Saturday, February 11, 2012

Movie Review: Poltergeist 3 (1988)

My memory of Poltergeist 3 was slightly better than that of part 2. The story was completely lost to me but I had vague recollections of scary mirror people, Carol Anne's pajamas, and Tom Skerritt. That right there should be reason enough to hate this movie, but did the world's biggest Poltergeist fan (me) actually hate this second sequel? Read on to find out...

Carol Anne Freeling has been sent to Chicago to live with her aunt Pat, Pat's husband Bruce, and his daughter Donna. Carol Anne attends a school for gifted children with emotional problems, cared after by a doctor who is convinced that she made up all the stuff about ghosts to explain away the events of the first two films. Meanwhile, the malevolent Henry Kane has once again found a way to get to Carol Anne through the mirrors of her apartment building.

Poltergeist 3 is generally believed to be... well, a huge turd. Its current rating on Rotten Tomatoes is only a meager 14%. Despite all that, I really like this movie! I know! I like it a lot more than Poltergeist 2, and I'm actually very surprised at the across-the-board hate for it. Poltergeist 3 is seriously a pretty good movie, and I'm not just trying to be nice here. There's actually not a lot about the movie that I don't like, which is new territory for me. Again, it's no Poltergeist but it's got some things of its own going for it that at least make the movie visually entertaining.

The only original people back this time are Carol Anne and the ever-dwindling character of Tangina. I like the dynamics amongst Carol Anne and her new family. Nancy Allen plays her Aunt Pat (her mother's sister) who got married only a year prior to Bruce Gardener (Tom Skerritt) and became the stepmother to his teenage daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle). Pat is Carol Anne's real blood relative of this family and yet she is the one who is the most resentful of her and what they have to put with her "crazy ghost stories." Bruce is surprisingly the one who has bonded the most with her and it is his love and trust of her that helps save his family in the end.

So after the introduction of this movie's family unit and the ginormous high-rise building they all live in, we're introduced to Carol Anne's psychologist at school, Dr. Seaton. Frankly, this guy is a complete quack and an idiot and whatever school gave him his doctor degree should be ashamed. He has this convoluted idea that Carol Anne has the power of mass hypnosis and is able to make people see whatever she imagines. In one scene where he sees, through a mirror, a hand coming out of his desk and throw a coffee cup at the mirror and breaking it, he is so delusional about his theory that he tries to tell the people behind the mirror that Carol Anne made him see it and made the other woman break the mirror. Whuh? The dude playing the doctor is also the worst actor of the whole bunch. Every line he utters is unbelievably cheesy and fake sounding, it's a wonder his whole performance didn't end up on the cutting room floor.

One thing I like about Poltergeist 3 is that is quite fast-paced, as it all takes place over the course of one day and night. The elaborate effects are a big help in this department, and most of them are very convincing and well done. I loved all the bits with the stuff happening in the mirrors, which keeps you one your toes because you're always watching the reflections, waiting to see what they're going to do next. The one bit that I remembered the most clearly before I rewatched the film is when Donna and her beau Scott meet up in the hallway. They laugh, then they kiss, then Scott rips off Donna's cheek before they walk down the mirrored hallway, only appearing in the mirror. I still kinda like that.

The other effects are quite inventive and thankfully there is nothing as stupid as the braces attack in Poltergeist 2. I liked all the mirror and ice imagery - there's an okay scene where Bruce and Pat encounter frozen chickens and pigs and then possessed frozen cars in the parking garage - which kept the effects consistent and nothing seems too far out of left field, even for a Poltergeist movie. The gross-out scene comes when Donna's evil mirror-self claws her way out of dead Tangina's body, a scene that is kind of the opposite of my favorite scene from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 when dead Mary Lou punches her way out of alive Vicky's body. Anyway. Suffice to say that I like all the effects in Poltergeist 3 because they are inventive and crazy like a Poltergeist movie should be and they are well executed.

The weird thing about the whole movie, though, is that the villain is Kane again, trying to find Carol Anne so she can lead him into the light, but he's not really in the movie that much. You hear his voice calling for Carol Anne and he appears a lot in the mirrors but that's about it. His only real scene is at the end, when Donna confronts him to get her family back and Tangina leads him into the light instead. He's not as creepy as he was in the second film and he obviously wasn't that important either. Oh, and speaking of the ending, why did everybody suddenly forget about poor Scott? Bruce, Donna, and Carol Anne come back from The Other Side but they leave Scott, who is now going to have to live in the same limbo that pissed Kane off for so many years? Nice. Real nice, people.

So I'm going to have to be the dissenting opinion here and say that Poltergeist 3 is actually not a huge turd in my book. O'Rourke, Skerritt, Allen, and Boyle all give convincing performances in a movie where the high-dollar effects would usually overshadow everyone. These effects keep the plot moving and give us some cool things to look at along the way. Thumbs up, I say.

Red footie pajamas for the win!


  1. Great review. I've always had a liking of this one as well, probably because it spooked me when I was younger. It's been so long since I've seen it though that I don't remember much of it, so maybe it is time I take a look at it again.

  2. Couldn't agree more with this. It's often times cheesy and awkward but the mirror concept was original and well executed. The hate for it's totally warranted imo

  3. Yeah,I liked the mirror effects too.I thought that it was a cool and inventive concept for the movie,to have the ghosts controlling mirror images.I too also remember Poltergeist III for those red footie pajamas that Carol Anne wears in the night scenes for the second half of the movie.I remember thinking: Isn't Carol Anne too old,at 12,to wear footed sleeper pajamas?