That was poor. Poltergeist II can't even manage to be amusingly awful after the fashion of many terrible horror films. It can only dream of being so bad it's good. No, instead it's merely mediocre, perpetrated without inspiration or talent. There are far worse films out there, but those are often more entertaining.
Instead, let's talk about the Poltergeist curse! As everyone knows, being involved in making the first film seemed to bring a few troubles. The scariest of those would be Dominique Dunne (aged 22) getting murdered by her boyfriend, so unsurprisingly in this sequel her character is never seen or even mentioned. Leaving aside Heather O'Rourke because she starred in all three films and her death can't be ascribed to any one of them, here's the Curse, Part II. To provide some context, by the way, this film only introduces three new characters. These are Grandma (Geraldine Fitzgerald), an Indian psychic investigator (Will Sampson) and the bad guy, Kane (Julian Beck). We thus have a smaller pool of potential victims, of whom...
1. Julian Beck (aged 60) managed to die of stomach cancer even before the film was released, but that hardly counts because they'd known he was ill when they gave him the role. In a macabre way, it might even have been part of why they chose him. The poor guy's horribly underweight, with scary teeth. They certainly didn't choose him for his acting talent, since he gives a rather odd, empty performance that's eerie in its own way but barely even one per cent of what you'd have got from a more experienced actor of his age.
2. Will Sampson (aged 53) died the following year of post-operative kidney failure and pre-operative malnutrition problems.
3. The director, Brian Gibson, died of bone cancer in 2004, aged 59. It's a bit of a stretch to blame that on the curse, though.
4. As on the original Poltergeist, real skeletons were used as props for shooting. This caused tensions which culminated in Sampson performing an exorcism on the production. Studio security was instructed to leave the set unlocked and unguarded so he could return in the middle of the night for his rituals. As it happens he was a real Creek Indian shaman.
Not convinced? We'll be returning to this exciting feature with Part III, but in the meantime, let's talk about the film. I'll start with the good bits.
Craig T. Nelson gets most of the heavy lifting and does rather well, despite the script making his character look like an idiot. He's got a character journey about coming to terms with who he is and learning to accept what's around him, which unfortunately means he starts the film with his brain in reverse. He sends away the psychic Indian, saying, "Nobody can help us." Eh? Presumably he's in denial about having called in all those helpful psychic investigators last time. "Keep an open mind," begs his wife. Why should anyone need to say that to him, of all people? He doesn't listen to advice. He's a twonk, basically. However I enjoyed his scenes with Will Sampson, especially the running gag about his car being angry, and later on he gets possessed and gets to be evil and chew up the scenery. That was good. He's better than the film around him, that's for sure.
Heather O'Rourke gets less to do, but she's also good. She's a strong child actor, certainly much better than her big brother and outclassing even JoBeth Williams as her mum. Had she lived, I'm sure she'd have been much in demand for as long as she wanted to stay in the business.
The special effects are Oscar-nominated, although you'd never believe that in a million years. They're unmemorable. The film doesn't know how to use them, often throwing them at the audience with no build-up and then immediately forgetting that they ever happened. Sometimes they're even only a dream. The only exception to all that would be the reverse-fellatio Vomit Creature, which is great fun and probably the highlight of the film, despite its ludicrous downfall. When that showed up, I thought we'd reached the climax. Unfortunately we hadn't. H.R. Giger worked on this film as conceptual artist, you know.
I like O'Rourke's toy telephone.
There's a strange bit with possession at a roadside diner.
Geraldine Fitzgerald is good, although underused. Will Sampson is also an improvement on Zelda Rubenstein, even if she also returns to demonstrate that she still can't act even if she is a Psychic Dwarf. I suppose Kane's backstory is also mildly original, with bonus points for not getting lazy with Indian Burial Grounds.
The second half is less boring than the first, since the poltergeist activity is at last getting going. Occasionally there's even some subtlety to be found in the special effects, with the army of ghosts managing to look eerie.
...and that's it. No more good bits. Nothing else manages to get above a minimal level of competence. The dialogue is on the nose and cliched. "Am I interrupting again?" doesn't feel like anything a real child would say, for which I'd put only a little of the blame on O'Rourke. There's amost nothing worth watching in any of the family's interactions, with people tending to make clumsy speeches at each other. This is a particular problem because there's almost nothing else in the entire first half. The actors do their variable best, but it's not enough. They can't lift it. You might remember that the original film even thought to characterise its dog, but here in contrast I forgot that the poor mutt even existed and thus got a shock when he suddenly showed up in the Aftermath of the Vomit Creature.
The music is unfortunately trying to sound like The Omen. The editing is bad. The scares are bad. The first half in particular is almost worthless, not even managing to make you care when corpses jump out of the ground. There's a scene with JoBeth in the bath, but we only ever see her from the back. The worst single thing though would be the Power of Love ending, complete with glowing halo. No, really.
At its absolute tip-top best, this film very occasionally manages to give us a cool idea or image. For the most part, its good bits are only okay. Otherwise it's dull. In particular it does its best to stop me caring about the Freeling family, which is shocking if you remember how well Spielberg used them in the original. Even a bad film would have been better than this.