Friday, December 7, 2012

REVIEW: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

After the first Poltergeist movie, they decided to take the incredibly unprecedented and strange path of making another one…such a thing has never been seen before…and this time, they couldn’t get Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg back for this one, so you know it’s gonna be good!

Director: Brian Gibson
Starring: JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke
IMDb

This one is full of over the top acting, racial intolerance and the ups and downs of drinking tequila with weird little worms in it! Sound fun? No? OK!

We start off with something very different from the first one…I don’t mean a long, wordless intro sequence that wears out its welcome; both movies have that. I mean this one starts out at the Grand Canyon with some Indians (oh, I’m sorry…Native Americans) smokin’ ancestral pot and talking about who knows what!


I say that because we don’t actually get a translation for what their dialogue is. So I’ll just substitute my own:

INDIAN #1: Hey, what do you think we’re gonna get out of this whole thing for these cameos?

INDIAN #2: I dunno, they spent all the money the studio gave them on the effects in the climax, plus additional crack and hookers.

INDIAN #1: And they didn’t even share? Damn them! Oh well, let’s just get back to smoking and ruminating on how much better our days were before we starred in Poltergeist II.

After that, we see Tangina Barrons, the midget psychic medium from the first film, back for more midget-ness as she is now an archaeologist in addition to being a spirit medium! She dabbles, you know? Spirit medium…archaeologist…these are all very important jobs for a woman to try out.

"I don't remember what I'm doing in this movie!"

After she wonders where the family from the first one is now, seeing as they are apparently in danger again, we switch scenes to them; speak of the devil indeed. Apparently they are now broke, the father sells vacuum cleaners door to door and the rest of the family just hangs out with Grandma, I guess. I’d tell you more about Grandma, but really she’s barely in the movie and doesn’t have much character. Next!

We see Diane taking Carol Anne and Robbie to the mall, where Carol Anne gets lost. Diane is such a good mother that she doesn’t notice Carol Anne is missing even though she and Robbie had to have walked several yards and even went inside a store not noticing that she wasn’t with them…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? This is beyond the rather sloppy parenting of the first film. This is a whole new level of asininely bad parenting! This mother should be put on trial! And what’s that? Carol Anne is talking to a tall, creepy stranger in black when they find her? Color me goddamned surprised!

Looks trustworthy to me!

This is actually the villain of the piece…Henry Kane. He’s corny, hammy and ridiculous, but also the best thing in this film by leagues and leagues. And it is not his time yet. We will get to him soon. Right now, though, we have the death of Grandma to deal with! Happy happy, fun fun. Everything is somber for about two minutes before Carol Anne comes outside and asks if she can be a ballerina…yup, one minute it’s “oh no, Grandma died!” and the next it’s “Mommy I want to be a ballerina!!” This kid isn’t exactly the sharpest crayon in the box, is she? To complete the defecation on the somber atmosphere, we get a goofy jump scare with skeleton hands grabbing at Diane’s feet and everything! Isn’t that just delightfully random and pointless? I think so.

Oh, there’s this whole thing where, all of the sudden, there’s psychic blood in the Grandmother’s family, which has been passed down to Carol Anne and also to Diane, though she doesn’t admit it. This whole plot is just convoluted and, with all the goofy shit going on here, it’s really not given that much attention. What is given attention is the fact that, rather than communicating through TVs this time, the ghosts get to Carol Anne by calling her on a plastic pink toy phone…

"Yes, Mr. President? Old Lady Cranshaw got stuck in a well again? AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!"

…yeah, well that’s retarded, but hey, at least they’re not racking up the phone bill, am I right?!

The family then meets Walter, an Indian guy sent by Tangina to protect them. Why didn’t Tangina herself just come? Because they wanted to shoehorn the guy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest into the movie somehow, so screw it; that’s what they did. This character is actually really entertaining, even though it’s basically a caricature of a bunch of jumbled Indian stereotypes from like the 50s. He’s cheerful, patient, kind and spouts never-ending diatribes on spirituality and the fate of mankind. And so the dad absolutely hates him, and spends a lot of time just chewing him out because he’s a mistrustful foreigner!

But when THIS GUY comes by the house and spouts all kind of crazy nonsense, basically veiled threats…they don’t react nearly as suspiciously. What the hell? So a basically well-meaning Samaritan who happens to be an Indian shows up, and you condemn him for no reason…but when a creepy guy in a black coat shows up and starts saying creepy shit, you’re just like “eh, you probably shouldn’t come in here; this is a family zone!”? That’s so backwards it’s almost forwards again!

 
= GET OUT YOU EVIL FOREIGNER!

while...

= eh, he could be OK.

And really, the dad is an ASSHOLE in this! He’s way ruder and less considerate than he was in the first one! He constantly screams all the time, stomps around like the world owes him something and just generally doesn't seem to give a crap about anything besides when he can get his next drink. What the hell happened? Did he just drink a bottle of tequila with a worm in it that made him all evil now? Oh wait…that’s later on…

Right now, we have EVIL BRACES to contend with!

Yes, those are supposed to be braces. The kid was just brushing his teeth and then this happened...that escalated quickly...

That’s as strong an endorsement for better dental care as I’ve ever seen. I think this should be in a commercial for some dentist’s office…don’t stop flossing, or you have to get braces which will EAT YOU ALIVE if you’re bad! Put the fear of God into those little bastards. Teach them to eat junk food!

While that’s going on, Walter the Indian Chief was protecting Carol Anne, which the dad yells at him for, because apparently Walter has to be in five places at once or else he is a bad Indian. And really, how dare Walter stick his neck out and protect a scared, innocent little girl. Man, the dad is an ass in this. Can’t something just shut him up for good?

Later on, Tangina comes to the house and warns the family of Henry Kane, or rather, the creepy black-clad dude with teeth the size of the Mississippi River who’s been stalking them lately. She says he’s a dead cult leader who doesn’t know he’s dead, who once led a cult to an underground cave and killed them all because he’s so evil. And guess what was built over that grave site years later? That’s right – the house that the family lived in in the first movie! Don’t they just have the best luck in real estate? And hey, wait a minute. Wouldn’t a bunch of dead cult members prove an interesting subject for, oh I dunno, THE FRIGGIN’ POLICE? Why haven’t they sent, like, the FBI or some shit over to check this out? Why is it just one crazy midget lady and her Indian buddy digging through it? This makes no sense and I refuse to believe it!

So, yeah, apparently Kane’s modus operandi here is to get Carol Anne back so he can use her to open up the portal to the spirit world and let all the ghosts out. Just like in the first one. Meanwhile, the dad and Walter are out in the mountains getting in touch with the “Power of Smoke,” which apparently can repel Kane somehow.

It sure is convenient that these movies take place in driving range of these ancestral, spiritual holy Indian places so the characters can do things like this. Imagine if this stuff happened in, like, Chicago or something. Then they'd really be screwed!

But only if the dad does NOT get drunk…which he does a few scenes later literally in the very next scene. Yup, he can’t even see a damn nasty worm in his tequila; he’s so drunk. You worthless waste of a human being...


But wait! All is not lost! We do get some of the funniest scenes in the movie as the dad is possessed by Kane, and turns in an even more over the top performance than Kane himself does. He juts out his lower jaw, throws Diane around the room and shows his teeth as much as he can, and it’s all so incredibly, incredibly silly. I mean it’s just too much.


Luckily he remembers his love for his wife right before he’s about to rape her, and instead vomits up…well, whatever this shit is:


I have to hand it to Poltergeist II…it is constantly forcing me to re-evaluate my standards of oddness and come up with new ways to say “that’s some totally fucked up, weird-ass shit that has no place in the right and true harmony of nature.”

And in the next scene, they get attacked by garage tools, plus a kuh-RAAAAZY chainsaw!

Pfft, chainsaws that work by themselves? Next you'll be telling me they'll have portable phones, or computers you can carry around under your arm! Technology is just moving by so fast these days.

Really the only way they could top the weirdness in this movie so far would be to just say ‘screw it’ and go full-time green screen with the ‘spirit world’ in which they have to go to to rescue Carol Anne and Diane after they get kidnapped! And what follows is very, very trippy. As in “I’m pretty sure the editing room staff swallowed a bottle of potent painkillers before making this.”

They're trapped in the dimension of loopy green screens and Zero G test runs!

Y’know…I’m just out of jokes. I got nothing anymore. The movie is far too weird for me to even compare. It’s getting hard to even review these movies; they’re so strange and out of the blue. They’re just…collections of silly over the top horror movie randomness, like a Looney Tunes cartoon filtered through R. L. Stine’s study hall doodles. They eventually get out of the spirit realm because the dead grandmother comes back and makes sure nothing bad happens…how convenient.

Then the movie ends with Walter breaking out of the mental institution by smothering the dad with a pillow and then making a run for it…nah, actually it ends with him stealing the family car and driving off with it leaving them stranded there. Ha ha ha! What a contrived attempt at a comedic ending! It’s like building up an incredibly grandiose, complex joke and then ending with a fart joke you heard from the guy at the office who smells like the inside of your glove compartment. What a load.

This movie is confusing to review because on the one hand, it is totally god-awfully entertaining shlock, but on the other hand it just kind of sucks. While it does have its humorous scenes, the innocent Spielbergian charm of the original is completely lost. None of the characters are likable anymore; either they’re complete jackasses like the parents, or just forgettable like Carol Anne and the grandmother. The whole thing just feels dirty, unpleasant and perverted compared to the rather subtle and quiet charm that the original sometimes had with its character-building moments. This one tries to make up for not having Spielberg on board by amping up the goofy moments, but those just feel hollow and over-done, like they were just trying to be as cartoonish as possible without any actual scares. C’mon, a chainsaw flying around? A little worm that turns you into a bad Nicolas Cage impersonator? Get real.

The only aspect of this movie that really worked was Julian Beck as Henry Kane, who unfortunately passed away during filming, which is why he doesn’t appear all that much. It’s a shame because he could have been a great horror villain, but instead he was just wasted on this goofy-ass movie. All in all, this was the worst One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest sequel ever!

Images copyright of their original owners.