Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 14, 2011)
With 1982’s Poltergeist, we found a rare beast: a satisfying “PG”-rated horror movie. And one that worked for family audiences, to boot.
A sequel wouldn’t appear for another four years, and it’d lose two major contributors from the first flick: director Tobe Hooper and producer/co-writer Steven Spielberg. However, 1986’s Poltergeist II: The Other Side did bring back much of the cast plus two of the three writers, so it had a shot to be a decent sequel.
Or maybe not. After the events that terrorized them and destroyed their home, the Freelings – husband Steven (Craig T. Nelson), wife Diane (JoBeth Williams), and children Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) move in with Diane’s mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Carol Anne’s grandmother senses supernatural powers in the girl – the same abilities she possesses.
Or possessed, as Grandma departs the mortal coil. She stays in contact with her relatives, though, as she manages to communicate with them beyond the grave. She lets them know they can’t outrun a new menace, one that terrorizes them at their new home. Paranormal specialist Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) sends her counterpart Taylor (Will Sampson) to help the Freelings fight the renewed menace, one represented by Reverend Henry Kane (Julian Beck), a creepy old dude who wants Carol Anne for his evil means.
The genius aspect of the original Poltergeist stemmed from the way it introduced horror to an ordinary family in an ordinary home. It used suburbia as an active part of its backdrop and allowed the viewer to feel more like a participant than usual; this was a story that fit within our normal lives.
Other Side essentially abandons that conceit, and I can’t blame it for that. Unless it takes a different family and essentially remakes the first movie, it can’t give us characters with the same level of naivete as the Freelings had back then. Clearly they’re going to be affected from what they experienced, and the sequel should show that.
Unfortunately, this posits the Freelings as more standard horror flick victims, and the story can’t find much of interest to do with them. Indeed, it takes a silly twist when it leaves the “ordinary family” we got to know and tells us that all the women in Diane’s family are clairvoyant. Not only is this a ridiculous choice, but also it doesn’t matter much in terms of the overall narrative; Other Side could lose this development and work just as well.
At least I think so, but given the movie’s lack of coherent narrative, it’s hard to say. This one takes on more of a psychological bent, but it doesn’t manage to go much of anywhere with it. The script hints at different elements but never articulates them well, so we’re left with a fairly random assortment of scares.
And not particularly good scares, at that. The film tends to echo aspects of the first movie and borrows from a mix of other sources as well. None of these deliver more than rudimentary frights. Other Side does provide a genuinely creepy villain via Reverend Kane, though he doesn’t get enough to do to really capitalize on his potential.
Granted, I’m really not sure what path the Poltergeist series could’ve taken to live up to the first movie. Plopping the same family in more supernatural adventures seems like such a stretch that in creative terms, the series would’ve been better off if it quit after one movie. I admire the fact that Other Side doesn’t simply remake its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it turns into something enjoyable or memorable.