It has been a year since a tumultuous event in the life of the Freeling family which saw their new home destroyed, leaving them living with the mother of Diane (JoBeth Williams) and still refusing to have a television in the house - for personal reasons. What they don't know is that beneath the ruins of their old house there have been some excavations and what appears to be some kind of burial ground has been uncovered in a subterranean cave. Except the dead bodies there were not buried... and are definitely not at peace.
The Poltergeist saga is one fraught with tragedy, a fact which tended to overshadow the movies as they grew progressively worse from a near-classic beginning in 1982. The reason, for example, that the eldest sister was absent this time around was that the actress who played her, Dominique Dunne, had been murdered shortly after the first instalment had been released, and if that were not grim enough the little girl who played Carol Anne, Heather O'Rourke, died shortly before the third effort was completed, which casts a pall over her scenes in each of the films when watching them in hindsight.
That was especially true of this sequel, what with its climax featuring Carol Anne transported to heaven by the angels, and besides that a plot which has the main baddie wishing to spirit her away thanks to her psychic powers. There was a lot of the New Age mysticism about the storyline this time around, as if the script had been written under the late night influence of some Psychic TV channel or other, so much so that you half expect a selection of telephone numbers along the bottom of the screen which will put you straight through to the clairvoyants for a fee. This dippy mood was balanced by some very odd attempts at scaring the audience, helped in part by Alien designer H.R. Giger.
What happens is that once the Freelings are settled in the home of grandma (Geraldine Fitzgerald) Carole Anne starts the events in motion recognised by those who saw the initial blockbuster, only here we had two representatives of good and evil to contend with rather than some wispy phantoms and very big creatures (although the latter do show up eventually). They were: in the good corner, Will Sampson as medicine man Taylor (dead the next year, curse fans) and in the evil corner, Julian Beck (dead the previous year, and already suffering from cancer when he shot his scenes). You couldn't say either of them put in terrific performances, but Beck in particular was uncomfortably memorable as the ghostly preacher who spells doom.
That preacher is the one who wants Carol Anne's soul, and will go to very strange lengths to do so. There were really two scenes which made this worth watching, and both were particularly crazy even in the annals of eighties shockers. First up, the bit where son Robbie (Oliver Robins, who went on to be a filmmaker himself) is attacked by his own teeth braces, leaving him trapped in a mesh of wire which moves to electrocute him with a handy socket. Next, the bit everyone recalls: dad Steve (Craig T. Nelson) drowns his sorrows in tequila and accidentally swallows the worm, which grows quickly inside him to first possess him and render him acting all mad preacher-like, then is vomited out in a startling part to turn into a crawling abomination. Those two sequences deserved a better movie, as not even Zelda Rubinstein, returning as psychic Tangina, was quite as memorable as before, and the happy ending was dizzy and sappy to say the least. Music by Jerry Goldsmith, whose credits theme is rather lovely.