Poltergeist III

October 24, 2012

Even by the admittedly devalued standard of sequels, Poltergeist II was a shockingly poor follow-up to one of the decade’s great scareshows. It would be difficult to sink much below that level, but the makers of Poltergeist III appear to have tried. I’m not sure they’ve succeeded, but P-III comes awfully close to matching its predecessor’s wretchedness. Call it a dead heat.

The only returning cast members are Zelda Rubenstein, as the sawed-off psychic, and Heather O’Rourke, as Carol Anne, the blond daughter who has been dragged off by the poltergeists in each installment of the series. (O’Rourke died not long after filming was completed.)

The little girl is staying with an uncle (Tom Skerritt) and aunt (Nancy Allen) who live in a Chicago high-rise. Carol Anne is attending a school for gifted-but-troubled children, where a goateed shrink believes her history of hauntings is just some kind of mass hypnosis. (Richard Fire plays the doctor with just enough B-movie ludicrousness to make his scenes enjoyable.)

No one believes Carol Anne when she begins to see ghostly figures in mirrors, except the psychic, who boards the first plane for Chi-town. The evil spirits capture Carol Anne through a puddle in a parking garage—yeah—and the adults must break through to the other side.

Director Gary Sherman (who wrote the script with Brian Taggert) plays with the idea of mirrors as gateways to the poltergeist world, although Carol Anne’s destination through the looking glass is no wonderland. The special-effects budget evidently wasn’t large enough to provide any glimpses into this other world, so Sherman contents himself with a lot of mirror-image visual tricks. They are the most interesting thing, technical or otherwise, about the movie.

It’s a desultory outing in a lot of ways. The cut-rate quality of the acting, the leaden banter of the opening reels, the extraneous teenagers needed to appeal to the largest moviegoing audience, all contribute to the film’s bargain-basement atmosphere.

First published in the Herald, June 16, 1988

A dismal movie. Gary Sherman also did Raw Meat (aka Death Line) and Dead and Buried; Richard Fire, whose performance I apparently liked, wrote the screenplay to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.