• Poltergeist II: The Other Side

    Released By: Shout/Scream Factory
    Released On: January 31, 2017
    Director: Brian Gibson
    Cast: Heather O'Rourke, JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robins
    Year: 1986
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    The Movie:

    Thanks to an argument with the MPAA back around 1982, the film Poltergeist was released with a PG rating, gifting young kids with strict parents the world over with nightmares of clowns, flesh-hungry trees, and face maggots. Some of us have fond memories of JoBeth Williams sliding up the wall in an oversized t-shirt as well, an image that helped assuage the lingering visions of horror. And although sequels weren't regarded very fondly back in the days of big hair and legwarmers, the powers that be saw fit to issue a sequel a few years later, carrying on the tale of the Freeling family.

    A year after they saw their family home, rocked by terrifying spirits who could not rest, implode and disappear into thin air, Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams) Freeling have relocated themselves and their children to the home of Diane's mother, hoping to get their lives back on track. Steve busts his hump selling vacuum cleaners that he can't seem to get along with while battling insurance companies who don't want to pay out for a house that is "missing", and Diane spends the days conversing with her mom and looking after the children. The children themselves, Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) seem to have put the past behind them, adjusting fairly well to having been swallowed by trees and absorbed by demons in television sets. Diane's mother Jess is enjoying her role as full-time Grandmother as well, noticing that Carol Anne displays a few of the clairvoyant traits that run in the family.

    But a happy family with a happy home does not for a good horror sequel make, and things start to go weird when Carol Anne receives a call on a toy telephone from Grandma Jess...immediately after her grandmother has unknowingly passed away...and it isn't long after that the swinging of chandeliers and banging of cupboard doors starts up again. A ghoulish, Quaker-looking man appears to Carol Anne while out shopping with her mother, and then shows up at the house, singing hymns like Robert Mitchum in Night of The Hunter, threatening Steve with his own insecurities.

    The poltergeist activity that plagued the Freelings in their last house has followed them, a fact confirmed by Taylor, a Native Indian wise man sent to warn the family by the medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). Led by the sinister Reverend Kane, these malevolent spirits must either be put to rest, or they will tear the Freeling family apart; manifesting in a variety of forms including killer tequila worms and rampant braces. It's going to take some serious sweat-lodge visitation to summon the power necessary to overcome Kane and his followers, and a bizarre trip into realms unknown to set the family free to live to see Poltergeist III.

    If you take a look around the interwebs, you'll find some vastly differing opinions on Poltergeist II: The Other Side, from pep-rallying cheers of acclaim to scathing, venomous criticism. It can certainly be acknowledged that following up a film that most regard as a classic is no easy feat, and the film makers definitely get things off on the right foot by pulling the majority of the cast back for round two. Nelson and Williams are both in peak form, here, delivering solid performances...Nelson, in particular is fantastic during his "angry drunk" stint...and even the youngsters do a decent job. The real standout and a truly great aspect of the film is Julian Beck as Kane, who manages to be sinister by just standing in one place and smiling, delivering lines and hymns in the creepiest manner possible. Sadly, a contributing factor to his ghoulishly menacing appearance was the debilitating stomach cancer that would take his life shortly after filming, but regardless, his time in front of the camera adds enough creep factor to make the film memorable.

    Casting aside, however, the option to go for "more of the same" doesn't really work, here. The characters of Taylor and Tangina pop in and out and don't really come across as convincing or serving much of a purpose. Poltergeist II seems like a loose collection of ideas bandied about with shaky lines drawn back to the plot of the first film, and isn't really compelling enough to keep the momentum up. And while some of the special effects are very convincing, and some scenes outright disturbing, a lot of the visual trickery gets bogged down in a delivery that now comes across as horribly dated. Contributions from the brilliant mind of H.R. Giger come off as one-dimensional and lacking any of the darkness that runs through his work, and some aspects of P2 play as comedy...not the intention, I'm sure. Regardless, the film obviously has its fans, so there's something in there to like, and director Brian Gibson does a decent job of taking the film out of the Spielberg realm that the first film existed in, adding a danger element and keeping the film moving along at a reasonable pace. Poltergeist II isn't going to deliver for everyone, but it hits enough marks to make it a worthwhile viewing.


    Shout Factory brings Poltergeist II: The Other Side to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks fanfriggintastic. Anyone worried about hanging onto their previous blu of the film can safely discard it, Shout have done a great job with this one. Blacks are solid, contrast is spot-on, colours are well-represented, and there's a healthy amount of grain here; if there's DNR going on, it's certainly not apparent. Clarity is something else with this release, with sharp lines, and it lacks any obvious visual defects, including print damage and debris.

    Two English audio tracks are also including, and depending on what you read online, there are slight differences that may matter to you. As somebody who doesn't know the original VHS tape inside out, I can report that both the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio are superb, with clear dialogue and well-balanced effects and score. The 5.1 does open up the soundstage considerably, however, with heavy use of the surrounds, especially during those moments of terror. No distortion was noticed, nor hisses, cracks or pops; the audio track is definitely on par with the fantastic video transfer.

    English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are available.

    First up in the lengthy list of supplements included on the disc is Robbie's Return: An Interview With Oliver Robins (14:25), a new interview with the actor who plays Robbie Freeling. Obviously now grown and having had experience in other areas of film apart from acting, Robins talks about working with Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg on the first film and contrasts it to working for Brian Gibson on the sequel, and discusses the family-like environment he experience in working with Williams and O'Rourke as maternal figure and sister, respectively. The interview is interspersed with clips from the film, and Robins makes for an enthusiastic participant.

    The Spirit World: An Interview With Special Effects Designers Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson, and Screaming Mad George (22:09) provides an extensive analysis of the practical effects used in the film, and the team also provide some entertaining anecdotes of what can happen when you're dealing with effects of this magnitude. If you've ever wondered how to pull off out-of-control storm clouds in a film, this featurette is for you.

    Ghosts of Giger (21:02) features more from the SFX department and H.R. Giger's friend and agent Les Barany talking about the mad genius that was Giger, and how he approaches the adaptation of his works to film. Some good anecdotes in here as well as Giger's visit to the set of Poltergeist II and his dissatisfaction with the FX team is discussed. A number of Giger's conceptual drawings are also presented.

    Three vintage featurettes; They're Back: The Making of Poltergeist II (6:15), Monster Shop (2:45), and Ghostmakers: The Magic of Poltergeist II (6:28) make for mildly intriguing viewing, but are promo pieces and share a chunk of repeated footage. Nonetheless, it's a window into the thoughts of JoBeth Williams, H.R. Giger, Henry Gibson and others, and provides some on-set footage and a look at the effects used in the film.

    A Still Gallery containing over 70 images, a Trailer for the film and four TV Spots, and a Script round out the extras.

    Two Audio Commentaries have also been provided for the film. It is worth noting that one of the issue I had with the gaps in one of those commentaries is reportedly because of some editing done to remove material that somebody found objectionable. The information is out there if you want to read all about it.

    The first commentary is with Writer/Producer Michael Grais, who also worked on the first film. Moderated by Michael Felsher, who, as many know, keeps these things rollicking along, this is worthwhile information session that covers Grais' work prior (Death Hunt!) and his thoughts on reuniting the cast for this sequel. Speaking of sequels, he also talks about the attitude towards them at the time, and reveals that Grandma Jess' house was actually built on top of a cemetery. Grais offers up some insight into the roles as well, and the modelling of Reverend Kane on Jim Jones, and also talks about his introduction to Julian Beck and the challenges that he and Gibson encountered in casting him.With very few gaps in the conversation, this one is wordy and full of good stuff, definitely worth the time to check it out.

    The second commentary is provided courtesy of Poltergeist Webmaster David Furtney, and is notably full of long gaps of silence and what appear to be interrupted thoughts. Furtney discusses the novelization of the film and the scenes from the script that were cut, but doesn't get into reasons. A chunk of the commentary is used to describe where scenes were switched around and re-ordered, but he does this by describing the upcoming scene that should be appearing...and then, when that upcoming scene arrives, discusses how it should have appeared earlier, and then talks about the scene that replaced it. No offence to Mr. Furtney, but this commentary pales in comparison to the Grais/Felsher commentary, and the gaps of silence were frustrating enough that it didn't last the full run.

    The Final Word:

    Poltergeist II has definitely got fans, and those fans should be overjoyed with this release, which features top-notch audio and video, and a wealth of supplemental material.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!