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Poltergeist III

Shout Factory // PG-13 // January 31, 2017
List Price: $34.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted January 26, 2017 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Directed by Gary Sherman in 1988, Poltergeist III once again catches up with Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O'Rourke). This time around, she's sent off to life with her aunt, Pat Wilson-Gardner (Nancy Allen) and her new husband Bruce Gardner (Tom Skerritt) in their fancy Chicago high-rise apartment. Also hanging around is Bruce's teenaged daughter, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), who doesn't always get along with her somewhat self-obsessed new stepmother so well. Pat doesn't seem to be able to connect with the kids, or even really want to try, instead she focuses on her art business. Maybe not so surprisingly Carol Anne isn't super happy at her new digs.

The psychiatrist at Carol Anne's school, one Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire), starts poking around in her head and of course, her dealings with the spirits that have plagued her obviously get his attention. He suspects, however, that rather than to have actually experienced all that we know she has experienced, Carol Anne instead has the ability to project all of this using the power of her potentially telekinetic mind (which is some pretty questionable plotting and kind of a ridiculous idea by anyone's standards). What Seaton doesn't realize is that this same poking around in her head awakens, once again, the macabre specter of Reverend Henry Kane (Nathan Davis). Of course, as Carol Anne winds up in yet another bout of spiritual danger, medium Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) senses this and heads to Chicago to save Carol Anne from Kane and his army of evil spirits.

Poltergeist III is the weakest of the original movies but it has its moments, enough so that fans of the series will at least want to check it out for themselves. There are some great ideas here. Setting the movie in a recently built skyscraper with all the modern accoutrements is a good idea, and the script from Brian Taggert (who wrote Dead & Buried for Sherman in 1981 and who replaces Mark Victor and Michael Grais, the writers of the first two pictures) does a decent job of exploiting this. The mirrors that make up a big part of the locations architectural appeal wind up serving as a sort of conduit for Kane and his demonic companions to travel in and out of the spirit world and the real world. The effects used to make this happen hold up quite well, as do most of the effects featured in the movie, period. Visually, the film works and technically it is quite well put together. Sherman has a decent grip on the film's pace and keeps things moving at a pretty good clip.

Of course, the obvious absence of series' stars Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams is a strike against the picture, particularly because the script really never bothers to properly explain why Carol Anne has been sent off to live with her aunt in the first place. It's also worth noting that Jerry Goldsmith's music is gone this time replaced by some noticeably lesser compositions courtesy of Joe Renzetti (who also worked with Sherman on Dead & Buried but is probably best known to horror fans for his scoring Child's Play).

The performances are pretty uneven. Tom Skerritt is his typically reliable self, he's fine here, while Nancy Allen plays the semi-narcissistic aunt without any issues. Neither of them would likely consider this picture a career highlight and no one is going to really and truly laud their work, but they're fine. Lara Flynn Boyle is pretty much one note here, however. Her character is fairly dull and she does nothing to change this. Zelda Rubestein is once again a lot of fun as Tangina and Heather O'Rourke pretty reliable as Carol Anne, though she was sick while this film was being made and would sadly pass away at just twelve years old shortly after it was completed. Nathan Davis isn't quite as effective as Julien Beck in the role of Kane, but to be fair to the man he is a worthy replacement.

Despite the plot holes and some of the less than inspired characters featured in the picture, there's enough about Poltergeist III that works in terms of set pieces, concepts and effects work to make it worth checking out. The ending is fairly goofy and you never quite feel that this family loves each other the way that the Freelings did, making it harder to connect with them, but if you don't overthink it and can appreciate the visuals you can have a good time with this, even if it is far from a classic.

The Blu-ray:


Shout! Factory's domestic Blu-ray release of Poltergeist III, taken from a new 2k scan of an interpositive, looks really solid. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation is properly framed at 1.85.1 and it typically speaking in very nice shape indeed. There are scenes where the optical effects understandably affect detail levels a bit, but those effects heavy sequences aside the picture is impressive. Texture and depth are also impressive here and color reproduction looks great. Black levels are strong, and the image is free of compression artifacts, edge enhancement or any obvious noise reduction. It's also a very clean picture, in that there aren't any problems with print damage, dirt or debris while the obvious grain that does appear seems natural enough.


English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD in your choice of the original 2.0 Stereo or a 5.1 surround mix with removable subtitles offered in English only. Both tracks are clean, clear and nicely balanced with the 5.1 mix predictably spreading the score and effects around through the surround channels. Dialogue stays easy to follow and perfectly audible and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.


Director Gary Sherman kicks off the extras with a commentary track moderated by Michael Felsher. This is a good track with a focus on Sherman's personal work on the picture as he talks about interacting with the cast and crew, who did what both in front of and behind the camera, his thoughts on some of the effects sequences and more. The disc also holds a second commentary, this one with David Furtney, webmaster of the Poltergeist fan site. This second track is more well-rounded, offering up a lot of trivia about the picture, biographical information on the cast and crew, notes on the sets and locations and quite a bit more.

Shout! Factory has also assembled a collection of new featurettes starting with High Spirits, a sixteen minute interview with writer Brian Taggert. He talks about working with Sherman not just on his film but on Dead & Buried as well, some of his interactions with the cast members involved in the shoot and his thoughts on the story in general as well as what influenced it a bit. The lovely and talented Nancy Allen shows up for twelve minutes in Reflections to talk about her work in front of the camera on the film. She speaks fairly candidly about working with Tom Skerritt in the movie, what it was like on set and her thoughts on the quality of this third film in the series. The third and final featurette is Mirror Images, which spends thirteen minutes with special effects creator John Caglione, Jr., who has some pretty fun stories to share. He talks about working with Dick Smith on the film, covering actress Lara Flynn Boil in goo, creating some of the props that were used in the film and more.

Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, an interesting three minute alternate ending, two minutes of TV spots, three different still galleries (Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Stills, Posters), a collection of script pages, animated menus and chapter selection. The disc comes packaged with reversible cover art and a nice cardboard slipcover.

Final Thoughts:

Poltergeist III is the weakest of the three original films but it still has enough going for it in the form of some interesting cast members and memorable effects set pieces to make it worth seeing for fans of the series. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release is a good one, presenting the film in excellent shape and with a nice selection of good quality supplements too. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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