Starring Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen
Directed by Gary Sherman
Distributed by Scream Factory
In a review for Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), I kinda blasted it for coming across like warmed-up leftovers. Aside from a few notable inclusions – Will Sampson, incredible FX work from some of the then-hottest names in the biz – it plays like a rehash of the first film just not nearly as good. It had been probably a decade since I last saw that sequel and my memories were far kinder than reality. When I relayed this to a friend he said, “Oh, man, then you are gonna HATE the next one.” It had also been ages since I last watched Poltergeist III (1988) but there was a minor trump card tucked away in my pajamas: I remember catching the last act of the movie at least a dozen times on cable back in my formative years, so there’s a small soft spot for some of it deep within me. Watching the film now… yes, it is a bad movie and there are plenty of awful moments, but it does deserve a modicum of credit for trying to do things differently than the previous entries. Those things may not have been done entirely successfully but, hey, effort is effort.
Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) has been banished to live with her Uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt) and Aunt Pat (Nancy Allen), Diane Freeling’s sister, in their tony apartment in a Chicago skyscraper. Her parents claim it’s for Carol Anne to attend a prestigious school but we all know better. No Craig T. Nelson or JoBeth Williams appearances? To quote Nelson himself: “Two was enough.” I’m sure Williams felt the same. Anyway, Kane (Nathan Davis, poorly subbing in for Julian Beck) is still tormenting Carol Anne in her daily life but it doesn’t seem to bother her so much. She keeps awfully quiet about these things despite knowing what usually follows. She’s seeing a shrink, Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire) – the typical ‘80s pseudointellectual asshole – and going to a private school, where the kids attempt to tease her about seeing ghosts but Carol Anne remains unaffected. Dr. Seaton has been questioning Carol Anne about the paranormal events of her past, events unknown to Bruce and Pat, and it is Seaton’s reminder of that past which brings Kane back into Carol Anne’s present.
She won’t have to fight alone, though, because Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), soothsayer supreme, can sense impending danger so the pint-sized paranormal investigator heads to Chicago for assistance. One night, as Bruce and Pat are enjoying a fancy soiree within the building (Bruce is the building manager), Carol Anne and Bruce’s daughter from his first marriage, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle, in her acting debut a couple of years before she would play another, more famous “Donna”), find themselves sucked into Kane’s mental madness, as anything with a mirrored surface suddenly becomes a doorway to the “other side”. Yet another final showdown between Kane and Carol Anne looms on the horizon.
Fun drinking game: using a thimble, have a shot of liquor whenever someone says Carol Anne’s name. You will die of alcohol poisoning before the credits roll.
There is one scene in the movie where Donna is upset at being separated from Carol Anne and she loudly cries “Carol Anne!” over and over and over so many times that you’d be better off pressing “mute” after the first utterance rather than risking the extreme wave of annoyance I endured. I swear, if you cut out every instance of someone saying “Carol Anne” in this movie the runtime would be twelve minutes including credits.
Poltergeist III is a bad movie; there is no way of getting around that unless you’re viewing it through rose-tinted glasses. Although I did admit to a fondness for the third act, it in no way elevates all of the swill that comes before. So much of this feels contrived. I wish the story had reverted back to anonymous spirits haunting Carol Anne, although I get why they had to stick with Kane. It wouldn’t make any sense for some other malevolent entity to harass her, but, man, the new version of Kane – since Julian Beck died right after finishing II – looks like the off-brand version. Director Gary Sherman – big fan of his Dead & Buried (1981) – should have used clever camera work to better disguise the faux Kane. Or, you know, hiring someone whose look approximated Beck would’ve made sense, too.
Carol Anne sits around getting spooked while her uncle and aunt discuss the difficulties of taking in a “troubled” child. The entire subplot with Dr. Seaton is bothersome and pointless, too. He is one of those archetypal douchebags; the sort that refuses to believe a word Carol Anne says because he is convinced she is the one manipulating everyone’s mind. The dude sees a disembodied hand reach up out of his own wooden desk, grab a coffee cup and hurl it at a two-way mirror – which actually shatters in real life! His response: Carol Anne manipulated me into seeing this and then made you (woman on other side of mirror) smash it with your coffee cup (a cup which we can see isn’t broken). Then he spends the rest of the film stammering on and on about Carol Anne’s mental tricks before, naturally, meeting his own demise at the hands of the exact thing he was convinced she made up. Brilliant!
Sherman chose to forego the optical effects so prevalent in the first two films and shoot all of the ghostly moments in-camera. A noble pursuit, but it robs this film of some potentially cool imagery because shooting in-camera limits your abilities as a filmmaker. At least the third act improves on a visual level, with some great sets showing the apartment floors frozen over with ice, as well as the use of some bold lighting that adds atmosphere. An effect that always creeped me out – and still does a bit – is when one of Kane’s mirror spirits grabs Tangina from behind and she immediately has a transformation of sorts, providing the film with its one true jolt of terror.
Poor Heather O’Rourke died as this film was in post-production, the result of a misdiagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. As a result, when MGM pushed for Sherman to ramp up the ending to secure a PG-13 rating he suddenly found himself minus one lead actress. This will be obvious to viewers once the climax has been reached, everyone still living emerges, and Carol Anne is held tightly against Pat’s bosom with her head turned away until the credits roll. O’Rourke had gotten tired of the series, too, and was concerned about typecasting although she reportedly would have been game for one final entry in this series. Given the trajectory of the series, however, it’s hard to imagine things improving.
The 1.85:1 1080p picture looks in-line with the last film, perhaps a bit less impressive. That isn’t to take anything away from the fine job done here, but depth isn’t quite as evident and definition – especially in wide and medium shots – doesn’t hit the mark the same. There is a slight softness to many scenes. Film grain is stable throughout, unlike the first two films, due to the lack of optical effects employed here. Colors are natural and organic. There are a few closeups that reveal nice detailing but overall this is simply an average image.
There are some enveloping and punctual moments to be heard on the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track (or 2.0 stereo, if you prefer), as well as a strong sense of direction for some of the scare sounds. Dialogue comes through loud and clear. Composer Joe Renzetti’s score works well enough for the film but it doesn’t come close to matching the masterwork of Goldsmith. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
There are two audio commentary tracks included, one featuring director Gary Sherman while the second has “Poltergeist III” webmaster David Furtney.
“High Spirits – An Interview with Co-Screenwriter Brian Taggert” – One of the film’s scribes discusses the task of creating another follow-up to the hugely successful first film.
“Reflections – An Interview with Actress Nancy Allen” – Allen offers up what she can recollect, including her extreme enthusiasm for getting to work with Tom Skerritt.
“Mirror Images – An Interview with Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr” – Expect to hear the usual FX talk, covering all of the gags and set work.
An alternate ending, long rumored not to exist at all, is available with no audio but there are subtitles for the scripted lines.
A theatrical trailer, four TV spots, an extensive still gallery, and as with the last film, you can view the entire script here as a slideshow.
- NEW 2K scan of the interpositive
- NEW Audio Commentary with director Gary Sherman
- NEW Audio Commentary with Poltergeist III webmaster David Furtney
- NEW High Spirits – an interview with screenwriter Brian Taggert
- NEW Reflections – an interview with actress Nancy Allen
- NEW Mirror Images – an interview with Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr.
- Alternate Ending (subtitled)
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots
- Still Galleries (behind-the-scenes photos, stills, posters and script pages)