Say Something Nice: POLTERGEIST III

The unpopular sequel has some terrific practical effects.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Poltergeist sequels, despite the fact that both films represent a significant decline in quality from the all-timer classic that preceded them. I have a distinct memory of being in third grade and secretly staying up late to watch a Poltergeist marathon on TV, eating peanut butter straight from the jar and reveling in my double rebellion.

So there's nostalgia at work, obviously, in my enjoyment of Gary Sherman's Poltergeist III, but there’s also a clear-eyed appreciation of some legitimately rad special effects. Poltergeist III had half the budget of Poltergeist II: The Other Side (though III's budget was only about a million less than the far superior Poltergeist), but the money is spent very wisely. Much of the action takes place in a big city high-rise, a sort of deliberate reversal of the suburban horror that had made up the franchise until then. The building's labyrinthine hallways are lined with mirrors, and Sherman uses the mirrors to great effect, disconcerting the audience with layered funhouse reflection trickery.

The scene most viewers remember best from Poltergeist III is of Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke, who passed away of a misdiagnosed abdominal obstruction before Poltergeist III made it into post-production) fleeing Kane’s voice in the high-rise's parking garage before disembodied corpse hands pull her, her cousin Donna (Twin Peaks' Lara Flynn Boyle) and Donna's boyfriend Scott (Kip Wentz) into a dimensional puddle that's appeared quite suddenly in the middle of the concrete. It's a very effective and memorable scene, but it's not the one that haunted me for weeks after I first saw Poltergeist III. No, my nightmares were all about Donna clawing her way out of the gruesome corpse of Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), the soft-spoken medium whom I never thought could die.

Pretty good, right? 

So this Halloweek, if you’re looking for a horror franchise that you haven't already watched to death, consider giving the lesser Poltergeist siblings a chance. Maybe eat some peanut butter straight out of the jar while you're at it.