Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recent Watches: Poltergeist III (1988)

Some franchises are as undying as ghosts. While “Poltergeist II: The Other Side” didn’t replicate the blockbuster box office of the original, MGM was intent on moving forward with the series. Two years after part two, “Poltergeist III” entered theaters. Unfortunately, the “Poltergeist” curse would strike again. Heather O'Rourke, barely twelve years old, would die unexpectedly four months before the film’s release. Concerned about exploiting the young star’s recent death, MGM was weary of promoting the movie. The result was the lowest grossing entry in the series and the definitive end of the “Poltergeist” story.

Following the events of “The Other Side,” Carol Anne continues to be haunted by visions of Reverend Henry Kane. She is sent to live with Pat, Diane Freeling’s previously unmentioned sister, and her husband Bruce. The trio live in a high tech apartment complex in the middle of Chicago. While Carol Anne attempts to bond with Donna, Bruce’s teenage daughter, Pat, considers the young girl an intrusion in her home. Carol Anne’s psychiatrist dismisses the strange events that have happened. Which really comes back to bite the family in the ass when Kane takes over the apartment building. Now, Pat and Bruce must fight for their own lives and the lives of the children.

In “Poltergeist II,” the Freeling family’s greatest weapon against the Beast was their love for each other. This plot point was emphasized by the script at pretty much every oppretunity. The power of familial love was so great that it could bring the Freelings back from the other side. In “Poltergeist III,” mom Diane and dad Stephen have shipped Carol Anne off to some previously unmentioned aunt. The film all but says that Carol Anne was moved across the country because her parents couldn’t handle the supernatural bullshit anymore. So much for the power of love. “Poltergeist III” struggles with this plot hole. It tries to reinforce that Carol Anne’s aunt and uncle love her as much as her mom and dad. That this love is ultimately what saves her life. Yet the third film’s entire plot seems to be in defiance to everything the previous films were about.

If the new cast of characters were more endearing, maybe this would be less of a problem. However, “Poltergeist III” has trouble in that regard too. Tim Skerritt is fine as Bruce, even sharing some okay chemistry with Heather O'Rourke. Nancy Allen, usually a reliable presence, can not make Aunt Pat lovable or personable. Allen is far more convincing when complaining about how annoying Carol Anne is then when saying how much she loves her. Lara Flynn Boyle play Donna as a fairly indistinct teenage girl. Her friends, meanwhile, are more annoying, especially her potential boyfriend’s obnoxious little sister.

Worst yet is Richard Fire’s Dr. Seaton, Carol Anne’s shrink. Seaton – which sounds a lot like Satan – is the worst kind of Hollywood skeptic. Every line of dialogue he speaks is about how full of shit Carol Anne is. He blames the events of the first film on mass hypnosis. He truly believes that an eleven year old girl is convincing enough to get everyone to believe in ghosts, possession, and poltergeists. Even after crazy, obviously supernatural events begin to happen, Seaton refuses to believe. He sees a zombie hand toss a coffee cup at a mirror. He witnesses demons appear in mirrors and attack people. But, nope, we’re all imagining it. What an useless asshole.

“Poltergeist III” was directed by Gary Sherman, a horror filmmaker who previously made notable films like “Raw Meat” and “Dead & Buried.” Despite some solid films to his name, Sherman is unable to make “Poltergeist III” scary. The story is built around the concept of ghosts entering our world through mirrors, an idea unrelated to anything in the first two films. This mostly manifests as Rev. Kane appearing in mirrors behind people, again and again. The big scares in “Poltergeist III” are mostly annoying. More then once, Carol Anne or another character appears with a ghoulish face, the lamest of jump scares. A sequence devoted to driverless cars attacking Pat and Bruce in a parking garage hopelessly lacks impact. Worst yet is how inconsistent the villain’s plot is. Midway through the film, Kane is suddenly possessing the bodies of the living. This plot point is dropped soon afterwards, the audience left scratching their head.

Then again, maybe it isn’t Sherman’s fault that “Poltergeist III” isn’t the most clearly plotted film. Weeks before the movie was scheduled to be released, the studio demanded re-shoots. An entire new ending was shot. The biggest problem was that Heather O’Rourke had already died by this point. That “Poltergeist III” is shooting around its young lead’s untimely demise is all too apparent. As in the original, Carol Anne gets sucked into the ghostly dimension, spending much of the film as a disembodied voice. During that newly shot ending, we don’t even see Carol Anne’s face, as an obvious double stands in for the late O’Rourke.  Yet what was the movie’s excuse for prematurely killing off Zelda Rubenstein’s Tangina? Why are so many of the established characters short changed in this one?

Occasionally, an interesting visual moment will pop out of “Poltergeist III.” An ice-covered boy leaps out of a frozen swimming pool. A room fills with water, Rubenstein’s serene face appearing out of the waves. However, the final sequel is deeply damaged by unlikable new characters, a weak script, and a total lack of scares. Mostly, the film feels unnecessary. Reverend Kane was soundly defeated in part two. There was no reason to continue this story. Even after the tragic passing of Heather O’Rourke, the third film still wraps up on an image that suggests the villain may not be done for. Some ghosts just don’t know when to quit. “Poltergeist III” is running on the quickly thinning fumes of the first film’s reputation. The studio should’ve let this franchise rest. [4/10]

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