There are movies that make you want to mince words, and then there's "Poltergeist II: The Other Side," a movie so ineffably bad, you can't even find the words to mince.
The movie finds the Freeling family in another town, another house, where they think they're safe. What suckers! Strange things are afoot, and if Mom (JoBeth Williams) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson) don't exactly recognize what's going on, their psychic daughter (Susan Peretz) does. And when Kane, a gaunt fellow in preacher's garb (Julian Beck), hollow-eyed and baring a bear-trap grin, shows up at their door, they know he's not out collecting for the Red Cross.
According to an Indian shaman named Taylor (Will Sampson), a fellow brimful with ancient wisdom, their only power against Kane is the love among their family -- what was in the old horror movies a crucifix is now a Hallmark Card. So for about an hour, you plow through this morass of fake sentimentality and elaborate jokiness (in the hands of screen writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor, Nelson's character is a barrel of wisecracks), twiddling your thumbs till the special effects kick in.
While most of the special effects (by Richard Edlund) are the usual flashes of blue light, moving skeletons and airborne chain saws, accompanied by the expected screaming and whimpering from the cast, some of them are doozies. In what must be every teen-ager's nightmare, the Freelings' son (Oliver Robins) is brushing his teeth when his braces spring out of his mouth and trap him in a stainless-steel cocoon. Later, Dad, who has made the mistake of swallowing the worm in a bottle of tequila, disgorges from his mouth a huge, fetal griffin who snarls slickly at him from across the room.
The griffin is billed as the "Vomit Creature," which should give you an idea of the level "Poltergeist II" aims at. While the movie reunites most of the original cast, the director (Tobe Hooper) and producer (Steven Spielberg) of the original "Poltergeist" bailed out of the sequel, with predictable results. In the hands of director Brian Gibson, the movie is scattered and silly, and cinematographer Andrew Laszlo's image is so dim, he might as well have run black leader through the camera.
In the midst of this is composer Jerry Goldsmith's lovely symphonic score, a meticulously crafted lattice of leitmotifs that announce the movie's themes and characters, subtly colored with strings, horns, and a primitive-sounding choir.
Goldsmith's score is an island of classiness in a sea of muck. "Poltergeist II" is just the thing for all those people out there who want to see the Freelings once again lose their house, car and personal effects.
In "Poltergeist III," Mr. Freeling tries to buy insurance.
Poltergeist II: The Other Side, opening today at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains some violence.