Picks and Pans Review: Poltergeist Ii

updated 06/02/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

No movie creature, however fearsome, is as invulnerable as a box-office monster. That explains the return of the little terrors who seemed to have gotten their comeuppance at the end of Poltergeist in 1982. Directed by Brian (Breaking Glass) Gibson, this sequel is on the dutiful side, essentially reprising Tobe Hooper's (and Steven Spielberg's) original. Once again an overpossessive demon is stalking an Arizona couple, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams, and their children, Heather O'Rourke and Oliver Robins. It's a helpful touch to have the original cast back to portray the family. They're all accomplished players, and so are such added performers as the late Julian (The Cotton Club) Beck, as the demon in human form, Will (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) Sampson, as a heroic Indian medicine man, and Geraldine Fitzgerald, as Williams' psychic mom. The cast, in fact, lends a lot more substance to the proceedings than was provided by Gibson and writers Mark Victor and Michael Grais. Sampson, for instance, has to muster all his considerable supply of dignity to get anything other than guffaws when he counsels the family, "Band together; that will prevent you from crossing over into the other dimension." (Even Fitzgerald, however, can't help but seem on the dotty side when she appears in an ethereal, gauzy outfit that makes her look like the ghost of the Good Witch of the North.) The movie works best when it's played for laughs. Nelson, doing a sort of restrained Chevy Chase imitation a lot of the time, says at one point that his suspicions of Sampson aren't really racist: "I got nothing against those people. I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." But the electrical storm effects, icky fiends and stomach-turning shocks are routine by this time, and while small children might easily be disturbed by some of the gorier sequences, the film will bore a lot more people than it scares. It probably isn't going to do much for the career of Jill Cook, listed in the credits as "psychic adviser." If she had any real clairvoyant powers, she would have known enough in advance to go off and work on something else more stylish. (PG-13)

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