Looking back at Poltergeist III : Released 25 Years Ago This Week!


The world’s first and foremost know-all on everything and anything “Poltergeist III” David Furtney wrote this special piece for Moviehole.Net

“Poltergeist III” was released 25 years ago this week.

Okay, I get it. ”Poltergeist III” is a bad movie. A really bad movie. One of the worst sequels ever made. However, I was only eight years old when my Mom reluctantly took me to see a Saturday afternoon matinee showing in June of 1988. There were only two other people at the screening that day besides us, two teenage guys who sat in the back and would end up making ghost noises. Even as a kid, I knew that Heather O’Rourke, the child star who played “Carol Anne,” had died shortly before the film‘s release. It was definitely a strange, jarring moment when we first saw her on screen. My Mom made mention of how bloated O’Rourke’s face looked. It was indeed creepy, and sad. However, I soon settled into the movie and really enjoyed it, even though my Mom fell asleep halfway through (we did have to get up and move a few rows back during the Donna/Scott “face ripping” scene: the theater’s AC was blowing directly down onto us, an effect that seemed to enhance the “icy cold” motif of the film). After I got home, I excitedly told my younger sister how great the movie was (ha).

Of course, I came to realize later on that in fact, the movie really sucked. It broke so many of the rules for a “good” sequel. Just a few examples:

-No Craig T. Nelson

-No JoBeth Williams

-No Oliver Robins

-No Julian Beck (okay, that one couldn’t be helped, but they could have at least allowed “Kane” replacement Nathan Davis to use his own voice and allow him to act without all that extra makeup-which made him look like the “Quaker Oats“ guy)

-No Jerry Goldsmith score, not even the licensed use of some of his original themes (sacrilege!). It’s no coincidence that the trailer and “making of” which did use Jerry’s music are better than the movie itself.

-Hardly any optical visual effects

-Kane (the Beast) wanting Carol Anne to lead him “into the Light” (did no one listen to Tangina during the original film: “It [the Beast] keeps Carol Anne very close to it, and away from the spectral Light….It has been using her to restrain the others” or better yet Taylor the Indian in P2: “This man was evil, and his soul remains evil, because he chooses not to see the Light.” Hello, contradiction without explanation anyone? Not to mention how all the other lost souls were supposed to have escaped Kane’s clutches and gone into the Light at the end of P2, but somehow a few of them were still hanging around with him in P3 (huh?)

-The repeated use of a certain name over and over and over again by various characters (“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! CAROL ANNE!!”).

And last but not least:
Dr. Seaton.

So why is that this film continues to have a small but loyal cult fan base 25 years after it’s original release? Because underneath all the bad parts, there’s actually a good movie in there trying to get out. Director Gary Sherman should be commended for coming up with some ingenious ideas, the best of which was to move the action from the suburbs/rural areas of the first two films to the urban Chicago high rise filled with mirrors. Knowing MGM wasn’t going to spend the money it had spent on Poltergeist II, Sherman instead opted to cut corners in creative ways-his use of live in camera mechanical special effects, including the reverse mirrored sets, was extremely clever. And, tragically, this was the movie that captured Heather O’Rourke’s final on screen performance before her death at age 12 of an undiagnosed bowel obstruction (seven months after she finished filming and four months before the film’s release). As People magazine said of her performance in a review of Poltergeist III:

“O’Rourke’s reactions are so authentic she compels belief; she seems to be the only one who realized that character integrity was the key to the first film’s success. That is the mark of a true actress. She will be missed.”

Zelda Rubinstein, the only other returning original cast member, also got a lot more to do this time around, not the least of which was to save the day by sacrificing herself at the end and offering one liners such as “Where did Dr. Rasputin take Scott?” The ending of this film has been the subject of intense fan interest over the years, since there have been conflicting accounts of whether it was re-shot after O’Rourke’s death. Long story short: It WAS re-shot, but MGM thus far has refused to confirm or deny. Now that the film has reached it’s 25th anniversary, it deserves a second look via a proper special edition Blu Ray release. It would make a great marketing tie-in when the new remake/reboot/sequel/ whatever the heck it is gets released next year. Poltergeist III’s current (abrupt) ending feels so incomplete with that tacked on lightning strike (which director Sherman hated) and the fact that Heather O’Rourke was replaced with a body double stand in, filmed from the back so her face couldn’t be seen. The original ending, shot at the end of June 1987, DID feature O’Rourke. The big mystery is whether the footage is still retained by MGM. You can see stills from original ending in this YouTube clip:

Hopefully one of these days MGM will release Special Edition versions of both ”Poltergeist II: The Other Side” and ”Poltergeist III” (Warner Brothers owns the original film). Until then, you can check out my sites dedicated to all three films in the franchise:


Poltergeist III – Trailer

Poltergeist III – Making Of

Siskel & Ebert’s Review of “Poltergeist III”