Tackling a sequel to any well-regarded, hugely successful film is a daunting task, and too often those who attempt it try to simply repeat what previously worked while going bigger and overcomplicating the narrative. It can safely be said "Poltergeist II: The Other Side," directed by Brian Gibson, falls victim to this trap, acting almost like a loose yet inferior remake. What was fresh and chilling in Tobe Hooper's 1982 masterpiece "Poltergeist
" feels just a little too familiar here, losing its way especially in the latter half due to a lot of hokey business involving Native American mysticism. And yet, in spite of its shortcomings, "Poltergeist II" still entertains and does not lose its soul, remaining steadfastly connected to the returning Freeling family (Dominique Dunne was tragically killed in 1982 shortly after the release of the first film, and her character of eldest daughter Dana is never seen and only passingly mentioned here).
One year after the Freeling clan narrowly escaped with their lives from their nightmarish, graveyard-built suburban home in Cuesta Verde, Steven (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams), along with son Robbie (Oliver Robins) and daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke), are still trying to pick up the pieces while staying with Diane's mother, Grandma Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Soon after Jess passes away of natural causes, Carol Anne begins receiving nighttime calls from her on her toy phone. What is on the other side, however, is not her granny. The Freelings are once again being huntedand hauntedthis time by the maniacal, deceased Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) and his evil minion spirits looking for a way back to an earthly plane.
"Poltergeist II: The Other Side" reunites with characters old (Zelda Rubinstein's empathetic psychic Tangina) and new (Will Sampson's kindly Native American shaman Taylor) while introducing a particularly skin-crawling villain in Kane. Julian Beck, who passed away from stomach cancer during the film's shoot, leaves an indelible mark with this final role, bringing a raw desperation and believable spectral aura to his deranged preacher. Additionally, the use of Carol Anne's toy phone proves an effective stand-in for the original's use of a television as conduit to the other side, and set-pieces involving an attack from Robbie's braces and possession by way of a demonic tequila worm approach the creepy funhouse feel of its predecessor. "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" falls in line with formula while leading toward a sappy climax that, effects-wise, doesn't hold up with 21st-century eyes. While it is perhaps the most dated segment from any film within the series, the picture as a whole retains enough jittery pleasures and tension to be a worthwhile follow-up.