By Sheldon Teitelbaum
Alice Cooper should be scoring this film instead of Jerry Goldsmith. By some descriptions, POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE is the first shocker in film history to use a column of dead babies to ghastly effect.
The dead babies reportedly sprout from the film's centerpiece creature. Director Brian Gibson and visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund call it the "Great Beast." The assorted aborted fetuses appear on one of the creature's spinal appendages, courtesy of Swiss surrealist H. R. Giger, the man who conceived this latter-day Cerberus from the gates of hell, where the artists reportedly rents a post office box. Consequently, some viewers can expect much energetic beasting about on the screen while some drop their lunches in the aisles - POLTERGEIST II should register a solid 10 on the Stephen King gross-out scale. The question some people are asking is whether the rest of it will be a dog's breakfast as well.
The reason for much of this concern is Gibson, where direction purportedly resulted in a small exodus of Boss Film visual effects experts from their Marina Del Rey plant. Needless to say, Boss Film boss Richard Edlund was less than pleased at this turn of events.
Brian Gibson signed onto the project well after Boss Film concluded storyboarding the effects-laden finale for MGM's sequel to the 1982 film, POLTERGEIST. This was Gibson's first film in several years. He directed a commercially unsuccessful New Wave musical, BREAKING GLASS, which was released in the U.S. in 1983. Prior to that, Gibson had put several years of advanced medical training to work at the BBC, where he directed medical and science documentaries. Eventually, he successfully produced the British science series, HORIZON, which inspired the American popular science series, NOVA, and won for him a British Academy Award. Gibson's first move on POLTERGEIST II was to scrap much of the preproduction Boss Films had done on contract with MGM.
This did not make Gibson popular at the effects plant. Gibson recounts that the finale, which was the first part of the film that was shot, was initially an inordinately ambitious sequence. But it also promised to eat up far more in expense than the studio was prepared to front. The 41 year-old director, who has since our last issue (16:3:13) overcome his initial bashfulness with this magazine, said that he was left with merely enough latitude to wind up the movie with only 20 shots. He concluded during the ensuing storyboarding however, that he would not be able to impart the necessary information in a manner that could be deemed emotionally satisfying. "That was when the storms and the hair-pulling began," he said.
Written by Mark Victor and Michael Grais, who co-wrote the screenplay for POLTERGEIST with Steven Spielberg, the sequel again depicts the trauma of middle-calss suburbanite Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) as he comes to grips with the supernatural. Gibson that, in a sense, Steve Freeling is himself. "If anyone told me six years ago, when I was 35, that I would be doing this movie about ghosts and spirits," he explained, "I would have saaid he was mad. No one could have been more of a rationalist and materialist than I was at that time. But a lot of things have happened since to change my mind. I actually believe that there is another side, some other realm of conscioousness that awaits us after we die. I was grateful for an opportunity to explore those ideas in the context of this movie."
Unfortunately, Gibson's laid-back mysticism quickly earned him a reputation for being a bit of a space-cadet, both at Boss Films and at the studio. Gibson was not well-liked. But according to Richard Edlund, personality differences were quickly eclipsed by more concrete, logitical problems. Gibson's vagueness during the storyboarding and actual shooting of the effects sequences made it extremely difficult for the plant to deliver.