Poltergeist II: The Other Side

Film Review by Justin Eagle Gauthier poltergeist 2 movie poster

On an otherwise sunny day, a sudden rainstorm appears out of nowhere. A tall, slender man with hollow eyes stalks down the sidewalk and sings a haunting gospel song. For children of the 1980s, Poltergeist II: The Other Side was just one of a slew of horror film sequels. Hack-and-slash franchises like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street dominated video store shelves and made this family-oriented film seem tame in comparison. The talents of director Tobe Hooper and a story by Stephen Spielberg helped to propel the original Poltergeist (1982) into mainstream consciousness. The 1986 follow-up brought back the original cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Heather O’Rourke, and Zelda Rubinstein along with the notable additions of Julian Beck and Will Sampson.

Julian Beck portrayed the evil Reverend Kane with uncanny creepiness. Some actors assume a role at just the right time in their lives. In this turn, Beck the actor seems possessed by the dead cult leader character and the result is captivating. The tragic backstory of Kane and his followers holed up in a cave waiting for doomsday until they all die is compelling. As a conceit, the story of Kane and his doomed followers is a perfect foil for the thematic device of the power of love to conquer evil.

Even though the film attempts to pigeonhole him into the role of “magical Indian,” veteran actor Will Sampson brought an earnestness and likeability to the character of Taylor. The cultural scenes in the film present a wholesale endorsement of Pan-Indianism and gift shop shamanism that may have hamstrung another actor but Sampson soldiers through this role. He portrayed a believability that elevated the character, no matter how ridiculous some of the dialogue seemed. Given more screen time and cultural consideration, Taylor would’ve been a much more impactful character. As it stands, Will Sampson went above and beyond in this role.

As horror sequels go, you could do much worse than Poltergeist II: The Other Side. Take Poltergeist III as an example of a far inferior film to the original. Thankfully, Poltergeist II: The Other Side trades on many of the same themes and relies on the same characters as the original. In the end, the Freeling family realizes that Taylor was right, only the strength of their love for each other will win the day.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently working on several screenwriting projects and is actively taking bids on a framing job for his MFA degree.