When I tried to remember what went on in Poltergeist II, I could picture a few scenes in my mind, but no story. That didn’t seem right, so I thought it was probably time to give it another whirl. After all, you don’t always remember things properly when you see them as a kid, and there were a good seventeen years standing between me and the movie. As it turns out, my memory served me quite well. Poltergeist II is made up of a few interesting scenes, but no story. Bummer.
We catch up with the Freelings shortly after their initial ordeal at Cuesta Verde. Steven (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) are all living with Diane’s mother, and it’s as though poor Dana (murdered actress Dominique Dunne) never existed. Steven has resorted to selling vacuums door-to-door, and the family faces financial ruin if the insurance company won’t cover the loss of their house. It seems that the part where it imploded and disappeared is a bit difficult to explain.
In spite of the hard times, the Freelings are slowly getting back to normal. Carol Anne sometimes draws creepy pictures, but things really aren’t too bad until Diane’s mother suddenly dies. That’s when Carol Anne starts getting phone calls from “the other side” on her little pink play phone. Sadly, Heather O’Rourke is made to act a few years younger than she is, and there’s something awkward about the way she yaks on that stupid phone and hauls around her scabby-haired baby doll. One moment she’s wise and preternaturally mature, the next she’s babyish and innocent. Four years had passed since the release of the first film, but we’re expected to believe that only a couple of months have gone by.
Meanwhile, archaeologists are hard at work at the site of the Cuesta Verde house, and Tangina reports the findings to the Freelings. It seems that when the area was first settled, a crazy Reverend Kane (Julian Beck) led his followers to believe that the Armageddon was nigh. They holed up underground, but when the predicted doomsday passed without incident, he still wouldn’t let them out. They perished in that creepy underground pocket, and now Reverend Kane wants to get his hands on Carol Anne, because he doesn’t want her to lead his followers to the light. She was born in that house, and seems to be their only hope. Soon he’s showing up in the Freelings’ lives like a bad penny, and Tangina enlists the help of an Indian shaman (Will Sampson from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) to protect them.
For the most part, there’s a lot of hanging around, either warding off evil spirits or watching them wreak havoc on the Freelings’ new home. They can’t go anywhere, because the spirits will follow, so they just have to stick it out. Excitingly, the wires on Robbie’s braces come to life, wrap all around him, and pull him up on the ceiling. Better yet, Steven gets all funny after swallowing the worm in the bottom of a bottle of tequila. He starts grabbing at Diane, drawling about his “needs”, and talking trash about Carol Anne. Then he gags up this gigantic worm, which turns into a slimy skeleton with stubby broken-off arms and legs. It sort of flops out the bedroom door, and Steven goes back to normal. It was cheesier than scary this time around, but the tequila scene made quite an impression when I was younger.
Apart from those two scenes, the movie’s kind of a mess. Eventually the entire family crawls into the tomb with Tangina. They get sucked into some sort of vortex, float around, and prove, I guess, that the love of a family is a really right-on thing. It’s a shame that this doesn’t actually solve anything (as evidenced by Poltergeist III), and is not especially entertaining. With rumors of a curse swirling, this would have been a very good time to throw in the towel.
Well, I guess the treat of looking at spooky old preacher Julian Beck in high definition is considered enough, because otherwise there are no treats to be had. One day, someone will dare delve in how utterly cursed this film was. But, shoot, if I were them, I’d probably be tight-lipped as well in fear that lightning will strike me dead.