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Haunt, Sweet Haunt

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Death just isn't what is used to be. A few years back when someone died, they would lie around rotting for a while, return to do some miscellaneous terrorizing, then be re-killed, never to be seen again.

   Not anymore. Not since some bright Paramount executive, figuring there was money to be made in grave-robbing, revived Jason. No, the formerly dead undead are returning to unlife all over America. From Freddy Krueger to George Romero's Living Dead, corpses are rising from their crypts and movie fans are joining the chorus of cries calling: "Oh, Death, where is thy sting?"

   The newest addition in the re-undead cycle is MGM/UA's Poltergeist II:The Other Side, opening this month. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to suburbia, those messy ghosts have returned to kill, kidnap, and rearrange furniture.

   "Why do 'Son of Poltergeist'?" asks co-writer/co-producer Michael Grais. "Actually, there were lots of things we wanted to do in the first film that weren't quite done."

   "The conflict was never resolved in the first movie," agrees partner Mark Victor. "The family just fled. Although Poltergeist wasn't written for a sequel, it was really made for it in terms of characters and the conflict."

   That will come as a surprise to anyone who thought that the only thing the original ghosts wanted was revenge for the housing tract built atop their graves by real estate entrepreneur Teague (James Karen, see page 30).

   It comes as an even bigger surprise to the poor, haunted Freeling family. Now living in Arizona, far from the poltergeist-plagued Cuesta Verde Estates, the sequel puts them through all the nasty adventures conceived by mind of man or ghost.

   "We considered doing the sequel without the Freelings," says Victor. "But everyone loved that family so much, we made it priority to write about them."

   Almost everyone loved the family. Grais and Victor weren't sure that the people who played the Freelings loved them as much as everyone else did.

   "We made the decision to write for that family without having the cast contracted," says Grais. "It was a huge gamble, because we didn't know if we would get the actors back. It all relied on the script's strength."

   "JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson didn't need to do a sequel," says Victor. "When we were doing the script, Craig had the lead in a TV series, Call to Glory, and JoBeth had two films coming out. By force of the script, we got them back. We're proud of that."

   The Freelings have intelligently abandoned their home in Cuesta Verde–now a ghost town following the psychic shenanigans of the earlier film–and moved in with grandma Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald of Arthur). After grandma's death at her Phoenix home, another poltergeist phenomenon manifests itself all too eager to claim the bright light of little Heather O'Rourke.

   Aiding the Freelings in their supernatural tug of war are giant Indian actor Will (Orca) Sampson and the tiny Zelda Rubinstein, re-creating her role as the psychic Tangina Barrons. Sampson plays Taylor, an Indian who aids the distraught family with his spiritual knowledge. The late Julian Beck, last seen as a gaunt gangster in The Cotton Club, co-stars as the troublesome Reverend Henry Kane, a bad guy making life miserable for our heroic and tired family.

   Special FX-wise, Grais and Victor convinced Richard Edlund, the visual FX supervisor of the original hit, to return for Poltergeist II:The Other Side's haunted happenings. And Edlund (Fango #48) utilizes his Boss Film Company crew, veterans of Ghostbusters and a slew of other Academy Award winning FX extravaganzas. H.R. Giger, the bizarre European artist and designer who took home an Oscar for ALIEN, designed The Other Side's unearthly beasts and demonic denizens.

   Not everybody is coming back. While Poltergeist's ghastly ghosts have returned to haunt the poor Freeling family, the original film's guiding lights have not. Steven Spielberg has nothing to do with the sequel. Neither does director Tobe Hooper. Instead, Grais and Victor, who scripted the first film, have hired British director Brian (Breaking Glass) Gibson to helm the followup. The writers don't mind one bit that they have to produce this movie all by themselves.

   "It was a foregone conclusion that we would produce," says Grais. "We had another project set up at the same studio that we were going to produce, but that fell apart at the last minute because of an executive change. Since we were going to produce that, there was no question that we would produce Poltergeist II."

   Producing a multi-million dollar film may not be the easiest thing to do, but Grais and Victor were lucky enough to have an accomplished teacher.

   "We learned a lot from Steven Spielberg on the first film," says Grais. "We tried to apply what we learned."

   They had to. The master himself wasn't available. "It would have been nice to have Steven involved," Grais notes. "He wasn't able to do it."

   Neither was Tobe Hooper, who had his own ideas on the sequel (Fango #23). "Tobe's a friend of ours, but he was busy with another film and couldn't do this one," maintains Victor. "We have never spoken with him about the sequel and didn't show him this script."

   Since Spielberg, Hooper, and producer Frank Marshall (Fango #19) all decided it would be to their advantage not to make Poltergeist II, you might wonder why it would be advantageous for Grais and Victor. They certainly did.

   "When the studio asked to do the sequel in 1984, we had to sit down and make the same decisions everyone else does," admits Victor. "We had to consider if it was good for our career. We decided that if the sequel was a continuation of the first movie, and not just a kind of rip-off of it, then we could do it."

   The studio agreed with the writers. "Everyone wanted to make Poltergeist II as an ambitious project," Victor insists. "We all went into this knowing the traditional criticisms of sequels and wanting to avoid them."

   One way to avoid the usual traps of sequels was to hire an innovative director. They chose Brian Gibson, a British writer/director whose Breaking Glass, a rags-to-riches rock-&-roll story, managed to make every Star is Born cliche seem fresh and true. If he can make that story look new, think of what he can do with Poltergeist II.

   Poltergeist II:The Other Side is a calculated gamble for Grais and Victor. Unless it's disastrously awful, it is as surefire a money maker as Hollywood produces. But Grais and Victor haven't had a film produced since Poltergeist, and Hollywood may think they can't do anything besides torment the Freelings. If their last project hadn't fallen victim to studio politics, they wouldn't have this worry.

   "Turn Left or Die was a comedy about air traffic controllers," Grais explains. "It was a fun project. But a new studio head came in just as the air traffic controllers went out on strike, and he thought the time wasn't right for such a film. We're still working on it, though. We don't give up."

   But then, they haven't had much reason to give up. "We've been writing for 11 years, and all those years have been successful," says Victor. "We started out writing episodic television and then did our first feature, Death Hunt, with Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin. Steven Spielberg saw a script we had written and hired us to do Poltergeist."

   It's been 11 smooth years for Michael Grais and Mark Victor. And if Poltergeist II:The Other Side is anywhere near what they say it will be, the next few years can only get better.

   "You're going to see things you've never seen before in any film," predicts Mark Victor. "We hope it's going to be great."

1986 © Fangoria

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