Friday, January 20, 2017

POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 90 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Brian Gibson
Cast: Heather O'Rourke, JoBeth Williams, Julian Beck, Oliver Robins, Craig T. Nelson, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sampson

While it'd actually been six years since the original Poltergeist hit theaters before the sequel arrived in '86 in movie time it'd been a year since the Freeling family survived that paranormal attack from the first film, the one that ended with their house imploding into nothingness. In that time they've relocated to another city and are, not surprisingly, still without a TV - much to the chagrin of their young son Robbie (Oliver Robins, Airplane II: The Sequel), who seems like he might just ie without hs Saturday Morning Cartoons! Steven (Craig T. Nelson, The Incredibles) and Diane (JoBeth Williams, Stir Crazy)along with Robbie and daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke, Poltergeist) have relocated to Phoenix, Arizona where they live with Diane's mother, Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald, Arthur), whom it is shown is spirit-sensitive or clairvoyant, the granny has supernatural leanings and and she believes her granddaughter Carol Anne is, too, though momma Diane doesn't want to hear any of it - she's had about enough of the spirit world given the events of the first film, and I don't blame her. 

Meanwhile back in the Feeling's old neighborhood in Cuesta Verde, California the entire neighborhood has been evacuated and bulldozed, there's some sort of archaeological dig happening and the pint-sized medium Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein, TV's Picket Fences)from the first film finds an underground cavern located right beneath where the Freelings' former home stood. Inside the cavern they find the remains of a religious doomsday cult-leader Rev. Henry Kane (Julian Beck, The Cotton Club) and his followers. we come to find out that Kane was the human origin of the Beast who went after Carol Anne in the first film, the one seeking the light, and it's more of the same here with a new twist. 

At about the same time Granny Jess passes away, which seems to unlock Carol Anne's spirit powers, receiving a call on her toy phone in the middle of the night from her granny - from beyond the grave!  It seems that Carol Anne's spirit-powers have also attracted the attention of the evil-spirit of Rev. Kane, who also reaches out to the young girl also through the toy phone, culminating in some supernatural shenanigans happening around the home, and as expected the family flee the home but are intercepted at their own doorstep by the Native American shaman Taylor (Will Sampson, The White Buffalo), who has been sent by Tangina to protect the family, convincing them they must stay and battle the evil, that you cannot run from it. 

Kane has now taken human form, approaching Carol Anne at the Mall before showing up at their new home, creepily demanding to be let in, singing a strange religious song that gave me the goosebumps, before screaming "You're all gonna die in there!" and sauntering on down the street looking like the world's most menacing Mennonite, the guy is frightening, and by several measures the creepiest aspect of the movie. Sadly Beck dies just after filming P2, his gaunt appearance in the film owing to the fact that he was in the final stages of stomach-cancer, which is a damn shame. 

As sequels go this is not too shabby, gone is the guiding hand of producer Steven Spielberg and director Tobe Hooper (Eaten Alive), but new director Brian Gibson (What's Love Got To Do With It) does good work with a script from writers Mark Victor and Michael Grais who also penned the first film, it has a lot of the elements that made the first so good, and changes things up just enough that it doesn't seem like a sequel retread. They had the good sense to bring back the core Freeling family members - minus poor Dominique Dunne who was murdered in real-life after the first film by her boyfriend. They've also brought back Rubenstein as the pint-sized medium Tangina, and she who brings a lot of quirk and otherworldly presence to the role. The family dynamic is largely what made the first film such a success for me, Nelson and Williams are still great together onscreen, though Williams takes a bit of a backseat to Nelson this time out, O'Rourke and Robbins are quite good, too. After Beck as Kane it is Nelson steals the show, his skeptic-interactions with the shaman Taylor are fun, he gives a great speech about how he's "into downward mobility" following the events of the first film, and there's a scene where he's possessed by Kane which is uber-creepy, taking on a few of Julien Beck's facial ticks and pronunciations before attempting to rape his wife, weird stuff for a PG-13 film.  

The addition of the shaman character played by Will Sampson is a nice touch, I liked the Native American folklore and mystical aspect of it, I think it goes overboard a bit towards the end of the movie when things get too goofy, and the character might be considered a bit of stereotypical magic Indian, but I like it, I like the visuals, I like the folklore of it, it's a nice addition. 

The filmmakers get the family stuff mostly right, I like the Native American shaman stuff, and to top it off it also features some very cool makeup special effects from Richard Edlund (Fright Night) and his team which included Steve Johnson (Species 2) and Screaming Mad George (Society), based on designs by artists H.R. Giger (Alien). The cool effects include a grotesque tequila worm that gets swallowed, them vomited up as a larger worm, which crawls under a bed and mutates into a limbless slime-covered skeletal-monster that is frightening as fuck, it scared the bejesus outta me as a kid, and it's still super weird, the entire sequence holds up so well. Not all the effects as well executed though, a scene of Robbie being attacked by his own braces starts of sort of cool but then goes a bit too far, like something from a ate-era A Nightmare on elm Street sequel. Also, the revelation of Kane's true spirit form as the great beast is very poorly realized, what on paper looked like a freaky  Lovecraftian/Giger mash-up looks just silly and anti-climactic onscreen. 

The finale of the film is where it loses me a bit, it doesn't wrap up too well, things begin to get too goofy when we have a chainsaw attacking the family station wagon - perhaps a nod to Tobe Hooper? Then the family returns to the cavern in Questa Verde to do battle against the Great Beast to rescue Carol Anne once again, on the spirit plane. We also have a too saccharine scene of Grandma Jess returning to save the day, it's all a bit too much, but I still enjoy the movie a lot, it gets more right than it got wrong, and it holds up pretty well for the most part. Also helping is that the movie was lensed by cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (The Warriors) and has a gorgeous orchestral score from Jerry Goldsmith (Gremlins) which goes a long way towards recapturing some of that Spielberg-ian charm and atmosphere of the first film, even revisiting his own score for The Omen at points. 

Audio/Video: Poltergeist II: The other Side (1986) arrives on Blu-ray for a second time, the first release from MGM was actually quite solid in respect to the A/V presentation - but it was bare bones. The new Scream  Factory Collector's Edition benefits from a brand new 2K scan of the interpositive and a wealth of extras. The new transfer is a step-up, with a tiny bit more depth and detail, grain looks good, and the color reproduction is solid, maybe even a tad more saturated. Audio options on the disc come bay way of both DTS-HD MA 2.0 ad 5.1 surround tracks, the stereo track is just fine with good channel separation, everything comes through crisp and robust, including the stellar score from Jerry Goldsmith. The surround option is a good one, making good atmospheric use of the surrounds with the Goldsmith score sounding fuller in surrounds, and some nice spooky use of the rear channels, optional English subtitles are included.

Scream Factory give this sequel some very cool extras, beginning with two audio commentaries, the first with  Writer/Producer Michael Grais which is moderated by Michael Felsher from Red Shirt Pictures, who produced the new extras. Felsher does a good job keeping the commentary focused on on point, prodding the writer/producer, who also wrote the first film and brings a lot of info and background to the table. The second commentary is from Poltergeist II Webmaster David Furtney, a bit subdued, but they guy knows a lot about the movie and the production, he points out differences in the original script versus what ended up on screen. New interviews begin with a 14 minute interview with then child star Oliver Robins who begins by saying he was very happy to get the call for the sequel, having had quite enough of being bullied in school at the time. He speaks about working with the cast, remembering Nelson kept things fun on the set seeing Jobeth Williams as a maternal figure, working with the director who apparently was not keen on Gibson ad libbing on-set the way he did on the first. He also speaks fondly of the late Heather O'Rourke whom he remembers as a sweet girl with aspirations of becoming a filmmaker, being around Will Sampson who he saw as mysterious. Robbins also goes into filming the brace-face special effects, and how difficult flying sequence in the spirit world were to film. 

Fans of special effects are in for a treat, we have a 22-min featurette with new interviews from Steve Johnson, Richard Edlund and Screaming Mad George who go in-depth divulging the secrets behind the cloud tank used to create the shaman effects, brace-face, the tequila worm monster and it's various transformations, and the Carol Anne zombie sequence - all great stuff, this is lead for the most part by Johnson who shows up on many of the Scream releases, he's becoming a favorite of mine on these xtras. 

Something I didn't realize for a long time was that H.R. Giger (Alien) did the production artwork and creature designs for the movie, this 22-min featurette puts that into focus, with interviews from Edlund, Johnson and Screaming Mad George who speak about creating the creature effects based on the artist's design. Giger's friend and Agent Les Barany also appears, speaking about Giger's work on film, how that affected his standing in the art community, Giger's not liking to travel because he didn't want to leave his cat at home alone, and his visit to the set of the movie, and how he was often not pleased with how his work was realized on screen, including this one, which culminated in an unannounced set-visit from the artist. what I loved about this was how much this artwork is featured throughout the featurette, glorious stuff. 
Scream have also included about fifteen minutes worth of vintage EPKs with on-set interviews from producer Michael Grais and Freddie Fields, actress Jobeth Williams and others. Additionally we have the original theatrical trailers, some TV spots, an image gallery and the 124 page script for the movie. Packaging wise we get a the standard Collector's Edition slipcover with new artwork from artist Justin Osbourn, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork.

Special Features:
- NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive
- NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Producer Michael Grais
- NEW Audio Commentary With Poltergeist II Webmaster David Furtney
- NEW Robbie's Return – An Interview With Oliver Robins (14 min) HD 
- NEW The Spirit World – An Interview With Special Effects Designers Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson And Screaming Mad George (22 min) HD 
- NEW Ghosts Of Giger – A Look At The Contributions Of Artist H.R. Giger Featuring Rare Photos And Illustrations And An Interview With Giger's Friend And Agent Les Barany And Special Effects Designer Steve Johnson, Richard Edlund And Screaming Mad George (22 min) HD 
- Vintage Featurette: They're Back: The Making Of Poltergeist II ^ min)HD
- Vintage Featurette: Monster Shop And Ghostmakers: The Magic Of Poltergeist II (3 min) HD
- Vintage Featurette: Ghostmakers: The Magic Of Poltergeist II
- Theatrical Trailer(6 min) HD
- TV Spots (2 min) 
- Still Galleries (Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Stills, Posters)(75 images) 
- Script Pages (124 pages) 

I probably love this sequel as much as I do because I caught it on cable in the 80s A LOT, the same reason I love Amityville 3-D (1983)beyond reason, actually. It does a lot right, it brings back the core family from the first film and Zelda Rubinstein as the mystical-midget Tangina, plus it adds some shaman mysticism by way of Will Sampson. What holds this together for me is the creepy performance of Julian Beck as the demonic cult-leader Kane, this guy scared me to death as a kid, and he's still gets under my skin! Sure, it pales in comparison to the original, but so does ninety-percent of all other scary films in my opinion, but as sequels go this one is not without it's supernatural charms, and the new Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory is top-notch, good stuff. 3.5/5