Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Based on: characters by Steven Spielberg
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes, 130 Minutes (original cut)
“You’re all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!” – Kane
Most sequels aren’t created equal and the general consensus is that this one isn’t very good. Hogwash! I love it! Not as much as the first but it’s still a great ’80s horror film and better than most movies like it.
What makes this a solid entry into the short lived film series is that it broadens the mythos. Really, in the first film, there wasn’t much of a backstory. All you knew was that the house was haunted by evil and as the movie rolled on you discovered that it was built on top of a graveyard. This film sort of ignores the generic graveyard under the house idea and puts something even worse under the house: Reverend Henry Kane and his dead followers.
Kane, as played by Julian Beck in this movie, is absolutely fucking frightening. He is, hands down, one of the greatest screen villains of the era and more of a horror icon of the time than modern history seems to remember. He was a pure force of evil in a time when slashers ruled the horror genre. He wasn’t a slasher, he was something more powerful and more cunning. Julian Beck played Kane so profoundly that it is impossible not to get chills during the doorway scene when he confronts the family on their front porch. Honestly, it is my favorite moment in this entire franchise.
The film also adds in Will Sampson as a Native American named Taylor, who is actually known as the Medicine Man and is Kane’s nemesis. Taylor arrives at the family’s new home, convinces them that he is there to help and then lives with them in an effort to keep them safe from Kane’s attempts at stealing away Carol Anne. I loved Sampson in this and it is probably my second favorite thing he has done after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The entire family returns for this film, except for Dominique Dunne, as she was murdered by her boyfriend in real life. But that’s just one of many tragedies that surround the cast of this film series, which some consider to be cursed.
Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina, the clairvoyant that helped the family survive the first movie. Some of her lines in the film are pretty cringe worthy but I can look past this stuff in ’80s horror pictures. But it is probably worth noting that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She would also be nominated again for the same award for her part in Poltergeist III. However, she did win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for the first Poltergeist.
Craig T. Nelson had more to do in this movie, as he took a bit of a backseat to JoBeth Williams in the first one. I thought he did really well and his emotion and doubt were conveyed pretty convincingly, as he just wanted the forces of evil to leave his family alone.
The special effects in this were also spectacular for 1986. While some of the cloud effects and matte painting work is very noticeable in modern HD, the CGI ghost effects were stellar and have held up well. The scene where young Robbie is attacked by his braces still looks incredible. Also, the practical creature effects used for the beast form of Kane, as he crawled through the bedroom without legs was stupendous. This definitely deserved the Academy Award nomination it got for special effects.
Lastly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score seems to come alive more in this chapter. His theme to the series is expanded on and presented in new ways. I miss movies that had scores like this. Movie music nowadays just isn’t as memorable.
Poltergeist II is not on Poltergeist‘s level but there is a part of me that enjoys it more because the villain was clearly defined and scary as hell. Plus, Sampson and the Native American influence were great additions to the proceedings.
And sure, the big final battle with Kane on “the other side” is ’80s cheese to the rind, but I still friggin’ love it.
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.