors, plays with the elevators and ultimately — again — captures Carol Anne, along with two teenagers, dragging them down into a small puddle of water. Meanwhile, Tangina tries to convince the aunt and step-uncle that their love is the only thing that can save them.

To appeal to the teenage audience there’s also a subplot that has several kids disobeying their parents and doing some of the worst teenage acting the movies have ever seen.

The performances are all pretty awful, the film seems to be deliberately breaking the ground rules set by its predecessors — changing the suburban setting to an urban center and leaving behind Carol Anne’s appealing family and giving us instead the extremely unappealing characters played by Skerritt and Allen.

This is all pretty stupid, and I can only echo what I overheard from two separate groups of people as I was leaving the theater: “This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

Maybe not the worst. But certainly a contender.

“Poltergeist III” is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and vulgarity.