★★ out of ★★★★★
Hear me out…Craig T. Nelson really is a solid actor. No really. For that matter so is JoBeth Williams. Really. But it is Craig T. Nelson, the Spokane, Washington native, that carries this film. Nelson brings both the gravitas and the lighter side of demonic, or in this case, Mormon (?) possession to the table.
In Poltergeist II, MGM decides to get the band back together, minus, of course, Steven Spielberg. As we all know, Spielberg was off doing some film by the name of Empire of the Sun. As we all know part II, this film was a flop (by Spielberg standards) and of its ga-gillion Academy Award nominations, it didn’t garner a single trophy. Maybe Spielberg cursed himself?
But alas, almost everyone’s back in the demonic possession fold: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke (Carol Ann), Zelda May Rubinstein — even Heather O’Rourke’s brother, Oliver Robbins is back for more creeps and chills. This familial Spielbergian cohesion literally and figuratively binds this film together. Without the these close genealogical connections the film might have been rather so/so. Forced to function as a collective, Team Poltergeist comes together to do battle with a Mormon-like unead cult that all killed themselves in a doomsday suicide pact under their perfectly manicured suburban home. Really. That’s the plot.
Super-creepy-teeny-tiny actress, Zelda May Rubinstein, discovers that the original house in Poltergeist might not have been built a Native American burial ground, but built on something far more sinister. She deftly consults with her Native American pal, Taylor (cooly played by Will Sampson) who deduces that the freaky undead leader of the religious cult has discovered Carol Ann’s supernatural clairvoyance. The pastoral leader of this undead cult, Rev. Henry Kane (played by Julian Beck) locks in on Carol Ann’s powers and determines that she, and only she, can rescue the cult members from eternal purgatory. Carol Ann does her darnedest to fend off the undead cult leader, but not before uttering a cringe-worthy “…they’re baaa-aaack.”
Strange things continue to happen to the family and Craig T. Nelson, but with the help of his Native American side-kick they realize that the only way for the family really survive is through love and support of each other. While normally a nice sentiment, the family is being forced to deal with the terrifyingly creepy Rev. Henry Kane who continues to return to their current residence over and over again. There’s several great allusions to TVs and electronics in general, and the fact that patriarch Craig T. Nelson has forbid any any all such devices in his home. This menacing back and forth with Nelson and Rev. Henry Kane continues on, maybe too long, but not before Craig T. Nelson, in a fit of desperation, ingests an entire bottle of Mezcal — worm and all. But much like the inanimate objects in the original Poltergeist finding a new life, the worm at the bottle is granted a ghastly lease on life. After completely taking on the persona of Rev. Henry Kane and scaring and scarring every last member of his family, Nelson engages in full on emesis and coughs up one seriously evil looking creature. Apparently, H.R. Giger was even brought on as a consultant for this and several other impious creatures, but not wanting to leave Switzerland, Giger sent along his homie Cornelius De Fries to oversee the monster making. Giger was allegedly disappointed in said monster making, but the monster, now referred to as “the great beast” — AKA the vomit creature — is a sight to behold.
Poltergeist II, indicative of the time, ends in faux Spielberg fashion, with a psychedelic nod to the original, and a final showdown in a spacy nether world. Love prevails and no one is indelibly harmed by the Mormon-like unead cult or its leader. This 1986 joint, if nothing else, is just that, the pure embodiment of 1986. The clothes, the subject matter, the film’s sensibilities, and the effects. Interestingly, aside from Giger’s revered vomit monster freakout, the film’s effects are also rather 1986. It’s clear that this film is the bridge from practical effects, to visual effects, to computer-generated effects. All thrown in to a grand melange of monster making. Some of it effective, some of it hokey, but all of it 1986.
Poltergeist II is rated PG-13 and available for streaming on Amazon.