Whether you’re a fan or not of the follow up to Hooper/Spielberg’s 1982 paranormal pleasure Poltergeist, it goes without saying the special effects are spectacular and well-known throughout the industry as a majestic staple of the effects community. Hell, even the snooty Academy Awards recognized the visual terror of the film when it was nominated for Best Visual Effects during their 1987 award season.
While I can agree some of the plot points in The Other Side are a bit questionable, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s probably one of my horror movies period. Most of that credit goes towards Julian Beck’s portrayal of the malevolent reverend, Henry Kane; who basically traumatized a seven-year-old Patti into being terrified of old people for the next three years. Quite a feat and a legacy to leave behind as this was the actor’s last film role, and most likely, his most memorable. Just to refresh, Beck was suffering tremendously during shooting with pancreatic cancer and in terrible pain- which would account for his deathly appearance on screen and twisted look. It’s quite sad to think about it actually. However, at least we can take heart into knowing it wasn’t in vain as his character, at least in my own stupid opinion, is held in the highest regard as one of the most perfect villains’ in the horror universe.
I’m sure he’s smiling with his 10,000 teeth beyond the grave with that statement.
Tentacles seemed to be a recurring effect in the movie. H.R. Giger, who provided the special effects designs, created several prospects but only two made it into the film, the vomit monster and “The Great Beast”. While I’m perfectly fine with these looks personally, some books on his art report that Giger was “very unhappy” with how his designs were translated to the film.
Before we get into the obvious scenes you’re expecting to see here, there were some other simple things like a dream sequence in which Diane is pulled into the ground by rotting skeletons, or another quick shot of dozens of ghostly spirits appearing all over the lawn that weren’t as recognized but looked visually stunning on film. Then there was the part where Stephen and Taylor are having their warrior session and the smoke attacks him before entering his nostrils. And of course, the creepy toy scene where all the kids’ toys are possessed by Kane and his minions.
The movie was at one point to have been filmed in 3D. Several scenes such as the appearance of the Beast and the cheesy flying chainsaw during the garage escape were filmed to take advantage of the process. This idea was eventually abandoned after seeing the failures of other gimmicky 3D horror films of the decade such as the likes of Jaws 3-D (1983), and Amityville 3-D (1983), which were previous flops for studios. Speaking of the garage scene, it was originally written to have the infamous clown doll come back for a scare, trying to smash its way through the car windows! Even more cheesy? Maybe. But I’m ok with saying it would have been the most awesome cheese.
Those are all notable mentions, but the effects in the film really kick off with attack of the braces! The orthodontic horror kicks off the tentacle special effects theme throughout the film with poor Robbie getting nailed to a ceiling in a cocoon of metal thanks to his dental genetics.
Boss Film Studios, namely Richard Edlund, John Bruno, Garry Waller, and William Neil, was the design company handling the effects. They animated the magic through a mold that was placed over actor Oliver Robins’ head. The team placed straws inside the kid’s nose so he could breathe properly and a device attached to the mouth that would shoot out the metal tentacles through a remote. In the original script, Robbie was to be attacked by bees. However, the actor noted he had a debilitating fear against the insect. So hence, we get this glorious scene instead.
Moving further down toward tentacle terror, is the most recognizable scene from the film- The Vomit Creature. Kane was able to get into the house by possessing the worm in a bottle of tequila. When Stephen swallowed the worm, it possesses him briefly until his body rejects the evil spirit. Out slithers this huge, slimy, H.R. Geiger inspired creature that quickly grows into a legless ghoul resembling the preacher. That part was pretty horrifying. It continued to grow until it resembled a massive column of evil, complete with monster claws that lifted Stephen off the ground; and then scare it off with that warrior smoke!
The creature, played by Vietnam veteran Noble Craig, was a triple amputee due to his war services. However, Craig is unsung in the horror community as playing multiple roles you might not even know about! Such as what is credited as “The Puddle Soldier” in 1988’s The Blob, “The Sewer Monster” in Big Trouble in Little China, and one of the very few people who got to play Freddy Krueger on the big screen in Nightmare 5: The Dream Child; in the scene where Freddy is bursting out of Alice’s body- that’s Craig.
The final few minutes of the film encounter the vomit creature Kane in it’s final form- The Great Beast. Unfortunately, the battle with the beast was originally much longer as with the rest of the film (a full forty minutes is said to have been cut from the movie), but nonetheless made its impact.
On the script sent to HR Giger, there was a scene in the entrance to the other side that involved a tunnel made with arms, bones and worms; and the Great Beast evolves into a massive living landscape that covers the other side. Which would have been cool to see but I’m guessing production budgets were an issue here. The ‘Beast’ itself was apparently a nightmare build for the team; so I suppose he sure does live up to his name.
Now, those are all fine concepts that looked great on film. But the most horrifying scene for me, was this goddamn transformation of Carol Anne becoming one with the beast.
And for the record, this just as creepy prop is the restoration of the Carol Anne bust that was partly used in that scene.