THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE" and "POLTERGEIST III"
Tobe Hooper's chiller Poltergeist terrified America in the summer of 1982, earning $76 million at the box office. (That's the equivalent of $225 million today.) The film was controversial in some regards. It was far too intense for its PG rating – the PG-13 had not yet been invented – which led to some young kids being borderline traumatized. There have also been long-standing rumors that producer Steven Spielberg actually directed portions of it. Regardless, the movie went on to spawn two sequels, both of which come to Blu-ray in extras-filled collector's editions. Scream Factory will release them on January 31. Here's a breakdown of the content on both discs.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side - Released in May of 1986, the first sequel adheres pretty strongly to the mistaken '80s notion that follow-ups should be exponentially “bigger” than their predecessors. The plot this time finds the Freeling family settling into a new home, only to discover that the malevolent spirit attached to daughter Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke) has followed them. To stop it, they have to make their way back to the location of their previous home, where they enter a ghost dimension with the help of a Native American aide (Will Sampson) and clairvoyant pal Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein).
The story is much sloppier this time, lacking the careful set-up and increasingly tense pace of the original. That said, there are some fairly clever elements in the movie. The Freelings' son Robbie (Oliver Robins) is attacked by his own braces at one point, while father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) vomits up the world's biggest tequila worm. The high point is the performance from Julian Beck as Rev. Kane, a creepy man of the cloth who keeps harassing the family. He's legitimately menacing, especially when he yells, “You're all gonna die!” These things keep Poltergeist II watchable, even if it never comes close to achieving the impact of the first one.
Bonus features start with two audio commentaries, one from writer/producer Michael Grais, the other from fan website proprietor David Furtney. A series of shorts follow. There is an interview with Oliver Robins in which he recounts memories of making the film, an interview with the special effects designers (Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson, and Screaming Mad George), and a look at the contributions of famed artist H.R. Giger. These segments are well-produced and very informative about how the movie was made. Rounding out the disc are the original theatrical trailer, some TV spots, and several still galleries.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-ray are excellent. (The new 2K scan looks sharp.) Coupled with terrific supplemental features, Poltergeist II: The Other Side is yet another Scream Factory home run.
Poltergeist III - The big surprise of these releases is that 1988's Poltergeist III holds up a little better than the second one. Carol Ann has been sent to live with her aunt and uncle (Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt) in a Chicago high-rise. The spirit follows her there, too, as does Rev. Kane (now played by Nathan Davis). The rest of the Freelings are nowhere to be found. Again, there are some creatively conceived horror scenes, including an elaborate one set inside a frozen parking garage. The highlight, however, is the way director Gary Sherman stages a lot of practical effects using mirrors. These optical illusions, which involve mirrors reflecting something different than reality, give the movie a unique flavor. There's still plenty of silliness here, most notably in the finale, which famously devolves into endless scenes of the characters running around yelling each other's names. (“Carol Ann?” “Bruce!” “Carol Ann!”) The elements that work mark Poltergeist III as a “bomb” that merits a second look.
Bonus features here are terrific. Sherman provides audio commentary, as does Furtney. Nancy Allen has an interview short, where she reveals that Tom Skerritt is the only co-star with whom she ever fought. (The actress declines to reveal the specifics.) She also discusses the death of Heather O'Rourke, and how the final scene was reshot using a body double after the young star passed away. Screenwriter Brian Taggert also does an interview, talking about how the story concept came together. FX creator John Caglione, Jr. explains how the special effects were created in another segment. The original ending is also included, so that you can compare it to the reshoot.
Elsewhere on the disc are the theatrical trailer and a small handful of TV spots. These are particularly interesting because the movie came out after O'Rourke died. To avoid seeming as though they were capitalizing on her death, the studio downplayed her presence in the marketing materials.
Picture and sound quality are just as good as on the Poltergeist II disc. Scream Factory has done an exemplary job bringing these two sequels to audiences in a manner that allows them to be re-evaluated or re-appreciated.
For more information on these and other great titles, please visit the Scream Factory website.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!