They’re Back! POLTERGEIST II and III Return to Blu-ray from Scream Factory

Poltergeist II and III return to Blu-ray this week in new Collector’s Editions from Scream Factory.

Often paired in home video releases, the Poltergeist sequels are generally considered inferior to the classic original, a case of creative and commercial diminishing returns. As a neophyte to the series within just the last couple of years, I have a relatively fresh perspective without any nostalgia for any of them.

While the prevailing opinion is basically correct, I feel the gulf between films isn’t as drastic as many think— not only because the sequels are a bit better and weirder than you may remember, but because the original is held on a pedestal — most likely a result of the Spielberg brand. While a great movie, Poltergeist’s story is pretty derivative with its slightly-modified take on the overused “haunted house built over an Indian burial ground” trope. Its greatest strengths lie in its incredible special effects, its family core, and a general sense of wonder as its paranormal mystery is explored.

The sequels carry on with incredible effects sequences and imaginative designs, but its in the awe and familial center that they start to break down.

Poltergeist II

The first sequel continues to follow the Freeling family after leaving Cuesta Verde, with most of the cast reprising their roles. As the original film explained, poltergeists haunt a specific person rather than a house, and that proves to be the case when daughter Carol Anne is confronted by malignant forces. The poltergeist becomes personified in the character of “Reverend Kane”, and the film explores the historical origin of the curse, and ties in some new themes of Indian spiritualism as well, including a shaman who helps the Freelings alongside returning medium Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein).

It’s through the shaman that the movie tries to bring back some sense of wonder to the proceedings, but it’s a little hokey and ultimately not nearly as effective or significant as in the first film.

What is key to the film’s effectiveness, though, is that the family core is still very much front and center, with familial love being the only force that can repel Kane’s evil. It really helps that the primary cast returned (with the exception of the oldest daughter, written out as a result of actress Dominique Dunne’s tragic real-life death).

Poltergeist II’s best asset, though, is its very creative and nightmarish monster effects, designed by H.R. Giger and brought to stunning life by an amazing team of artists. Without describing the specifics, there’s a series of effects sequences in which Kane gains entry to the Freelings’ household that stands up to just about anything the horror genre has to offer.

Poltergeist III

The third and final outing tries to be the most innovative and daring with its material, but also takes the story in a direction that’s much more removed from the first two films. While the first two films feel like a natural extension of the same story, Poltergeist III is in many ways an outlier.

Carol Anne has been sent away to live with her urbanite aunt and uncle (Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt) and cousin Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), in an attempt to hide her from the evil forces that continually follow her. I suppose that explanation makes some sense, but it breaks down the important family theme of the series (no matter how hard they try to retain it here with the aunt and uncle), and from a practical standpoint makes it look as if they weren’t able to get the cast back (only Heather O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein return).

Carol Anne’s new guardians live and work in a chic downtown tower that serves two main functions: it provides an interesting setting with a variety of closely concentrated locations, and the building’s commercial nature allows for lots of mirrored hallways which are central to its “Through The Looking Glass” conceit.

The franchise once again boasts pretty impressive effects, but they’re of a completely different nature, now mostly environmental. Mirrors and reflections create a gateway between the physical and spiritual realms, which Kane can use to manipulate environments. The various mirror trick shots are extremely impressive, though not in-your-face cool as the more obvious ghoulish creatures of the earlier films. Unfortunately the great practical work doesn’t always extend to production design; some sets look obviously fake because their outside cityscapes are so static.

Fans of Poltergeist III love its daring, topsy-turvy change-ups and inventive locale, but most viewers simply find it an unnecessary sequel that’s too far removed from its predecessors. I agree with both points and fall somewhere in-between.

The Packages

Poltergeist II and Poltergeist III return to Blu-ray this week in new Scream Factory Collector’s Editions packed with both new and vintage extras. All three films in the series have been on Blu-ray before in relatively barebones editions, but these new editions easily represent the definitive home video versions of the sequels (and ironically exceed by far MGM’s own treatment of the better original film).

The new packages feature reversible covers with new and original designs, and slipcovers with the new art by Justin Osbourn. The designs are complementary to each other, but not so much to any prior release of the original Poltergeist.

Tech details for both releases:
New 2K scan of inter-positive; DTS-HD MA 5.1, English Subtitles

Special Features — Poltergeist II

· NEW Robbie’s Return with Oliver Robins (14:25)
Robins talks about his experience as a child actor and some of the more harrowing scenes, and remembers the loss of friend Heather O’Rourke (who died in 1988).

· NEW The Spirit World (22:09)
Revisiting the film’s incredible practical monster designs with effects creators Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson and Screaming Mad George. Lots of cool BTS footage mixed in with the interviews.

· NEW Ghosts of Giger (21:02)
This one’s a pretty interesting look at Giger’s involvement in the film, which was mostly conceptual in nature, as well as general observations on his person and art.

Vintage Featurettes:
· They’re Back: The Making of Poltergeist II (6:15)
· Monster Shop (2:45)
· Ghostmakers: The Magic of Poltergeist II (6:28)

· NEW Audio Commentary with writer/producer Michael Grais
· NEW Audio Commentary with Poltergeist II webmaster David Furtney

· Theatrical Trailer (1:22)

· TV Spots (2:04)

· Still Gallery
· Script Gallery

Special Features — Poltergeist III

· NEW High Spirits with co-screenwriter Brian Taggert (16:02)
Taggert discusses how he got involved, and the “Through The Looking Glass” theme that interested him.

· NEW Reflections with actress Nancy Allen (12:15)
She’s pretty much exactly as charming as you’d expect! Hopefully this means she’ll be on the upcoming Robocop discs as well.

· NEW Mirror Images with Special Make-up Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr. (12:47)
Come for the effects talk; stay for the stripper story.

· Alternate Ending (2:38)
The sound is lost but subtitles are used to fill in the dialogue.

· NEW Audio Commentary with director Gary Sherman
· NEW Audio Commentary with Poltergeist III webmaster David Furtney

· Theatrical Trailer (1:04)

· TV Spots (2:06)

· Still Gallery
· Script Gallery

A/V Out.

Get em at Amazon:
Poltergeist II — Collectors Edition Blu-ray
Poltergeist III — Collectors Edition Blu-ray

Previous post Dwayne Johnson Remains the Main Attraction in Season 2 of HBO’s BALLERS [Blu-review]
Next post Arrow Heads Vol. 32: Dark Water a J-Horror Classic