Poltergeist proved to be about cursed property on both sides of the camera. The original film was a massive hit in the summer of 1982. Viewers flocked to the tale of how the Freeling family bought their new dream house only to discover it was built on top of a cemetery. This non-advertised feature led to angry ghosts (also known as poltergeists) attack the family and sucking their daughter through the TV set. Behind the cameras, rumors haunted the set that director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) had personal problems that led to producer Steven Spielberg (Jaws) having to take over the production. Even with a big Hollywood blockbuster to his credit, Hooper had to resort to making films for Cannon instead of a major studio. Beyond a creative curse, cast member Dominique Dunne was murdered by her boyfriend a few months after the movie opened. This would be the first of cast members to pass away. Seeing how the film was a massive hit, there had to be sequels. But neither Hooper or Spielberg would return to either film. Now both Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III are coming out as Collector’s Edition which delve into the supernatural excitement.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986 – 91 minutes) catches up with the Freeling family’s new life. They’ve moved into a house that’s dead body free. Plus there’s no TV in the family room. Dad (Craig T. Nelson) can’t quite overcome the trauma of the first film. His oldest daughter has gone away (Dunne’s role was not replaced). He wants his family safe, but trouble finds them in the form of Rev. Henry Kane (9½ Weeks‘ Julian Beck). This skeletal creepy guy sets his creepy eyes on young duaghter Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O’Rourke). Turns out he was responsible for a lot of the bodies that were beneath the Freelings’ old house. Psychic Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) gets a sense that the Freelings aren’t free of the poltergeists. She sends a Shaman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest‘s Will Sampson) to use his tribal spirituality as protection against Kane. But is the family and their new friend really up for the evil power of Kane? Things go onto the other side when the Freelings discover what was really buried in their backyard and how Kane made it happen.
Living up to a successful horror film is a difficult trick for a sequel. As much as people go see the next installment, they always ponder why the innocent characters keep getting in trouble. Poltergeist II: The Other Side makes sense as to why the family can’t shake those evil spirits. The arrival of Kane gives a new face to the evil that once lurked inside the TV. The biggest advantage of the movie are the wicked creatures designed by H.R. Giger (Alien). There’s a chance of nightmares when dad pukes up a hideous monster. Heather O’Rourke does well returning to her role as the target of the evil spirits. The film is rather weird on occasion since it was supposed to be shot in 3-D. A floating chainsaw wants to come at you, but the release print was only 2-D. Continuing the curse, Julian Beck died during the production. He had been fighting cancer when he was hired so this was not a surprise.
Poltergeist III (1988 – 98 minutes) brings the evil spirits out of the suburbs and deep into the Second City. The Freeling family has sent Carol Anne to Chicago to stay with her Uncle (Alien‘s Tom Skerritt) and Aunt (Robo Cop‘s Nancy Allen). She lives in a skyscraper that her Uncle runs. Donna (Twin Peaks‘ Lara Flynn Boyle) takes care of her cousin as she undergoes therapy by Dr. Seaton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer‘s Richard Fire). The doctor’s treatment goes wrong when he makes Carol Anne remember her experience with Kane and the ghosts. This leads to Kane tracking her down and taking control of the tower to get her into the other world. Kane and his evil minions use the mirrors and reflective surfaces around the high rise to suck people to their side. This eventually leads to Carol Anne getting snagged. Luckily Tangina Barrons arrives in Chicago to help the Uncle and Aunt save their niece. She lets them know that Kane can’t win as long as Carol Anne has people that love her in the real world. But can love really be enough against Kane’s destructive force.
This final installment in the series goes drastic as it gets rid of everyone from the first two films except Tangina and Carol Anne. Seeing how Beck had died, Nathan Davis was brought in to play Kane. They put so much make up on the guy, he looked like he was merely wearing a Beck mask with the black hat. The effects are effect for the most part. The most disturbing involves a Tangina becoming a husk and Donna clawing her way out of the corpse. Since this was a physical effect, it still looks gross after all these years. There is a bit of sadness in Heather since the producers didn’t want her to grow up on screen. She’s nearly 12 and the producers are doing their most to make her look like the six year old girl in the original. They give her the old haircut and force her to wear a red onesie as if to fool a waitress into letting her pay for kid’s buffet at Golden Corral. Even more sad is that fact that Heather would die before the film’s release from cardiopulmonary arrest and intestinal stenosis.
While Scream Factory is releasing both films as individual collector’s editions, you do need to get both so you can enjoy the trilogy (the first film is on Blu-ray from a different company). It’s an ’80s horror film that feels good in a marathon. Each film changes up the story and characters enough so you’re not merely watching a batch of films the clones the scripts and cast.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p resolutions makes the action looks fine when it’s the physical effects such as the vomit creature and the dried corpse of Tangina. When they go with the optical effects, edges are visible. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital DTS-HD along with the 2.0 original mix. Both sound fine and bring out the frights zipping around the screen. Both movies are subtitled.
Bonus features on Poltergeist II:
Commentary With Writer/Producer Michael Grais covers the production of making a sequel without the input of the original director and big name producer. Director Brian Gibson passed away in 2004. He did go onto direct the Tina Turner biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It.
Audio Commentary With Poltergeist II Webmaster David Furtney is filled with insight into the film. Furtney is serious in his knowledge about the films.
Robbie’s Return – An Interview With Oliver Robins (14:25) has the son admit that he was eager to make the film because he was getting bullied at school. He was given less freedom to adlib the second film. Craig T. Nelson kept things light hearted on the set. Jo Beth Williams guided him through his performance. He enjoyed his time with Heather O’Rourke. He explains how being attacked by braces was done because he had a health issue with the original attack that was written in the spaces.
The Spirit World (22:09) features interviews with Special Effects Designers Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson And Screaming Mad George. They have fond memories of working with practical effects. Johnson was excited to work with Giger’s design and sadden that the Swiss artist stayed back in Europe. Screaming Mad George only showed up on the set for the vomit creature. They really touch upon all the creatures.
Ghosts Of Giger – A Look At The Contributions Of Artist H.R. Giger (21:02) features photos and illustrations documenting the work of the Swiss artist best known for his work on Alien. Interview subjects include Giger’s friend And agent Les Barany, Steve Johnson, Richard Edlund and Screaming Mad George. Giger didn’t directly work with the effects team. He didn’t want to leave his cat behind. He didn’t give the producers of Poltergeist II his art. He gave them lithographs so the originals remained in his control. There are photos of the day he made a surprise visit to the creature shop. Johnson shares the sculpture tip Giger taught him. This bonus feature adds a lot to enjoying the film.
They’re Back: The Making Of Poltergeist II (6:15) flashes back to the end of the original film and sets up the fear for the next installment. It glimpses of how the special effects were made. The cast talks about getting back together. They mention Spielberg, but he’s not in the set. H.R. Giger shows off his designs back in Switzerland. Director Brian Gibson is excited about getting drawings from Giger. This is vintage.
Monster Shop (2:45) gives a clue that there was a 3-D camera on the set. Most footage is from previous vintage featurette. There is more focus on the vomit monster and the actor inside the creature.
Ghostmakers: The Magic Of Poltergeist II (6:28) starts with cast praising the effects guys. They are out to top the original film. They talk quite a bit about Giger and his work. Giger talk about scaring people and himself. The worm is his focus. Vintage Steve Johnson shows off his work.
Theatrical Trailer (1:22) reminds us that the scary spirits are back. It’s very effective without giving away the movie’s plot.
TV Spots (2:04) are what you would have seen watching Cheers back in 1986.
Still Galleries (6:12) includes Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Stills, Posters and buttons.
Script Pages (10:17) lets you watch the script on your TV screen instead of as a pdf.
Bonus features on Poltergeist III:
Audio Commentary With Director Gary Sherman details his involvement in the franchise.
Audio Commentary With Poltergeist III Webmaster David Furtney has him defending the film. This was the only one he saw in the theater since he was 8 at the time. His mom fell asleep during the film.
High Spirits – An Interview With Screenwriter Brian Taggert (16:02) discusses how he ended up writing the script. He gives a little insight into the mirror world created for the film. He wishes it had been based at a small town or farm. But MGM wanted the city setting. He has warm things to say about director Gary Sherman who appreciated his talents as a screen writer.
Reflections – An Interview With Actress Nancy Allen (12:15) has her discuss how director Gary Sherman laid out the practical effects. She was game for the film especially with Tom Skerritt. Although she did have an argument with him. She reflects on Heather O’Rourke being a calming influence on the set. She discusses Heather’s death during post-production. Nancy’s recollection is that only the retake of the ending was the only time they shot after her passing.
Mirror Images – An Interview With Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr. (12:47) deals with the practical effects. The legendary Dick Smith was a consultant on the film. He covers how they made the rotting corpse of Zelda Rubinstein.
Alternate Ending (2:50) is the original ending. There’s no audio, but they give subtitles.
Theatrical Trailer (1:04) different city, bigger building and same ghost problems. “Guess Whose Back In Town” is the catch phrase.
TV Spots (2:06) is full of fearful images of what’s to come. One trailer talks of issues with the skyscraper that makes it feel like the J.G. Ballard novel High Rise.
Still Galleries (6:28) includes Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Stills and Posters.
Script Pages (10:47) gives you a true sense of what Brian Taggert wrote on the page.
Scream Factory presents Poltergeist II: The Other Side – Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Brian Gibson. Screenplay by: Michael Grais & Mark Victor. Starring: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, Oliver Robins, Julian Beck, Zelda Rubinstein & Will Sampson. Rated: PG-13. Running Time: 91 minutes. Released: January 31, 2017.
Scream Factory presents Poltergeist III: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Gary Sherman. Screenplay by: Gary Sherman & Brian Taggert. Starring: Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Tom Skerritt & Nancy Allen. Rated: PG-13 Running Time: 98 minutes. Released: January 31, 2017.