• Poltergeist III

    Released By: Shout/Scream Factory
    Released On: January 31, 2017
    Director: Gary Sherman
    Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O'Rourke, Lara Flynn Boyle
    Year: 1988
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    The Movie:

    The third installment of the Poltergeist film franchise gets a whole lot of flack for being the worst of the bunch, and the criticism is absolutely deserved. Poltergeist III is not even just a bad film in the context of the other films that bear the title...including the horrible remake...it's a bad film, period. Perhaps the only saving grace of Poltergeist III is its ability to function as a trainwreck of a drinking game; take a swig or a shot every time a character yells, "Carol Anne!", and we'll see you after you're done getting your stomach pumped.

    While Poltergeist II was comfortable abandoning a family member from the first film with a casual line of dialogue, Poltergeist III has dumped just about everyone. Gone are Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, and Oliver Robins, as the sole remaining member of the Freeling family, Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke), is relocated to the busy city of Chicago to stay with her Aunt Patricia (Nancy Allen), her husband Bruce Gardner(Tom Skerritt), and his daughter from a previous marriage, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle). Bruce has recently taken on ownership of a massive high-rise apartment complex and is experiencing the growing pains inherent in such an operation; bad plumbing, wonky heating and air conditioning, and foundation settling; and it's here that Carol Anne makes her new home with the family, attempting to shrug off the horrors of the past.

    However, some ghosts aren't that easy to put to rest. Shortly after her arrival, Carol Anne starts to see visions of a familiar-looking, old-timey Reverend in the multiple reflective surfaces around the building. The kids at her new private school for the gifted aren't receptive to her claims of past and present ghouls, labeling her as an outsider and endlessly making fun of her. Her school counselor, Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire) witnesses some pretty strange happenings himself, but is convinced that Carol Anne has the ability to force post-hypnotic suggestion on those around her, explaining the supernatural phenomenon as something that doesn't really exist. An emergency call from Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) fails to convince the bad doctor as well, even as she fears that Kane has emerged from another realm and found Carol Anne once again.

    Everything comes to a head one night when the Gardner parents attend an exhibition at Patricia's art gallery, leaving Donna to babysit her haunted cousin. With some encouragement that she'll be okay on her own, Carol Anne sends Donna to a party in the building hosted by her boy-crush Scott (Kip Wentz), giving the hostile spirits a prime opportunity to attack the young girl. A portal puddle in the parking garage provides a gateway to an alternate reality, first taking Carol Anne, then Donna and Scott, trapping them in a strange land while their evil doppelgangers emerge in the real world to engage in demonic trickery. With Dr. Seaton smarmily disregarding the craziness as anything other than an illusion perpetrated by Carol Anne, and Tangina unable to assist, the Gardners must do battle with Kane and an evil frozen parking garage if they hope to retrieve their daughter and niece, and transform the high-rise back into a safe and secure living community.

    I said it up there, I'll say it again; Poltergeist III is an awful film. It ignores what made the first installment a classic, it casts aside what the sequel got right and wrong, and attempts to do its own thing...with abysmal results. Kudos to the writers and Gary Sherman for trying, I suppose, but that effort doesn't garner an A. Despite some fine performances, notably from Allen and Skerritt, a good chunk of the remaining acting falls below expectations. Richard Fire; who co-wrote Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer; may be a fine writer, but he's an atrocious actor in his portrayal of Dr. Seaton. Heather O'Rourke is given far too much to do in this one, and perhaps as a result of her ongoing illness and medications, should have had some of that load taken off of her and let her just do the thing that she'd done in the previous films. And while it's no fault of the filmmakers that Julian Beck passed on shortly after filming the second movie, it certainly is their fault that they didn't attempt to bring another villain into the film, instead of opting to put cartoonish makeup on the late Nathan Davis. The result is a Kane that has none of the menace found in Poltergeist II, instead inducing laughter whenever he gets a closeup.

    Which brings us to special effects...or lack thereof. The first Poltergeist was rife with frightening practical effects that scarred many a child for years. The second film pales compared to the first, but still has its moments. Poltergeist III...well, let's just say that they got their money's worth out of the fog machines that dominate just about every "effect". Sherman and the SFX team absolutely deserve credit for going with practical magic at the dawn of CGI, but aside from some impressive work with "reflections", fail completely when it comes to anything horrific, peaking with a spotlight-loaded demon car. Decomposing dummies are not scary, drifting clouds from freshly-fired fog machines are not scary, and when your SFX are not scary, neither is your horror film. To give the benefit of the doubt to Sherman, who did of course helm the terrific films Wanted: Dead or Alive, Dead And Buried, and Vice Squad, the commentaries for this film are loaded with references to studio interference and budget cuts. In any event, Poltergeist III fails to make the cut except for the most die-hard completists.


    Shout brings Poltergeist III to Blu-ray with an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer that puts it roughly on par with their offering of Poltergeist II; that is to say that the transfer looks fantastic. Detail is evident, contrast is where it should be, and a healthy amount of grain is on display. No visual issues to speak of here that were noticed, including print damage or debris. A great looking film.

    Audio is provided courtesy of two English DTS-HD Master Audio tracks....a 5.1 and a 2.0. As with their presentation of Poltergeist II, some fans will prefer the 2.0 track for what they feel is a more accurate representation of the soundstage, and if you're picky about the MGM lion roars, you may agree. In any event, both tracks are perfectly suited, well-balanced, and lack distortion, hisses, or pops. The 5.1, again, as was the case with Poltergeist II, does open things up a bit with heavy use of the sub and surrounds, with a mark taken off for the sonic blast of sound effects when something frightening is happening, a good deal louder than the average dialogue in the film...but most likely the intent.

    English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are also provided.

    High Spirits: An Interview With Screenwriter Brian Taggert (16:02)
    is a new interview, with Taggert discussing his previous work with Gary Sherman on Wanted: Dead of Alive as his entree into the Poltergeist franchise. Taggert roughly outlines his writing process, which in this case involved creating dialogue with specific actors in mind, and also lightly touches on the issues his friend Gary had with studio interference, budget cuts, and last-minute changes. Pursuant to this, he also talks about the underwhelming feeling he had on seeing the finished film, the death of Heather O'Rourke, and his friendship with Zelda Rubinstein.

    Reflections: An Interview With Actress Nancy Allen (12:15) is a new interview with "Aunt Pat", discussing the similarities between herself and her character, her excitement over working with Tom Skerritt, and the intense choreography required to function within the special mirror effects in the film. Allen also candidly talks about O'Rourke's death and the funeral, and touches on the alternate ending for the film.

    Mirror Images: An Interview With Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr (12:47) is another new interview in which the man responsible for the effects analyzes the practical work that he did on the film and fondly recalls the makeup used to create the likeness of Reverend Kane.

    Alternate Ending (2:50) is just that, an ending that was shot and not used. A disclaimer warns that no audio exists for the clip (though a score is inserted) and that subtitles are provided from a previous scripts. Curiously, Poltergeist webmaster David Furtney claims to have recorded a commentary for this clip that addresses the absence of Scott and a missing piece with Heather O'Rourke, but that commentary is not provided.

    A Trailer, four TV Spots, a Still Gallery of over 70 Images, and the Script for the film are also available.

    Two Audio Commentaries are provided for the film as well, and, as with the previous Poltergeist film blu-ray, there have been allegations of editing. David Furtney, who provides the second commentary has provided a list (viewable at blu-ray.com) and confirmed to me that those are accurate; and the commentary with Gary Sherman has sudden silences that coincide with material that may be similar. In any event, both commentaries have this "gapping".

    The commentary with Director Gary Sherman, moderated by Michael Felsher is an entertaining listen, very wordy and enthusiastic. Sherman starts off by saying that he's not seen the film in quite some time because of his connection with Heather O'Rourke, and that he was one of the pallbearers at her funeral. He also explains his dissatisfaction with the way the film turned out, but maintains that there are still some moments that he's proud of, such as his insistence that the effects be practical, a bold move with CGI becoming the more dominant force in the industry. Sherman also talks about his past films and how he was pushed to make Poltergeist III more "family friendly" than his previous works, even though he would have preferred more tension and violence, and talks about how he cast Skerritt and Allen because he was a big fan of their work, as well as how Lara Flynn Boyle was cast in Twin Peaks (also named "Donna") on the strength of her performance in this film. Once Felsher gets Sherman's mic moved so that it stops audibly rubbing on him, he goes on to walk the viewer through the effects and the makeup on Kane, and also talks different camera techniques, the alternate ending, and the impact of Heather's death.

    A second commentary with Poltergeist webmaster David Furtney is also included, and Furtney gets things off to a fine start by talking about his experience seeing the film in the theater with his mom, and how the air conditioning in the theater mirrored the chilly high-rise on-screen. Furtney also talks about the financial success of the second film and some of the scenes that were cut from the final version, as well as the locations used, and also touches on the different approaches to the end of the film and issues with the characters in the reshoot. Despite the amount of conversation that was apparently cut by the powers that be, Furtney's love of the film does push him sometimes into the trap of spending time discussing what's on the screen, but there are other gaps where he just doesn't seem to have much to talk about, and would perhaps benefit from the moderation scenario that kept Sherman's commentary so busy.

    The Final Word:

    As is the case with so many films and hairless cats that most people are not fans of, Poltergeist III does have its admirers, and this Collector's Edition is a great way to see the film, with some compelling extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Great review, Mark. I laughed out loud several times.I have to admit, though, I hate this entire series... The first one is the best, but that's faint praise. The second one is terrible; the third is practically unwatchable...
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Drinking game, Chris!!! It will be phenomenal!