Heather O’Rourke

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986, Brian Gibson)

There’s not much to recommend Poltergeist II: The Other Side, but it does promote family “values” while quite literally demonizing Christianity. That juxtaposing alone, however, does not make it worthwhile.

The film is the perfect example of a bad sequel. There are budget issues, plotting issues (the death of villain Julian Beck during filming couldn’t have helped) but also a strange refocusing of the characters. Somewhere in Poltergeist II there’s this compelling story of Craig T. Nelson overcoming his alcoholism to become a spiritual warrior of the Carlos Castaneda variety. Sadly, that story has no place here.

The Other Side shows exactly why good films should not be turned into franchises. Here, in order to stay relevant, the filmmakers turn JoBeth Williams into an unwilling clairvoyant, something she passed on to daughter Heather O’Rourke. But Williams has no other story. She’s appealing, but her performance isn’t particularly good. Same goes for O’Rourke, who has a lot to do. Oliver Robins, as the son, oscillates between okay and useless.

Special Native American mystical guest star Will Sampson is pretty good, at least seeming respectable. Given a much bigger part than in the first film, Zelda Rubinstein is awful. So is Geraldine Fitzgerald as Williams’s mother.

Beck is terrifying, easily the film’s best performance.

The special effects are decent, but visibly unenthusiastic. Jerry Goldsmith’s schizophrenic score–he uses both chants and synthesizers–is interesting.

It’s clear director Gibson understands what makes the first one great, but he can’t make this one acceptable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Gibson; written and produced by Michael Grais and Mark Victor; director of photography, Andrew Laszlo; edited by Thom Noble; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Ted Haworth; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina Barrons), Will Sampson (Taylor), Julian Beck (Kane), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Gramma-Jess), John P. Whitecloud (Old Indian) and Noble Craig (Vomit Creature).


Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Hooper)

In a practical sense, one can just watch Poltergeist and be in awe of the technical qualities. Hooper’s Panavision composition and Matthew F. Leonetti’s photography alone are enough to make it a singular experience. But then there are Hooper’s additional touches–like how a scene’s establishing shot is usually the third shot in the scene, the first two being close-ups or reaction shots. Or the strobe effect. Or the eerie movement, which is probably the most famous Poltergeist visual.

But then there’s the script. Screenwriters Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor are not big on exposition. In fact, the entire familial relationship at the center of Poltergeist is mostly inferred. One of the film’s obvious “goofs” involves JoBeth Williams only being sixteen years older than daughter Dominique Dunne makes a lot more sense if one assumes Williams is her stepmother. The dialogue–and Dunne’s behavior–even suggests it. But the film is full of those discrete little moments… the filmmakers put an incredible amount of trust in the viewer.

The acting is all excellent. Dunne, in the smallest family role, probably gives the film’s best performance. After her, it’s Craig T. Nelson as the dad, then Williams. These three are absolutely fantastic.

The other kids, Heather O’Rourke and Oliver Robins, are both good.

In the supporting cast, Beatrice Straight is particularly exceptional.

While Jerry Goldsmith’s score is derivative of his other work, it ties the film together quite well.

Poltergeist is great. It’s surprisingly deep and technically magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tobe Hooper; screenplay by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor, based on a story by Spielberg; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, James H. Spencer; produced by Spielberg and Frank Marshall; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Craig T. Nelson (Steve Freeling), JoBeth Williams (Diane Freeling), Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne Freeling), Dominique Dunne (Dana Freeling), Oliver Robins (Robbie Freeling), Zelda Rubinstein (Tangina), Martin Casella (Marty), Richard Lawson (Ryan), James Karen (Mr. Teague) and Beatrice Straight (Dr. Lesh).


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