Thank God – or do I mean the horned guy down below? – for Reverend Kane (Julian Beck), the wrinkled spectre in the wide-brimmed hat and black-and-white suit who haunts the Freeling clan by singing “God Is In His Holy Temple” throughout Poltergeist II: The Other Side. Without him, the movie might self-implode (like the Freeling’s first haunted house) out of sheer embarrassment. One year after the first film’s events, JoBeth Williams (Diane) and Craig T. Nelson (Steve) have relocated the family – sans oldest daughter Dana (the recently deceased Dominique Dunn), who doesn’t even get a passing mention – to Diane’s mother’s house. The grandmother tells Carol-Anne (Heather O’Rourke) that they both share similar psychic powers, but that doesn’t stop creepy medium Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) from sending the family a spiritual Native American protector named Taylor (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Will Sampson, doing his best to promote hokey cultural stereotypes). Before long, those darned demonic forces have reincarnated themselves as Reverend Kane, a cult leader who held a ritualistic mass suicide party in a cave under the Freeling’s original house during the 19th century. Kane, it soon becomes clear, has come looking for Carol-Anne.
As one might expect, things soon start going haywire in the house, although this time around we get elaborate – um, I mean elaborately laughable – claymation special effects, such as when Kane possesses Steve via a tequila worm that, after causing a bit of indigestion, is subsequently regurgitated as a lame H.R. Giger slimy humanoid. To make up for the fact that Mom did all the heroic grunt work during the first crisis, Dad gets to save the day this time around, although first he must choose between two disparate role models – authoritarian demigod Kane (who he temporarily becomes), or tolerant, wishy-washy Taylor. This decision provides a mildly interesting subtext about men’s parental instincts, but it can’t make up for the film’s crushing tediousness. Director Brian Gibson attempts, and miserably fails, to emulate Tobe Hooper (or should I say Spielberg?), and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is entirely unremarkable. An early scene with Robbie being attacked by his braces nicely taps into young kids’ nightmares about their metal-enhanced teeth, but by the finale – in which the pink-swirled netherworld looks like the inside of a cotton candy cone – you’ll desperately wish Kane had just killed the Freelings when he had the chance.