Some sequels expertly build upon their predecessors, evolving characters and plotlines in new and exciting ways while giving audiences a brand new experience that still manages to respect what made the original effort so compelling in the first place. Some sequels are truly worthy follow-ups that stand tall all on their own. Some sequels even surpass their older siblings, weaving a rich new story full of surprises. Some sequels are damn fine films, and then some sequels… are 'Poltergeist II.' A mostly harmless, but overwhelmingly mediocre retread of the original, the film does little to expand upon the fun thrills of its precursor, and instead just slumps haphazardly along with only a few minor bursts of excitement. "They're back," but I'm not sure I care.
A bit of time has passed since the Freeling family's first, near fatal supernatural house call, and the gang seems to be adjusting to a ghost-free existence just fine. Unfortunately, little Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) starts to exhibit clairvoyant abilities, and it seems the netherworld isn't quite ready to give her up just yet. After a visit from a creepy old preacher, Kane (Julian Beck), history starts to repeat itself, and the Freeling's new home gets some uninvited, ethereal guests. Thankfully, Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and the rest of the family are provided with some much needed assistance in the form of a kindly Native American shaman (Will Sampson) and everybody's favorite, tiny little medium, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein). Eventually, as the forces of darkness attempt to steal Carol Anne forever, the family must band together -- and through love, overcome the threat of evil. Yeah, it's kind of sappy.
The plot elaborates on the original's haunted cemetery storyline by throwing in a religious cult that was buried alive by its insane leader. While Beck is extremely effective as the evil zealot (he's probably the best part of the movie), the whole narrative is fairly thin and unengaging. We get some back-story on the evil spirit and his unfortunate flock, but it's quite convoluted, underdeveloped, and disconnected. The script continues to mix Speilberg-esque family dynamics with haunted house hijinks, but it all feels rather tired and dull. There are some sporadic moments of excitement, though, including a particularly fun sequence involving a really bad reaction to Tequila, but for the most part, the scary set pieces are few and far between. In fact, I was a bit surprised by the lack of actual thrills here, and when they do come, they're pretty fleeting and ho-hum. Killer braces and possessed chainsaws are all well and good, but these scenes lack substantial tension and creativity, and the running time is padded with far too many forgettable conversations and saccharine observations.
Going along with the lackluster set-up, the climax is also disappointing, featuring some lame effects and a rather cheap resolution. The heartfelt message is sweet, but it all comes across as very schmaltzy and a bit silly. Ultimately, there just isn't much substance here, and by the end, despite the supernatural events and dimension crossing shenanigans, it doesn’t really feel like anything all that significant has happened. The conclusion simply lacks oomph. Still, the movie certainly does offer marginal entertainment, it's just generic, bland, and thin.
'Poltergeist II' isn't a horrible sequel, but it completely fails to forge its own identity. Uninspired and light on scares, this follow-up falls short, and though it repeats the major beats of its predecessor, it doesn't bring anything fresh to the table. The cast does an admirable job with what they have to work with, but the few new characters and plotlines are poorly conceived and add very little to the proceedings. It's just an unnecessary sequel.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM brings 'Poltergeist II: The Other Side' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a standard case. After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While not overly impressive, this is a very solid and respectful video presentation.
The print is in good shape with no major signs of damage outside of a few specks. A light layer of grain is visible throughout, with the exception of one out of place shot near the end which is more excessive. Detail is good, especially in the opening scenes featuring a desert vista and a Native American ritual beneath the stars. Brightly lit scenes feature some pleasing depth, but the darker interior shots which make up the brunt of the film are sometimes a little soft and flat. Colors are rich and carry pleasing vibrancy. Some practical and optical effects tend to stick out a bit more thanks to the increased resolution, but this isn't an actual fault of the transfer. Black levels are solid and contrast is strong without being blown out.
'Poltergeist II' may not be winning any awards for its visual presentation, but this is a nice and authentic transfer that does a good job of preserving the original look of the film.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix with optional English subtitles, as well as several more foreign language choices including French and Spanish. Filled with some lively but sporadic set pieces, this is a track that offers a few fun moments of auditory thrills.
Dialogue is clear, but there are some very minor crackles in the high frequencies. Directionality is decent with fairly wide soundscape for effects and score. While the mix can be a little front heavy, things get aggressive during the major set pieces, and surround use is solid, bolstering the score and carrying various ghostly sounds and displaced voices around the room. Like many horror films, there are a few moments that start off quiet and then climax in a burst of noise and music, and the track's dynamic range handles these sequences well. Though not quite as thumping as one might expect, bass activity does help to add some excitement to the mix. The various audio elements are all evenly balanced, placing due emphasis on dialogue, effects, and music when appropriate.
Like the video, this audio mix does a very fine job of complementing the content with some periodic excitement and immersion.
'Poltergeist II: The Other Side' is a mediocre sequel that fails to match the first film's thrills and entertainment value. It's not horrible, but its lack of originality and excitement make its existence hard to justify. Video and audio quality are both nice, but with the uninspired story and absence of supplements this is a release that will probably only appeal to big fans of the franchise.