Thursday, October 16, 2014

Poltergeist II: The Other Side


  Admittedly, I'm a late bloomer when it comes to horror movies. Most of my friends were into horror movies at a very young age, but not me. I was a kid out of time. Growing up in the 90's, but fed a steady diet of 80's sci-fi/adventure. I grew up on Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the like. So it's only been the past few years I've been digging into horror. Nonetheless, it looks like I've been making up for lost time seeing as how I only saw the first Poltergeist just last year. What better time to catch up on some horror sequels than October? Falling right in line with one of my favorite hobbies, VHS collecting, I happened upon some swank old big boxes of Poltergeist and Poltergeist II at a local Salvation Army. I was beyond ecstatic, because as you all well know, I was extremely fond of the first movie. It was time to settle back in with the Freeling family.

  Given that both director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg were absent in every way from this sequel, it gave me pause. Rarely is this ever a good sign. Yet, just about the entire cast returned. Certainly everyone that mattered. I was excited, but cautious. I really loved the first one, and I knew there was more than a good chance this one would suck... but I was going to go ahead anyways. Well, I wasn't disappointed in the least. Poltergeist II was a surprising little treat that serves as a nice followup to the first movie. Like I mentioned, everyone's back!  Nobody got recast or replaced. It helped to preserve that tight-knit feeling. Had the family been broken up, it wouldn't have worked.

  The first movie took it's time becoming horror. It evolved into something scary, despite it's ominous feeling from the get-go. There were moments of sheer spectacle that were nothing short of awesome, in the most literal and faithful sense. The family dealt with what came their way and it was epic. In Poltergeist II, there's no real build up like that. Not that I expected it of course, we already know what we're in for. And if we're lucky and the filmmakers delivered on the basic promise of a sequel, we get more of the same. To a certain extent, that's exactly what sequels are all about.  In that case, this sequel delivered. They didn't try to duplicate the scares of the first movie, or the pacing, or even the innocent suburban vibe.  They cut straight to the chase, more or less.

  The movie has it's own rhythm, but from the beginning scary and mystical things are happening. We're introduced to a couple new characters, one the chief antagonist, and the other a protector/guide of sorts for the Freelings. The spirits they picked up back in Cuesta Verde had no intentions of leaving them alone after they moved apparently. Given that Carol Anne can communicate with "the other side", they found a connection to life again. No way they were about to give up so easily. That's 'basically' the notion behind this one. It's not bad either, I dig it. The inclusion of a direct protagonist was a neat move as well. An evil spirit incarnate, stage actor Julian Beck breathes 'life' into the creepy and unsettling character, giving a face to the horrors the Freelings must face this time around.

  All the actors are fantastic, the new additions and the returning cast alike. Craig T. Nelson is still irresistibly fun to watch in his wide eyed portrayal as the dad, Steven Freeling. He has a very middle-class sensibility about him. Clearly, he'll do whatever necessary to save his family, but at the same time he has this look cemented on his face that simply screams: "I can't believe a damn thing I'm seeing." He's fun, because he's relatable. That's exactly how anybody would react. He nails that look and the whole attitude. He's a regular dad with a nice family that just so happens to be plagued by evil spirits. Of course, he does what he has to do to keep his family alive, but as the movie elaborates, it's his 'destiny'. So to speak.  More than anything, Nelson is a definite highlight of both movies.

  Enough can't be said about the wonderful Heather O'Rourke, who was taken from us much too soon. She's absolutely fantastic as Carol Anne. A perfect blend of childlike intuition and innocence. She's able to keep up with all the other actors in the film, and even stealing the scene as often as possible. Make no mistake though, it's very much an ensemble movie. It wouldn't be complete with the whole family as a unit. Which is part of why I suspect Poltergeist III wasn't as well received, I've not seen it yet, but I know that Carol Anne is the only returning cast member.  The chemistry between these actors are fantastic. Any 'franchise' they had planned was doomed the moment they split that up. Any movie can give you evil spirits and special effects. Poltergeist was special. It was a whole family under siege. It was that relatable dynamic which made the movie so much more intense.

  That same dynamic returns for Poltergeist II, along with some stunning special effects, and plenty of scares. The movie, like the first, isn't just horror. It's a blend of horror and adventure. There's a good guy, a bad guy, and the battlefield just happens to be burial grounds and creepy old houses. There's much fun to be had between the first two movies. The sequel plays out like a serviceable 'part 2', it's not as big or as grand as the first, and it's even a little shorter, but it's still a lot of fun. There's hardly any drawbacks to returning to visit the Freeling family as they're thrust into chaos once again. The movie isn't as polished as it's predecessor, but the filmmakers preserved the feel of it, so they get the brownie points for a job well done.

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