Poltergeist III

POLTERGEIST III is not a very good movie, but I will go out on a limb and say that it’s a decent try, considering the circumstances. They only have Heather O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein returning, not the rest of the family. But at least they found a way to mix it up in location and filmatic style.

The director is Gary Sherman (VICE SQUAD). He co-wrote it with Brian Taggert (VISITING HOURS). IMDb also says that Steve Feke (WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, MAC & ME) worked on it uncredited. In this installment Carol Anne has gone to live with her mom’s sister (Nancy Allen), who is newly married to Tom Skerritt, who also has a pouty teenage daughter (Lara Flynn Boyle). They all live in a fancy new skyscraper in Chicago, which Skerritt is the bigshot manager of.

In the tradition of GREMLINS 2, the building is having all kinds of problems that are attributed to being new but that we have a hunch are actually caused by ghosts ‘n shit. Everybody keeps complaining that the building is cold, and in fact the boiler room gets frozen over with icicles. A crack goes all the way up the mirrored walls of each floor. Also the mirrors are broken in a more profound way – they seem to reflect things that don’t exist. Or at least, not on this side. For example we keep seeing that evil Reverend Kane (now played by a guy named Nathan Davis, because original actor Julian Beck died during part 2, but they generously gave him an “originally played by” credit at the end, I don’t think I’ve seen that before).

This being a 1988 horror part 3 it was required by law that there be some teenagers in it who want to party. So there’s a whole subplot about Boyle leaving Carol Anne alone while she tries to sneak her friends into the pool after hours. This sounds like it would be the worst part of the movie, but somehow I found myself in suspense about her plan to sneak past the cameras and feed old footage into the security monitor, like it’s a heist movie. The irresponsibility of her leaving 11 year old Carol Anne alone is cleverly excused by having her not plan to go to the party until Carol Anne convinces her to. It’s the first time when they seem to care about each other.

I actually didn’t recognize Boyle and kept wondering who she was, because I thought she was pretty likable once she gets away from the family and with her friends. And Skerritt is his usual no-bullshit nice quiet mustache guy type of character, you gotta like him.

Unfortunately there are a couple other characters that are hatable and not in a way where I felt it contributed to the film. There’s a hideous little girl from Carol Anne’s school and car pool who just exists to make stupid insults to people. And there’s a dickhead psychologist at the school (Richard Fire) who openly hates Carol Anne and believes that the reason people (including himself) witness supernatural phenomenon in her presence is because she’s really manipulative and creates some kind of mass hypnosis. It might work if the guy played him as just misguided, instead he’s just a douchey asshole. He even tells his wife to “keep dinner on a low flame” when he leaves to, in his mind, complain to Carol Anne’s uncle about prank phone calls. (In fact he’s going to be justifiably thrown down an elevator shaft by teenage ghosts.) That would be a great after credits scene, she’s still in the kitchen stirring the spaghetti sauce to keep it warm for Mr. Wonderful when he gets home.

I’m sorry to report that generally-lovable-except-in-CARRIE Nancy Allen has to play kind of a bitch in this one. I think it’s supposed to be ghostly shenanigans, but it’s pretty jarring when she calls her niece a “little brat” and just wants to leave without rescuing her because she’s a pain in the ass and she never should’ve told her sister she’d take care of her.

What I thought was smart about the movie was the change of setting. We’ve already done the suburban-utopia-invaded-by-the-unknown thing twice, so changing to the drastically different urban apartment living was clever. And the use of mirror walls throughout the building makes for some good mirror-theming – the bad luck of broken mirrors, the creepiness of reflections that don’t match up, the scene where you realize some characters are not themselves because the writing ontheir clothes is backwards.

And this was probly by necessity if they couldn’t get Craig T. Nelson or Jobeth Williams back, but it works out that the movie kind of plays off of the family theme of the original. That was all about the family coming together to support each other. In this one the family is broken apart – little girl away from her parents and home, her aunt doesn’t like her, half-cousin doesn’t like aunt… but they also come together as a family.

(Do you think it’s creepy that she talks about her parents and that “I even miss my brother!” but doesn’t mention the older sister? The actress from part 1 was murdered so they just don’t mention the existence of a sister in either of the sequels.)

Remember how I complained about the show-offy composited effects in the original taking me out of the movie? Well, for this one they completely avoided that. Apparently it was all done live on set except for a corny fake lightning shot at the very end. Sherman himself designed the effects which involve lots of mirror trickery and what not. Of course there are more corpse dummies and makeup effects and stuff, I always enjoy that. The highlight is Boyle tearing out of a shriveled up Zelda Rubinstein dummy.

One major missed opportunity: there’s a big deal made about Allen organizing an art exhibit in the building. The show involves a bunch of creepy looking ragged human-shaped sculptures, so you keep waiting for them to come to life in the climax. Nope – just a shot early on where one of them turns its head in the mirror reflection.

Not really a missed opportunity, but kind of weird: Carol Anne has a Speak ‘N Spell that she keeps using. It seemed like this was gonna be the thing she communicates to the other side with, the replacement for the toy phone that was the replacement for the TV. But it doesn’t happen. Maybe they were smart enough to not want to be formulaic, or maybe they thought it was too similar to E.T.

LIFE SPOILER. The biggest problem with the movie to me is that it’s one of these ones that’s tainted by tragedy. Heather O’Rourke looks really different because her cheeks are all puffy, and I kept wondering if this was related to the sickness that killed her shortly after filming. So I read about it, and sure enough they believed it was a symptom of Krohn’s Disease, which they had incorrectly diagnosed her with, and that led to her dying from complications of what she actually had. It’s a bummer to keep thinking about that while watching a movie where the spirits are calling this poor little girl to the light.

Also, it’s hard to miss that you never see Carol Anne’s face in the final scene. Apparently they wanted to reshoot the ending, but then she died so they had to work around it. Poor Skerritt and Allen had to do reshoots a month after the girl died, some with a body double. Must not have been fun.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 6th, 2012 at 2:03 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

47 Responses to “Poltergeist III”

  1. sorry, I really hated this one, there’s no redeeming qualities in my opinion

    one annoying thing was how characters kept yelling “CAROL ANNE!” and “TANGINA!”

  2. I always thought that the death of Rubinstein’s character was one of the most underrated moments in movie history. It not just happens completely unexpected and out of the blue, without any flashy FX, it even becomes pretty fucked up, when that hand suddenly digs through the face of her corpse!

  3. I adore franchises. No matter what the title, the more sequels they try to make to keep it going, the more interesting it becomes to me. I’m especially fascinated by franchises where only the original is even remembered by most.

    The biggest one for me is PSYCHO. they made three sequels to Alfred Hitchcock’s motherfuckin’ PSYCHO all with Anthony Perkins. And II is actually good. JAWS does some interesting things too and revisiting POLTERGEIST reminded me of some of the interesting ways they tried to make it work.

  4. I’ve always liked this one. Gotta admire the craftmanship behind those “live” effects.

  5. I remember watching an HBO making-of special on this one back in the day. They showed how they did the pool of water scene and the mirror grasping Carol Anne’s hands. I seem to remember something about ORourke almost drowning during the puddle scene, but I could be wrong.

    As a child, when I heard of her death, I was very saddened and scared. It really was the first time I truly understood that “kids can die, too” and it hit hard because we were very close in age at the time. To make matters worse, I was visiting an aunt and uncle when her death was announced on the news (complete with details of her dying in hospital), and my uncle decided to be an asshole an tell me it was because she had been a picky eater an not eaten her veggies. For years in the back of my mind I was convinced I was going to die an early death because my gag reflex would not allow me to eat salads. This lent an extra creepiness to watching this final film.

    And as an adult with children and who works with children, I want to tear my hair out wondering not only how parents would let a child so obviously ill go through the filmmaking process but how the rest of the cast didn’t protest her being in it for her own health and safety. You can see her health has deteriorated in many scenes and not just because she’s supposed to look scary or traumatized, either.

  6. The thing that stops me from re-watching these films is the death of O’Rourke.

    I just can’t sit through them, it’s too upsetting.

    Reading the reviews brought back memories of catching these on their initial VHS releases and yeah, they really did try to do something different with each sequel even if, for me, they are both noble failures.

  7. it’s good there’s no poltergeist iv, or else craig t. nelson might not be with us anymore



    i didn’t even know there was a poltergeist: the legacy

    did any cast die during/ shortly after that one?

  8. oh wait, it was a tv show, sorry, nevermind

  9. Fun Fact, Vern – Nathan Davis (Kane in this one) is Andrew “Under Siege/Above the Law” Davis’ dad! I keep forgetting about him in this, because I only think of him as the lovable Grandpa in Davis’ best film, Holes.

    The main thing I remember about Poltergeist III is what Griff mentioned above – the constant yelling out of character’s names. I remember Siskel and Ebert were guesting on Oprah(?) and gave this a negative review, and pointed out to the audience how often people yell out “Carol Anne!” in the movie. Then they played a clip and the audience could not stop laughing every time they said it. It’s like it was made for a “Carol Anne!” drinking game.

    And like Fred, I do have a weird soft spot for franchises/sequels – even when I know they don’t need to exist (or actively hate them, like Alien Resurrection), there’s something kind of charming about them fighting the good fight, even if the good fight is often trying to make money and ruining characters. Or maybe I’m just so tired of remakes and prequels that a good old fashioned unnecessary sequel is starting to look better by comparison.

  10. I really noticed people yelling “Carol Ann!” alot in the first one. I would bet they say it more in that one than this since there’s more focus on her being lost in that one. If I’m right I guess it just shows that people were less involved in part 3 if they noticed it more here.

    I got the franchise bug too, at least when it comes to ’80s horror. I like seeing the variations and failed attempts. You guys remember how much I enjoyed watching all the Jawses. And every few years I feel the need to watch all the Nightmares On Elm Street or Fridays the 13th. I’ve even gone through the whole Halloween series a few times and I really hate a good chunk of those.

    I wonder why I’ve never tried the Hellraisers? Maybe there’s a theatrical/DVD divide, even for me.

  11. Well, and the weird thing with some of the HELLRAISER sequels, once it gets to like part 5 they are just generic horror movie scripts slightly rewritten to include Pinhead in a few scenes. Even I haven’t mustered the motivation to watch all of them. Someday, probably.

  12. Me neither. Part 5 is the best thing that Scott Derrickson has ever made, though.

  13. According to my sources they say/yell “Carol Anne” 121 times during Poltergeist III.

  14. I love sequels, too. Some franchises peter out quickly, but others take a few tries before they really figure out what makes their concept work. I would say the FINAL DESTINATION series is one example. The first one has the burden of explaining its ridiculous concept, so it tries to take it seriously, and as a result, it’s less rewatchable than the others, which just deliver the goods with no fuss and no muss.

    As for the HALLOWEEN sequels, I hate 4, 6, and RESURRECTION but I like the others. I don’t know why 5 gets a pass from me, since it’s not much different than 4 and has an even shittier Michael mask. Something about it clicks for me, though.

    Also, I just bought the movie novelization of HALLOWEEN II for a buck. I’m really excited about it for some reason.

  15. I think we notice it more in part III because the people yelling it tend to sound more annoying. You get why the mom in the first one would be crying her name out over and over, and in some scenes it’s heartbreaking. Here in III, you talk back a little and say, “You didn’t give a shot before. Why so concerned now?”

  16. Give a shit. Fuck you, auto-correct!

  17. This movie is an abomination. Poltergeist 3 and Robocop 3 are the worst number 3’s of all time and they both star Nancy Allen.

  18. Glad you gave this one a chance, Vern. It’s not a great horror movie, but to me it’s really fun and full of great concepts (which get even more entertaining when you realize they’re real and not some digital quackery). I think SPOILER SPOILER Tangina ‘s death was handled well; it’s so fucking unexpectedly brutal and sudden, and then they have her come back at the very end for a nice send-off. The movie hits the sweet spot to me of being inventive, fun, somewhat silly, but also heartfelt in a cheesy sort of way.

    I always thought Gary Sherman was a massively underrated director, having done RAW MEAT, DEAD & BURIED, and LISA. Never saw VICE SQUAD or WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE though, are those any good?

  19. Hell yeah, VICE SQUAD and WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE are good. Scorsese apparently got up in some critics group’s face and said that VS was the best movie of the year and they just didn’t have the balls to admit it. That’s going too far (it’s like something Tarantino would say just to get a rise out of you) but it’s a sleazy, oddly compelling little movie, and Wings Hauser makes a great psycho pimp.

    WDOA has an exploding Gene Simmons, though, so it’s almost as good. Maltin rated it BOMB (always a good sign) but praised its “bravura grenade-in-mouth finale.”

  20. Mr. M — You had me at Wings Hauser psycho pimp.

    Everyone else: I defy you to tell me that POLTERGEIST II is a better movie than III. I’ll listen to arguments that neither is good, but part II is a complete mess. III is at least a real movie which actually tires something new and develops in a somewhat satisfying way. II feels like they were rewriting it day-to-day on set. Although admittedly Julian Beck is awesome as Rev. Scaryface, and is much missed in part III.

  21. Wings also sings the theme song, “Neon Slime.”

    I assume you’ve queued it up already.

  22. Neal, I just rewarded ALIEN RESURRECTION and I loved it so god damn much. More than ever. I always liked clone Ripley’s “fuck it all” attitude and the ideas in it. I don’t care if the final creature looks weird. It’s a mutant, it’s not supposed to be pretty.m

    I loved that it’s another movie about a crew trying to escape a giant spaceship. If you think about it, that’s really what the ALIEN franchise is about, but this is the only other movie in the series that does it. I noticed the Joss Whedonesque dialogue and how the actors deliver it differently and Jeunet directs it differently. I think that’s good. Joss speak doesn’t belong in the Alien universe.

    Majestyk, HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION gave us Busta Rhymes kickboxing Michael Meyers. I will never forget that.

  23. After failing to eliminate LL Cool J and Busta, it’s clear that rappers are Michael’s true weakness. I hope to get some insight into the origins of this strange vulnerability in the HALLOWEEN II novelization when he has a flashback to the time he was defeated by old school pioneer Prince Whipper Whip.

  24. So I guess this is also the reason why Michael doesn’t speak. He learned the hard way that freestyling isn’t as easy as the pros make it look.

  25. What horror movie franchises are there that go beyond a part 3?

    I recently watched the uncut version of Jason Goes to Hell and had no idea just how gory that movie is. Totally underrated in that aspect.



  27. Fred – Damn you, I’m going to have to re-watch Alien Resurrection now. I just upgraded to the BluRay set from the Quadrilogy so at least I’ll have the visuals in case I still don’t like it.

    Speaking of all this franchise talk, I’m currently struggling to make it through Trancers 6 right now. I don’t want to hijack this thread too much (I’ll put my main thoughts in a forum), but the Trancers series definitely embodies what we were all talking about earlier – the charm and the goodwill of seeing familiar faces, combined with somewhat clever retconning and interesting ways to keep it fresh. Part 6 is a fucking chore though.

  28. I still can’t believe there’s a BASIC INSTINCT 2. The only movie that’s ever been made because it was cheaper to make a whole movie than to settle a lawsuit.

    I kinda feel this is the perfect thread to talk franchises. POLTERGEIST sequels? Yeah, man. Vern, can we have permission to make this a franchise thread? I think P-GEIST is a relevant example and any other franchise analysis will pertain to it.

  29. I wouldn´t really recommend WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE wholeheartedly myself, but it does have some unique qualities. Hauer as a bounty hunter? Check? Cool weaponry? Check? Gene Simmons swallow a hand grenade? Check! And some other shit I can´t really remember. Good one, but not great is my verdict.

  30. man, I forgot there’s a BASIC INSTINCT 2

  31. I think the people who made Basic Instinct II forgot about it.

    Or, at least, they want to!

  32. Ah Mr. M:


    what a great movie, what a great soundtrack!

    “A sequel, The Return of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, is currently scheduled for its release in 2013 in 3D.”

    source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_Klowns_from_Outer_Space


  33. KILLER CLOWNS….I need to watch again soon. Have it on VHS and come to think of it, I don´t think I´ve seen it more than once.

  34. BR: That’s awesome! The first one was made by the Chiodo Brothers, a family of old school special effects artists, as a labor of love. They’re still active (their biggest project in recent years was probably TEAM AMERICA) so I see no reason why they can’t bust out some more killer klown kraziness.

  35. I watch KILLER KLOWNS every few years, and it never gets old. Even better, I can credit my mom with being the person to introduce me to it when I was a kid. Thanks, mom.

  36. Mr. M, they’re labor of love birthed twins born only 25 years apart:


    The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D (2013)

    Directed by
    Stephen Chiodo

    Writing credits
    (in alphabetical order)
    Charles Chiodo story
    Edward Chiodo story
    Stephen Chiodo story
    Grant Cramer screenplay
    Grant Cramer story


    Grant Cramer … Mike Tobacco

    Produced by
    Remington Chase …. executive producer
    Charles Chiodo …. producer
    Edward Chiodo …. producer
    Stephen Chiodo …. producer
    Grant Cramer …. producer
    Jay Rakow …. producer
    Joel Sadilek …. line producer
    Frankie J Smith …. co-executive producer

  37. Well, kiss my grits. This just became my most anticipated release of 2013.

    On a side note, “Chiodo” always sounds to me like what Princess Leia was saying when she was dressed up like that alien bounty hunter in JEDI.

  38. I’d kill for a Vern Hellraiser/Pumpkinhead franchise review.

  39. I’ve been reviewing the PUMPKINHEAD series myself (if interested, click my name)… it’s definitely a weird enough and varied enough series that I think Vern would have fun with it. Plus, part 4 was directed by Kevin Sorbo’s sidekick from HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. True story.

  40. Mr Sublety: No, it’s a different Michael Hurst. This is the one who directed HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2 and whose Brother Andy made the underrated dark crime comedy YOU’RE DEAD.

  41. And their father, John Hurt, played the Elephant Man…

  42. They are the sons of John Hurt? (I guess that explains why he was in YOU’RE DEAD.)

  43. And their uncle, William Hurt, played the butler.

  44. William Hurt is John Hurt’s brother? you’re fucking with me right?

  45. Yes, a couple of bad jokes way past my bedtime, sorry about that.

  46. Well, I gave it another try and this one is more interesting than I remember. I like the fact that the gags are all done in-camera and are entirely different scares than in the first two (actually the stuff that the ghosts could and couldn’t do, the “rules” and whatnot, were also wildly different in II compared to I, so we actually have three very distinct horror movies here). O’Rourke is actually really good in her early scenes – she’s not as precocious and bratty as I remember – the movie really captures the feeling of being home alone as a kid really well – when Carol Anne urges Donna to ditch her and go to the party, and then horrible stuff starts happening, and you can immediately tell she’s regretting it – it’s surprisingly effective and creepy(it’s too bad that Carol Ann pretty much disappears from the movie except for that one scene w/ Allen at the end). Speaking of which, I like that the movie’s “wicked stepmother” is the one who turns out to be the heroine at the end, you don’t see that too often.

    But yeah, the rest of it is kind of a mess. The doctor and the nerdy carpool girl are horrible characters, like nails on a chalkboard, and I guess they all just left the boyfriend character on The Other Side because they pretty much forgot about him. And what’s with the false ending where Allen’s friend says everyone (including the dead doctor) was at home safe? I guess she was a ghost too or the ghosts took alot of effort to trick her for some reason. Oh and the “Carol Ann!” thing is actually even worse than i remember (Boyle has two scenes in a row where she just yells that over and over again), and for being the most recent of the original trilogy, it’s funny how this is easily the most dated (fashion, hairstyle, and music-wise). Still, it’s an interesting watch with some decent mirror gags that would blow us away if this came out today.

  47. Director Gary Sherman and producer Barry Bernardi didn’t even want to finish the film after Heather O’Rourke died either, but the MGM board basically forced them to finish it or risk being fired. Sherman served as one of the pallbearers at Heather’s funeral (along with Skerritt and Wentz), and he has said that it was the worst day of his entire life.

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