Poltergeist III (1988)

Gary Sherman

Heather O'Rourke - Carol Anne Freeling
Zelda Rubenstein - Tangina Barrons
Tom Skerritt - Bruce Gardner
Nancy Allen - Patricia Gardner
Lara Flynn Boyle - Donna Gardner
Kip Wentz - Scott Moyer
Richard Fire - Dr. Seton
Nathan Davis - Reverend Kane

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 97 Minutes

Carol Anne Freeling ( Heather O'Rourke in her final film appearance before her unfortunate passing) is sent by her parents to live with her aunt Patricia (Nancy Allen) in a huge apartment inside a large sky-rise in Chicago. Patricia tries to be nice to Carol Anne, but sees her as somewhat of a burden due to Carol Anne's "special issues". Patricia's husband, Bruce (Tom Skerritt), and Bruce's daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) are more tolerable to Carol Anne's presence.

Carol Anne is sent to a special school for gifted

children with "issues", where she is being treated by a psychologist named Dr. Seton (Richard Fire) who claims her stories about ghosts are all in her head. In fact, whenever something strange happens around Carol Anne, Dr. Seton convinces others that she has the power to manipulate things by creating illusions - or some B.S. like that. Total quack.

Unfortunately, Carol Anne's problems with ghosts have followed her to this sky-rise, as Reverend Kane (
Nathan Davis) has returned to take possession of Carol Anne through the use of mirrors that makes up the entire interior of the building. However, Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) has sensed Kane's presence and hopes to save Carol Anne and her extended family in time before it's too late.


- Most of the acting. POLTERGEIST III, like POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE, is a disappointing sequel to a franchise that should have never been one. But at least most of the acting is really solid here and sell a weak script to make it feel better than it actually is. Heather O'Rourke's death unfortunately cast a very grim and dark shadow to this film during its release in 1988 [I still remember the news reports and newspaper headlines about her passing], but she's honestly really good in her third time as Carol Anne. Her presence was still there, even though she was visibly ill during shooting, and she really matured as an actress from the first POLTERGEIST. Every scene she's in, she sells you on what's going on to her and her family, no matter if the script doesn't really justify her trying so hard to make that happen. I could only imagine how good she would have really been if she had not passed away. Very sad, but at least her final performance was a good one.

Tom Skerritt, best known for his TV work on Picket Fences, is also very good and likeable as Carol Anne's uncle-by-marriage, Bruce. He's not as good as Craig T. Nelson, but he manages to hold his own. Lara Flynn Boyle, in her first ever film, does well as Donna. She looks healthy here, as opposed to her adult years, and comes across as likeable as well. She also gets the best scenes in the film as well. Zelda Rubenstein isn't as good as her performance in the first film as Tangina, but she did make me laugh with her overacting. Believe me, it helps. And Nathan Davis is no Julian Beck, but he did alright as Reverend Kane. He's hardly in the film, so it doesn't hurt the performance too much. Some actors are better than others, but at least they all looked like they were trying. I can't say the same about two that I didn't mention yet.

- The direction. Gary Sherman, who previously directed 1972's DEATH LINE/RAW MEAT and 1981's DEAD & BURIED, does a much better job than POLTERGEIST II's director, Brian Gibson. It's not the greatest directing in cinema history, but at least it's interesting and creative. Sure, a lot of it is silly and done for cheap scares. But there's a lot of subtle style going on here. I think the best use of it is done through the whole mirror motif that's presented throughout the film. I know a lot of people find it very repetitive [and I don't really blame them], but I think it's different and Sherman uses it to his advantage more often than that. I love the scene where Patricia talks to Carol Anne through the mirror right before the real Carol Anne walks in. I love that Kane is constantly watching everyone through the mirrors and no one but Carol Anne notices. I love when two characters, who were considered lost on The Other Side, return - unknowingly to others that they are the mirror versions of those characters, as their clothes [and the lettering on them] are reversed/inverted. Plus a lot of the time, the characters look absolutely demonic in their reflections. I really think the mirror tricks are actually really cool and offer something very different than the previous two installments. I couldn't see myself living in a building like that now after watching this film.

I also think Sherman has a great sense of pacing, as the film does breeze by and never bores you. It might insult your intelligence, but it's usually entertaining [maybe more so unintentionally]. There are a lot of slasher/horror conventions that I could have done without in this sequel, but Sherman attempts to make them work as best as he can. It's better than being bland like Gibson's stuff in II.

The ending, unfortunately,

isn't directed or edited all that well. But Heather O'Rourke's passing left a void during reshoots, which involved a changed [and terrible] conclusion as well as a body double for Carol Anne. I don't blame Sherman too much for that since he was up against a ton of things beyond his control. For the most part, Sherman attempts to create something unique for a sequel that shouldn't even exist. Gotta respect the man for that. I think POLTERGEIST III is visually stimulating for sure.

- Special effects. Even though POLTERGEIST III surprisingly has a much lower budget than any of the other installments [less than $10 million dollars], at least the film uses its disadvantage to its favor. Like I already mentioned, the mirror theme is done really well and done with visual tricks rather than CGI. The makeup of the demonic versions of the characters are pretty good as well. We get frozen people to good effect. And the best effect of all - Lara Flynn Boyle climbing out of someone's body as if the corpse was giving birth to her. Gary Sherman designed all the effects and did them on the sets instead of post [except for the thunder and lightning stuff in the very final shot] with the help of Dick Smith. It's not a gory or special effects laden movie, but it uses what it does do well.

- The unintentional comedy. Whether you love or hate POLTERGEIST III, I think everyone can agree it's a pretty crappy film. I would have honestly put this in the WTF? Vault if it didn't make me laugh though. How many times can one script have the same piece of dialogue: "Carol Anne!"? You can make a drinking game out of how many characters yell out this little girl's name throughout the film. You'll probably die of alcohol poisoning though. It must have been over a hundred times she's called throughout the film, and it made me laugh harder and harder each time.

I also love when people are hurrying to find Carol Anne, yet seem to take their time as if they don't really care. If rushing to someone's aid includes strolling and looking at the scenery, then I've been doing it wrong for years.

I also appreciate characters who believe that supernatural occurrences they ALL saw at the SAME TIME was due to a young child's ability to craft illusions out of thin air. Amazing. And what about Patricia telling her husband to let the ghosts take Carol Anne so they can live normal lives? She's a bitch, but she's probably got the right idea! Seriously, this movie is TERRIBLE. But it entertained me by how silly and dumb it all comes together. After watching the more badly edited and slower paced POLTERGEIST II, this cohesive cheesiness was a welcome [and horrible] change.

- The terrible screenplay. I really don't know what happened here. Gary Sherman and Brian Taggart seemed to have interesting ideas for this sequel. Taking Carol Anne out of the suburbs into the city is a nice change of scenery. The use of mirrors, to show the evil spirits, is interesting as hell. Changing the characters to create something more unfamiliar is an inspired choice. Yet, nothing really clicks the way it should because the writing is so bad.

While I get why they would want to change the family [probably because Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams refused to sign on for this - which was probably a good move], the dynamic isn't the same. I don't mind Carol Anne's extended family. In fact, Sherman and Taggart could have created a different dynamic that could have been just as strong and interesting as the Freelings. But we never get that here. Carol Anne's relationship to these people doesn't feel legitimate enough because there's no character development - for ANYONE. Bruce is the hard-working hero. Patricia is the bitchy stepmother. Donna is the typical teenage girl who would rather be with boys than babysit her cousin. Other than that, we don't know much about these people because they don't share enough scenes with Carol Anne. So that heart and soul that the other two films had is now gone, leaving only emptiness and coldness instead.

Tangina returning is cool, and she's better used here than she was in POLTERGEIST II. Still, she doesn't really add anything new to the story other than her exit. In fact, her contribution to the final act is so insulting to the audience who love the original POLTERGEIST. It's hard to get into it without spoiling the ending, but it made me face palm myself in how dumb it is. I don't know if this was changed due to Heather O'Rourke's tragic passing, but there's no excuse for any writer to completely change the purpose of the poltergeist in why they wanted Carol Anne to begin with. What Tangina does here truly makes her a cruel bitch because if this was the way to end the torment of this little girl all along and she knew about it, she should have been the first one to go. So ridiculous!

We also get some sort of teenage subplot, as if this is some sort of slasher film where we need stereotypical teens that do nothing of note, are totally shallow, and just act as filler. In fact, the poltergeist never even bother with them other than Donna and Scott [who gets one of the shittiest exits in horror movie history]. So why are they here? And why is so much time devoted to them?

The adults also seem unphased by all this supernatural stuff. Bruce and Patricia act as if this happens all the time, even though this is their first encounter with Carol Anne's "issues".

"Oh look! Donna and Scott were sucked through a puddle in the garage. Is Carol Anne stuck inside the mirrors with Kane? Why is it frozen inside our building all of a sudden? Oh, I guess we'll worry about it tomorrow. What do you want for dinner, hon? Chicken or fish?"


these people don't react realistically to what's going on. And don't get me started on Dr. Seton. How this man got any sort of degree in psychology is beyond me? A little girl causing mass hysteria by creating illusions that makes people believe there are supernatural forces after her? Really? So that ghost hand that threw a mug towards the mirror was something Carol Anne just happened to manipulate with her mind that a GROUP of people saw at the same time? This guy deserves to be locked up in an asylum. And so do everyone else for laughing and believing it. Ridiculous. The guy just comes across as such a douche that he didn't die quick enough for me.

There's just a lot of flaws in this film that really can't be overlooked, even if they are somewhat entertaining in its badness. I can usually overlook them if they're fun flaws, but these mistakes are too big to ignore and create inconsistencies for the rest of the franchise. The cast and the direction tried to hold it together the best they could, but a lot of what happens is just too silly for what was a once deep and compelling story.

- Nancy Allen and Richard Fire. Maybe they read the script and regretted signing that iron clad contract, but both Allen and Fire just didn't seem to give a crap. At least Richard Fire hammed it up in such a way that I wanted to kick him in the balls - he's really annoying and his character is no better - this guy really wrote HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER? Wow. But Nancy Allen really took the cake as someone who just wanted to act in this for a paycheck. Not once does she seem remotely interested in what's going on in this film. The look on her face in every scene screams "I don't want to do this". It's as if she refused to try and make her character somewhat compelling. Sure, Patricia wasn't the greatest character ever. In fact, she was a bitch until her 180 at the end. But at least Allen could have deepened her a bit. She just sucked the life of every scene she was in. Why did she sign up for this if she thought this was a bad idea? I'm sure her horrible wardrobe didn't help either. Those shoulder pads were so big, even football players thought she looked ridiculous.

I honestly

don't know how to feel about POLTERGEIST. It's obviously a terrible film, with so much going against it - including the death of the main actress, a terrible script, and a couple of actors who phoned it in and dragged the film down. But it does have an interesting visual presentation, mostly decent acting, some cool special effects, and unintentional comedy. And I can't say I was bored either. So while it's a bad film, I don't hate it enough for it to be in the WTF? Vault. No need to see this one unless you love these POLTERGEIST films. You only need the first film if you want to safely head towards the light. Definitely an interesting, yet somewhat entertaining, mess.

2 Howls Outta 4



  1. This is my 2nd favorite movie in the Poltergeist franchise. It's really sad knowing Heather died in the middle of filming and that the little girl playing Carol Anne at the very end isn't Heather. D:

  2. Yuck. Despite some marginally creepy moments, this flick is poo. It's also unsettling because I know poor Heather O'Rourke died making this turd.


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