Poltergeist III (1988) / Horror
MPAA rated PG-13 for scary images, teen drinking, and some language
Running time: 98 min.
Cast: Heather O'Rourke, Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Lara Flynn Boyle, Zelda Rubenstein, Kip Wentz, Richard Fire, Henry Davis
Director: Gary Sherman
Screenplay: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
Unfortunately, this entry in the Poltergeist series, thus far the last, would be more well known for being the final film for the late Heather O'Rourke ("Happy Days"), who would die months before the theatrical release in 1988. This would mark the third death surrounding the release of a Poltergeist film, coming after the tragic death of Dominique Dunne after the first and the untimely death of Julian Beck while filming Poltergeist II. But O'Rourke's character was the heart of the series, and with her passing, so did the interest in the franchise.
Probably deservedly so, after seeing the scant budget they threw at this endeavor, which pits most of its scares into strobe lighting effects and fog machines, literally using "smoke and mirrors" to try to drum up frights, barely more terrorizing than your neighborhood mock haunted house on Halloween. The original 1982 Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg film had been an A-list effort all of the way. The second was a major step down, but at least it was a respectable effort to try to continue the story. Poltergeist III is merely a studio cash-in while there was still embers showing light in the fire, and the lackluster quality displayed in this film would be the water to wash the last flickers out.
O'Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein (Behind the Mask, Teen Witch) are the only players from the first film to make it. Here, O'Rourke's character, Carol Anne, seemingly dumped by her parents for reasons unknown, is taken care of by her Aunt Patricia (Allen, RoboCop, The Philadelphia Experiment), Uncle Bruce (Skerritt, Top Gun), and teenage step-cousin, Donna (Boyle, The Rookie), living in a high-rise building in Chicago. Carol Anne has been enrolled in a school for gifted but troubled kids, as her therapist, Dr. Seaton (Fire, Bleacher Bums), think that the young girl has the ability to hypnotize people into believing her delusions about seeing ghosts. Seaton forces Carol Anne to speak about her experiences, which brings to light her involvement with the dreaded Reverend Kane (Davis, Chain Reaction), and this talk has caused the late Reverend to cross over into trying to get in contact with the girl again. For some reason, the entire building is chock full of mirrors at every turn, which is convenient to the haunting that emerges, as most of its haunting involved scaring the bejeesus out of the family and their cohorts through reflections in whatever mirrors they happen to be looking at.
Even if you're one of the rare viewers who would find such low-grade special effects to be terrifying, no amount of smoke and mirrors can disguise the fact that Poltergeist III, at its most fundamental levels, is a poorly written and ill-conceived excuse for scares, barely worthy of a straight-to-video release. Outside of the light and mirrors display, the bulk of the film involves members of the family skulking around the high-rise shouting, "Carol Anne!" In the end, it's a difficult film to watch, and outside of the unfortunate demise of the child star, it's close to impossible to remember long after.
©2012 Vince Leo