Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poltergeist III (1988)

After their experiences in Poltergeist II (which I’m not going to write up because I just can’t cope with quite this much Magical Native American), the Freelings must have turned into assholes, for they have left their ghost magnet daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) with her aunt Pat (Nancy Allen), her hubby, rich architect Bruce (Tom Skerritt) and Bruce’s daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) in a high rise building in Chicago that is apparently some kind of arcology. Carol Anne is going to a school for talented but weird kids, where the chief psychologist, one doctor Seaton (Richard Fire), holds regular hypnosis sessions with her to prove that what happened in the first two movies was “mass hypnosis” somehow induced by Carol Anne. Which sounds even more ridiculous than poltergeists, so he at least deserves credits for countering the bat-shit insane with the even crazier.

Of course, the whole thing somehow calls back ole Reverend Henry Kane (Nathan Davis) and his crew of ghosts, who have suddenly developed the habit of exclusively centring their hauntings around mirrors, reflections, cold and evil doppelgangers. That’s going to become a bit of a problem, for Bruce’s high rise is hyper-modern and built in the 80s, therefore it is full of mirrors.

Gary Sherman’s Poltergeist III generally has a rather bad reputation but I enjoy it quite a bit more than the second film in the series. It’s not at all on the level of the original, of course, but at least the new things it is trying are more interesting than embarrassing, unlike what happens in film number two.

Characterisations aren’t terribly inventive – apart from the fact that Bruce who isn’t a blood relation clearly loves Carol Anne much more than the sister of her mother does. Pat learning to love the girl despite Carol Anne’s intrinsic weirdness (which you can read as a metaphor for illness or disability, if you’re so minded) is actually pretty much what part of the film seem to want to be about but the final twenty minutes of Poltergeist III are such a chaos of bad writing, characters saying and doing things that make no sense whatsoever, and plain bullshit that there’s no real pay off to the theme.

What does pay off, and what makes the first hour of the film worth watching quite a bit, is how much of a master class on building a variety of supernatural phenomena out of a small number of things – reflections and cold – it is. While there’s more than enough diversity to the phenomena to avoid boring anyone through repetition, they clearly belong to the same supernatural theme where quite a few horror films would just randomly throw supposedly spooky stuff at the audience. The feel of connection between various weirdnesses here is quite effective, and some of them make for really trippy and original little shocks and twists.

Until the film suddenly goes to a bizarre encounter in a frozen parking garage, one of the most stupid fake happy ends in horror history in which I have no idea why the characters are suddenly supposed to believe that things are over, not to speak of the audience, and a series of final set pieces and dialogue sequences that seem to have little connection to what came before, and which are probably the fault of your usual “troubled production history”.

Which puts Poltergeist III into the rubric of interesting but annoyingly flawed films worth watching for the good in them.

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