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Artwork copyright (c) 1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



They're back


Jerry Goldsmith managed to get attached to a number of successful movie franchises in the late 1970s and through the 1980s, like The Omen series, the Star Trek movies, three Rambo flicks and a pair of Poltergeist films.  In all cases, his approach to the sequels was wildly, sometimes startlingly, different from his approach to the originals and Poltergeist II is just another case in point.  The score for the original - a bona fide classic, easily one of the greatest scores of all time - was a fiendishly complex and sometimes challenging score for orchestra and choir, featuring a mindblowing array of dissonant orchestral effects alongside arguably the sweetest, catchiest and loveliest theme of the composer's dazzling career.  For the sequel, he took a different tack, emphasising mystery and otherworldliness over anything else, in a score that on the whole is far less epic but which still features many big, big moments.

Goldsmith was going through his most experimental phase in terms of electronics when Poltergeist II came about in 1986, with such scores as Legend, Link, Hoosiers and Runaway (a varied selection of music if ever there was one!) all being written around that time, and he certainly provides a whole host of synthesised material in this score.  What's slightly surprising is that it isn't particularly dated at all, but is still possibly something of an acquired taste.  Synths don't dominate to the extent they do in the other four scores mentioned above, but they certainly have a prominent role to play.

There are essentially no fewer than four new themes, along with numerous other ideas too.  The first new theme is introduced in the lengthy "The Power" which opens the album, with hints of a gentle waltz being presented in an otherwise-ominous opening, with a forceful brass motif that goes on to run through the score also being presented, and a few strains of the previous movie's "Carol Anne's Theme" round things off.  The most striking music is probably the native American-inspired synth organ motif heard fully in "The Mall" and later sent through a load of variations for varying ensembles, both electronic and acoustic; a striking piece.  "Late Call" is beautiful, with an all-new theme for Carol Anne that is as attractive - though nowhere near so memorable - as that from the first film.

The most striking cue is "They're Back", an absolute powerhouse which combines various ideas including some Omen-esque chanting, furiously exciting action motifs and - something surprisingly rare for horror movie scores - actual scary music.  (Rather irritatingly, the album's liner notes say it sounds like Carmina Burana; Carl Orff didn't invent Latin chanting and this music - along with The Omen and First Knight's finale, which are also always accused of being Orff rip-offs - sounds absolutely nothing like Carmina Burana.)  Another highlight is the eight-minute "The Worm" (Goldsmith has never written another score with such a large number of lengthy cues) which some very creepy material alternating with more great action.

Poltergeist II has been released a number of times; first, both Intrada and Varese Sarabande released an (identical) CD at the time of the film with just under half an hour's music; then, a few years later, Intrada expanded the score to 56 minutes and put out another album; and now Varese have expanded it slightly further (the main addition is the seven-minute "The Visitor") and cleaned up the sound.  To be honest, if you have Intrada's expanded version then the new material probably isn't good enough to justify another investment, but otherwise Goldsmith fans should certainly rush to buy this.  It probably seems a little worse than it really is simply because it is obviously compared with the score for the first Poltergeist film, which is a movie music classic; but taken on its own terms, it contains more than a few gems of its own.

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  1. The Power (7:48)
  2. Things (1:59)
  3. The Mall (2:10)
  4. Late Call (3:28)
  5. They're Back (3:38)
  6. Butterflies (:50)
  7. The Visitor (6:40)
  8. Wild Braces (2:19)
  9. Leave Us Alone (4:14)
  10. The Smoke (4:45)
  11. The Worm (8:06)
  12. Back to Cuesta Verde (3:16)
  13. Reaching Out (8:31)
  14. Carol Anne's Theme (3:05)