I know it almost can't be, but as far as my memory is concerned (not to mention checking against Boxofficemojo's yearly charts to see if anything would jog my memory), Poltergeist II: The Other Side is the first movie I ever saw in theaters. Again, I'm sure my mom took me to some Disney movie or maybe the ET re-release or something, but my first clear memory of going to the theater was for this 1986 sequel, cementing my lifelong love of horror in the process (which was already budding - I had to have seen the original by this point, right?). I should mention I was six at the time, so I think it's pretty much guaranteed: my mom > your mom. No offense.
But oddly I don't think I ever watched the whole thing again until I reviewed it for Horror Movie A Day about five years ago. Some scenes, like Steven's worm-drinking freakout or Robby's battle with his braces, stuck in my head pretty clearly, but everything involving the Taylor character, Tangina's role, Kane's cult... none of it rang a bell during that viewing. It's possible I watched just the scenes I liked when it was on HBO or something - as we're about to see, the pacing can be a bit languished, with a lot of talk between the big setpieces, and a pretty rushed and confusing ending to boot. But does it make for a worthy followup to the classic original, which has officially entered remake phase last week with the hiring of a director? Let's find out!
00:00 - MGM logo, in front of a film that was actually released by MGM originally. Since nowadays they habitually buy up film libraries from bankrupt companies, you see the logo in front of things that were originally released by Orion, or one of Roger Corman's companies. That poor lion has no idea how many bad movies he now introduces.
01:00 - A shot of Taylor (Will Sampson), sitting by a fire and looking up at the sky.
02:00 - A closeup of Taylor as he looks down. This movie hits the ground running!
03:00 - A blurry closeup of the fire.
04:00 - The credit for Julian Beck (Kane) over a shot of the ghost town that is Cuesta Verde. Beck had died of stomach cancer before the film had finished production, cementing the idea of a so-called "Poltergeist Curse," created by folks looking for a reason to explain the admittedly high number of deaths involved with the series. That he already knew he had the cancer before he was even offered the role doesn't seem to be taken under consideration by these conspiracy theorists.
05:00 - Taylor getting out of his truck.
06:00 - Taylor descending a ladder. I don't remember it taking so long before we get to the Freelings.
07:00 - Taylor looking around a cave.
08:00 - The Freelings! They're enjoying an outdoor lunch.
09:00 - Steven (Craig The Nelson) fiddling with a radio. Paying off/continuing the gag at the end of the first film, they are still a no-TV family.
10:00 - Grandma talking to Carol Anne about her drawing.
11:00 - A closeup of Carol Anne, played by the late Heather O'Rourke. The so-called curse is seemingly centered on this film; obviously O'Rourke was in all three films but director Brian Gibson and co-stars Will Sampson and Julian Beck were only involved in this one, and they have all since died. Worth noting that cancer was the cause of Beck and Gibson's death, and also what claimed composer Jerry Goldsmith in 2004 (same year as Gibson). I still don't believe there's a curse, but out of all the nutty theories I've heard about movies, it's at least got a ton of evidence to support it.
12:00 - Shot of an angry looking JoBeth Williams.
13:00 - Steven face down on his bed, upset about their money issues. I like how they deal somewhat realistically with the fallout (insurance money, moving, etc) of being haunted and having your house disappear. Part of what made III such a lame sequel was that it lost the family element, as Carol Anne was sent to Chicago to live with some in-laws that we didn't know or care about, and the attempts to make them likable like the Freelings were forced and obvious. No movie has ever been improved by writing Craig T. Nelson out of it.
14:00 - Steven singing to Diane. Nelson's hair is amazing in this movie, by the way.
15:00 - A closeup of a TV showing an American flag.
16:00 - Carol Anne running from Kane at a mall.
17:00 - Diane, just now noticing that her daughter is missing. You'd think she'd be a little more diligent with watching her 7 year old kid in a mall anyway, but especially so when she's prone to being whisked away to other dimensions in the safety of their own home.
18:00 - Diane talking to her mother.
19:00 - ICONIC IMAGERY! (Flashback footage from Part 1)
20:00 - Carol Anne walking down a hallway.
21:00 - Carol Anne waking up to the sound of her toy telephone, which replaces the TV as the "innocuous object you will be afraid of when you go home" for this movie.
22:00 - Diane telling the kids that Grandma died in her sleep. Grandma is actually the only character to die in the first two films, and it was off-screen (and not ghost related, if memory serves), which is kind of interesting and a great counterpoint to anyone that claims you need violence to make an effective horror film (for the first one that is; this one doesn't make for a good counterpoint to anything except maybe a claim that drinking the tequila worm is a sound idea).
23:00 - A flashback of young Diane playing in the garden with her mom. This stuff would be more effective if Grandma had been a character in the first film, I think. We just met her ten minutes ago; it's not like we've gotten that attached.
24:00 - Hilariously bad FX shot of a cloud forming over the home they now have to themselves. Also, how did the cops and insurance folks not look into this situation a little more closely? A family who had to escape their last home because it was "haunted" moves in with a family member who then dies, presumably leaving them a free house in the process? I'd be mad suspicious.
25:00 - Shot of Carol Anne's bedroom floor.
26:00 - Same, different angle though.
27:00 - It's back! Carol Anne's toys are attacking her. Jerry Goldsmith offers some Omen-style score here.
28:00 - Carol Anne's bedroom. Everything has died down except for the robot, still clacking away.
29:00 - The Freelings looking at Taylor, whom they have just met.
30:00 - Part of my favorite little bit in the movie, where Carol Anne expresses her wish to live at Dunkin Donuts. Since they live in Arizona now it would be possible; had they stayed in California (the first movie's locale) she'd be shit out of luck until 2015 (cue the obligatory talkback "You don't have Dunkins in California?" - no, we don't. There's one on an army base near San Diego that civilians were allowed to visit for the first month or so, but so many people were coming on base to go there they had to change the rule. However, Dunkins have announced plans to bring several stores to the area in 2015.)
31:00 - Some lady with rollers in her hair talking to Diane.
32:00 - Steven and Diane talking to Taylor. Also, Steven's hair is now short - I either missed a scene where he got a haircut or maybe he had it cut for the funeral. Either way it is sorely missed.
33:00 - Steven and Taylor looking at the house.
34:00 - Steven looking in awe at Taylor doing a rain dance.
35:00 - Carol Anne at a window, beaming at the butterflies that have gathered around Taylor outside.
36:00 - Diane scolding Taylor for something. He sure takes a lot of shit from the Freelings, considering that he's there to help them.
37:00 - Steven offering to let Taylor sleep in their house (he's currently residing in a tent in their lawn) if he leaves their car alone.
38:00 - Creepiest scene in the movie! Kane walking up to their house while singing.
39:00 - Kane talking to the family. The guy in part III (Nathan Davis, who has also since died but 20 years after appearing in the film, and he was 91 years old) was okay but man, Beck is one creepy ass dude.
40:00 - Kane talking to Steven.
41:00 - Diane having flashes to Kane's cult. The Amityville Horror remake kind of ripped this movie off, I now realize: old creepy cult dude, Native Americans, etc.
42:00 - Nelson, looking terrified. Who can blame him?
43:00 - LET! ME! IN!
44:00 - Kane walking away as the rain stops.
45:00 - Steven looking at a feather.
46:00 - Taylor asking Steven if he "feels like a leaf at the mercy of the wind".
47:00 - Taylor telling Steven that he is a warrior. I wouldn't argue with anyone who can take out Jack Nicholson.
48:00 - Robby grabbing a razor and shaving creme.
49:00 - This scene is one that has burned into my head and also probably responsible for my misaligned teeth. My dentist recommended braces when I was younger and I refused, as this forever turned me off to the idea of having them. The first is also responsible for my minor fear of clowns, but part III didn't scar me in any way. I'm perfectly okay with mirrors and puddles.
50:00 - See? This could have happened to me. No thank you.
51:00 - Taylor and Carol Anne reacting to a bright light.
52:00 - Steven asking about Kane.
53:00 - Taylor telling the Freelings to listen.
54:00 - Low tracking shot of the house's exterior.
55:00 - Tangina arrives at the home. So the ominous low tracking shot was a joke, but an accurate one!
56:00 - Diane talking to Tangina. I like that they've remained friends.
57:00 - Taylor chanting and waving a rattle around - is this politically incorrect? We never see these sort of characters in movies anymore.
58:00 - Diane looking at a photo of Kane's cult.
59:00 - Tangina yelling at Diane, which activates another flashback.
60:00 - Tangina hugging Diane, post flashback trauma. I usually don't like when they explain too much about a villain, but I like how they found a way to expand the original's story without ret-conning anything. It's not the greatest backstory in the world, but it's certainly better than just having them be haunted again by random ghosts.
61:00 - An eagle flying around the desert.
62:00 - The family eating dinner.
63:00 - Steven reaching for the toy telephone.
64:00 - Steven drinking from his tequila bottle - this is another of the scenes that burned in my mind for a while. As a six year old, I decided to never drink tequila, which is funny because now as an adult I find it to be my least favorite hard alcohol (I usually just drink beer, but if doing shots tequila would be the last I'd pick).
65:00 - Carol Anne blow-drying her doll's hair.
66:00 - A drunken (or is he already possessed? I forget) Steven talking to a concerned Diane.
67:00 - They're still bickering. Good thing Taylor's not around or they'd be taking it out on him.
68:00 - Okay, yeah, he's definitely possessed now, making crazy faces.
69:00 - Steven trying to break free of Kane's hold.
70:00 - The worm thing flailing about. For you younger audiences, this is what is known as a "practical creature effect." Back in the day, a team of guys (or just one) would create a tangible puppet or full body suit for an actor to wear, which the other actors in the scene would be able to see and interact with. However, these guys were all put out of work or forced to use inferior CGI technology to stay in business, and now most creatures you see in movies look weightless and silly (see: Mama).
71:00 - Steven and Diane making their way down the hall.
72:00 - Steven reacting to a door that just slammed shut.
73:00 - Steven and Diane looking at their ceiling.
74:00 - Diane looking around the house for the kids. It's kind of weak that they'd attempt a "Carol Anne is missing, AGAIN!" thing for the finale - they couldn't think of anything better? Or have Robby be the victim?
75:00 - Everyone (sans Carol Anne) in the garage.
76:00 - A closeup of Steven trying to start the car. Carol Anne is back (I forget how this played out, she must have been hiding in there somewhere).
77:00 - A shot of the chainsaw slicing up their hood. This movie was nominated for an Academy Award for its visual effects, but they're pretty lousy looking to my eyes compared to other films of the era (Aliens was also nominated that year, and rightfully won). Let's hope this never appears on Blu-ray - it'll be atrocious.
78:00 - The family driving along after escaping.
79:00 - Same shot.
80:00 - Tangina addressing the family. There's a thing about the climactic battle where the entire family had to come and stick together or else they wouldn't be able to defeat Kane (even the dog goes!), which is an odd choice to make for a movie that completely ignores 20% of the family (the older daughter, Dana, who is at college and no longer speaking to the family according to the film's novelization). The real reason, sadly, is that actress Dominique Dunne was the first victim of the alleged curse, having been killed by an ex-boyfriend shortly after the first film's release. I guess since the scene explaining her absence was cut out, they were hoping folks would just forget she existed.
81:00 - Tangina making her way through a cave. I like how there's only nine minutes left of the movie, including credits, and they still haven't actually gone to the "Other Side" of the movie's title.
82:00 - Craig T. Nelson manhandling Zelda Rubenstein.
83:00 - Taylor, wearing face paint and tending a fire.
84:00 - The family, engulfed in an orange light. Everything looks like Poochie returning to his home planet. Were there no other visual FX movies to nominate that year or...?
85:00 - Same shot as 83:00.
86:00 - The family hugging. In retrospect it's very bittersweet, since this would be the last time they'd all be together - only O'Rourke went on to appear in the third film, and then she passed away before any sort of reunion (also, the last time we'd see O'Rourke in the final scene of a Poltergeist - since the ending for III was reshot after she died, they used a very obvious double).
87:00 - Taylor, conning Steven out of his car.
88:00 - Credits for stunt folks, including George P. Wilbur who would go on to play Michael Myers in Halloween 4.
89:00 - For some reason, more stunt credits, including Wilbur again as stunt coordinator. Weird.
90:00 - The credits for the creature crew, including Screaming Mad George! If you're unfamiliar with his work, look him up - he did a lot of the craziest FX of the late 80s, including the "roach motel" scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 4.
And that's it; the movie ends at 90:40, with Jerry Goldsmith's iconic main theme playing all the way to the end.
While it doesn't live up to the original, it's certainly the superior of the two sequels, and a good effort all around. The setpieces definitely have a "We came up with the idea and then figured out how to work it into the movie" feel to them, but some of the haunting elements, like the toy telephone, do the original proud, and even if I wasn't so young when I saw it I'm sure I'd still be pretty freaked out by that braces bit (I just have a thing with teeth - I felt bad for that zombie that got curb stomped on Walking Dead last week!). It could have been worse, is what I'm saying, though at the same time the quality declined enough to prove that this maybe wasn't a franchise-ready horror concept, and that they shouldn't have tried again with the third (the TV series was completely unrelated, so who cares). Good luck with that remake.