Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Five Spectacularly Sucky Reasons Why You Need to See "Poltergeist II: The Other Side!"

They’re back…and by “they,” I mean some really, really awesomely stupid scenes

The “Poltergeist” movies have always freaked me out - not so much because of the films’ content, but because of all of those super-creepy, off-camera mishaps and tragedies that have plagued the series. If you haven’t heard of the “Poltergeist Curse” before, you might as well buy yourself a one way ticket to Latvia and just plain give up on being a part of American society - this shit is important, and you need to know as much about it as you can.

Back in high school, I saw that one E! special about the doomed franchise about a gajillion times. No matter what else was happening, no matter what else was on TV, even though I had watched it four trillion times previously, I just HAD to see it one more time. I think they played the thing on a constant loop during the Halloween season, because I vaguely recall the thing being on TV every afternoon following school for all of October one year.

I’m not really a superstitious sort, but when you factor in all of the bizarre accidents that have haunted the cast and crew from the trilogy…well, it’s enough to get ANYBODY just a little unnerved. The star of the series died at an absurdly young age from septic shock, a young up-and-coming actress was murdered by her boyfriend - allegedly, while the soundtrack from the first movie played in the background, no less - and then, perhaps the most unsettling of all - “Poltergeist III” actually got released, despite being a horrendous, plotless piece of shit. The locus of the film’s curse, some have pointed out, stems from Stevie Spielberg’s decision to use real-life skeletons - as in, the kind that usually get donated to medical research labs - in the finale of the first movie. So the next time you catch the movie on cable, and you see JoBeth Williams screaming her lungs out while crispy-chicken faced cadavers try to drown her, just remember - those are REAL DEAD PEOPLE she’s having to use as props.

A lot has been said about the first movie, and like everybody else, I think it’s a terrific little pop-horror flick, even though I thought it would have been a billion times more awesome if they had just let Tobe Hooper go apeshit with Spielberg’s budget and let him churn out the most kick-ass, R-rated haunted house movie of all-time. With that in mind, I’m not here to talk about the inherent greatness of the first “Poltergeist” flick; instead, I want to share with you my favorite aspects of the awesomely sucky second movie - a film that, in many regards, might just be one of the greatest “bad” horror films in movie history.

As an overall picture, there’s no denying that “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” pretty much blows. It has about four million subplots going on and introduces so many superfluous characters and backstory that after awhile, you just wish they’d drop all of that talk about shamanism and religious cults and crap and just start showing kids getting eaten by trees and sucked into TV sets again. The film tried to create a certain “mythos,” but it’s a boring, uninteresting one, which detracts from the main objective of ANY 1980s horror movie: finding new ways to make people die, preferably via a bloated special effects budget.

As bad as “Poltergeist II,” as a comprehensive film, was, it actually had a few standout moments that I thought we’re pretty awesome…in a really crappy kinda’ way. And if that sounds like a complete oxymoron, you have to remember; this IS the mid 1980s we’re talking about here, and that’s how stuff operated back then. There’s no denying that “Poltergeist II” was a spectacularly sucky movie, and in a film glutted with spectacularly sucky moments, these are the five that I think stand out as the absolute suckiest…in a spectacular fashion, of course.


I suppose the first thing that would strike anyone watching “Poltergeist II” is the notion that one of the film’s central characters, Taylor the Medicine Man, is played by Will Sampson - perhaps best known as that really tall Indian dude in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” In the very first scene of the film, he’s doing some sort of Native American spirit dance where he sucks up some special effect ghosts, and the next time we see him, he’s driving around in a rust-bucket truck and warning the guy from “Coach” that zombie demons from hell will keep trying to eat his family until they learn to fight as a group. He really is one of the best things about the movie, even if most of his dialogue is limited to quasi-racist Kim-Chee-speak about the astral plane and burial rites. That, and it’s pretty hard to root against any plot point that entails a shaman camping out in the backyard, especially when he only seems to resurface when Craig T. Nelson needs to say insensitive things about indigenous peoples.


Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock for the last decade, you’ve probably heard about the Phelps clan, a merry evangelical family from Kansas that likes to spread the gospel by holding signs that read “God Hates (insert hurtful slur of your choice)” at the funerals of AIDS victims and dead soldiers. The first time I saw Fred Phelps - the great progenitor of the Westboro Baptist Church regime - my initial thought was, and this is a direct quote, people - “holy shit, he looks like that dude from ‘Poltergeist II!”

No offense to Julian Beck (ironically enough, according to his Wikipedia article, a bisexual Jew), but the late actor was an absolute dead ringer for old Freddie, a notion made a million times more bizarre because Beck’s character was also an extremist reverend. And any day now, I’m just waiting to find out that Westboro was likewise built on the tombs of a hundred starved children…


The ultimate spook out in the first “Poltergeist” film, clearly, was the scene where Robbie got attacked by that god-awful clown puppet. In the sequel, Robbie is yet again on the receiving end of the film’s most terrifying moment, this time involving a set of sentient braces that come alive, mummify him in dental wire and threaten to electrocute him and his entire family. Yeah, the special effects haven’t aged all that well over the last two decades (at one point, the wire looks like nothing more than aluminum foil), but if you can suspend your disbelief, it’s actually a pretty horrifying sequence. It’s a shocking scene that clearly had an effect on at least one international audience - since 1986, Britons have been so spooked by being attacked by living dental equipment that not a single person has visited an orthodontist in the U.K. in over twenty five years.


At one point in the film, Craig T. Nelson’s character, perhaps exhausted from watching his offspring get kidnapped by undead monsters, decides to soothe his jangled nerves with a bottle of tequila. Unfortunately, he ends up ingesting the worm at the bottom of the bottle, and since this is a horror film, I think it’s pretty apparent what ends up happening next. He starts coughing and thrashing around the room, and after a pretty long puking spell, he ends up spitting up this weird-ass H.R. Giger monster that sort of looks like something out of “Hellraiser,” or perhaps “Beetlejuice” had Tim Burton been given the go-ahead to make it an R-rated flick. And the best part about the scene? None of that fancy animatronics or CGI bullstuff was used, meaning that for the rest of his life, a guy named “Noble Craig” can actually list “Vomit Creature” on his resume.


Perhaps the most memorable thing about “Poltergeist II” was also the aspect of the film that was the most disappointing. Admittedly, it was pretty hard to outdo the finale from the first film, so perhaps it was a bit unrealistic to assume that the producers could create an equally rousing climax in this one. Even so, there’s really no way around it; not only was the ending of “Poltergeist II” sucky, it was spectacularly sucky. We start off pretty good, with the Freelings being attacked by a flying chainsaw, but after that? I’m not really sure WHAT is supposed to be going on. For a majority of the movie, the Freelings have been living across the street from their old house, which is now just a massive crater in the ground. But, it’s also an excavation site, where Tangina (aka, that midget psychic chick) is doing some sort of archaeological dig. After being attacked by everything in their garage, the Freelings manage to hightail it back to the excavation point, where Tangina and the medicine man are just, you know, kinda’ hanging out at two in the morning. For reasons that can only exist because the scriptwriter was lazy as hell, the family ends up hopping in the abyss, where they uncover a whole bunch of skeletal remains. If you’re wondering where those skeletons came from, it’s because that spooky reverend from earlier is actually the ghost of this dark messiah dude from the 1800s that rounded up a bunch of children and left them to die in a cave for some reason that is never clearly explained in the movie. Well, the family ends up getting sucked into a netherworld (which, oddly enough, looks like something created on a Commodore 64) where they’re just floating around while the preacher - now in a giant, totem-pole, turd monster form - tries to eat them. And after all of that, the movie ends with Craig T. Nelson throwing a staff - imbued with mystical Native American powers - through the monster’s gut, which just ups and kills the demon because, I don’t know, that’s how magic and stuff works. And then, the credits roll after the Indian steals the Freelings’ car. And I swear, I am NOT making that up, either.

So, yeah, “Poltergeist II” isn’t exactly the dandiest horror sequel you’ll encounter, but it has its moments. Which is way more than you can say for the third film in the franchise, which was just a plain old sucky flick as opposed to a spectacularly cruddy one. If you’ve got a jonesing for some quasi-family-friendly horror, it’s probably not the worst you can do, and it’s readily available pretty much anytime you want it - if not on Netflix, then just wait a couple of weeks, and it’ll probably be airing around the clock on AMC or something. All in all, “Poltergeist II” isn’t the optimal kick-off for the 2012 Halloween season…but sometimes, starting the fall off in a spectacularly sucky fashion is even better than starting it off in a spectacularly spectacular one, no?


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