I have been eager to see both this and Poltergeist II after re-watching the original about a year ago. This is one of those cases where they realize that no one would buy this movie on its own, but people might buy Poltergeist II if it also had Poltergeist III on the same DVD… and then I found it used for $5 and… sold!
I had seen this one in theaters way back in the day, and thought it was SUCH CRAP. It still is, only now I have no expectation to get any real scares or chills from it, and it’s SO cheesy and ludicrous that I was SO into it. The deal is that everyone from the first movie realized that the second one was total shit that was going to destroy their careers, so they bailed, and the only people who could be roped into this third outing were poor little Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne and Zelda Rubenstein as midget psychic Tangina. Heather is starting to get a bit old, and just looks a little pudgy and creepy to me, and Zelda has sure been packing on the pounds. Oh dear.
So Carol Anne has supposedly been sent by her mom and dad to stay with her Aunt Pat, played by Nancy Allen [!], and Tom Skerritt, who as I recall was always in total trash like this, his nadir perhaps being Poison Ivy [Holy shit, I TOTALLY need to put Poison Ivy on my list right now!]. They have a teenage daughter in Lara Flynn Boyle, of Twin Peaks and many other things. They live in the John Hancock building in Chicago, and apparently they keep a guest room ready just in case any ghost-haunted nieces may need a place to stay for an extended period of time.
Anyway, the movie wastes no time in getting to the “scares,” the first being an old guy who is supposed to be Kane from movie II standing outside on the scaffold. Apparently the real Kane died between movies. The new one isn’t nearly as creepy as he was, and thus we never really get a good look at him. This one is also all about mirrors, as they are a recurring motif in the high-rise, and also where the spirits enter the apartment this time, leading to innumerable shots where something in the mirror doesn’t match what’s happening in real life or appears in the mirror and not in life. It gets tedious. It might have worked once, but not 207 times. There’s also some bullshit about how it’s cold because of the ghostly activity.
Anyway, so the family pile into the carpool of some neighbor in the building, who have a teenage son, Scott, that Lara is really into. And he has this younger sister, Marcie, who is among the best things about this movie. She is THE quintessential annoying little brat sister, with her huge glasses, irritatingly nasal voice, and ferocious zeal to get right up in people’s faces and make snide comments to them! The first and best of these is when she turns around to Lara and sneers “Oh Scott! My knight in shining acne!” Another good one later is when Lara goes down to a party at Scott’s house and Marcie answers the door: “Ha! Couldn’t stay away from Hot Scott!” I totally want to watch a whole movie about her, though I have to say she would be more at home in something like Weird Science than this.
Meanwhile, Carol Anne is sent to the snide Dr. Seton, played by Richard Fire, who, get this, WROTE Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer! WTF!?!? He stupidly keeps saying that everything that happens around Carol Anne is just post-hypnotic suggestion; that she’s capable of inducing mass hallucinations, which for some reason is supposed to seem MORE logical than that there are ghosts. This ghost hand hurls a coffee mug [a Freud coffee mug, btw] at a mirror, shattering it, and the good doctor suggests that it exploded with enormous force by the merest tap of this woman holding a different coffee mug! And everyone laughs knowingly as though this makes sense.
So while Tom and Nancy go down to this art opening by “Takamitsu,” Lara sneaks down to a “party” at Hot Scott’s. One thing that can be observed is the rich reserves of late-80s fashion on display here. You know, a lot of movies cover the 80s, but very few of them really zero in on the specific nuances of the LATE 80’s. Nancy Allen, with her hair that looks like a Utah rock formation and big, big outfits with tremendous shoulder-pads and lots of wrinkles and brooches and belts, looks exactly like my best friend in high school. It’s a little weird to see her having fully embraced adulthood and no longer presented as a sexpot. Yay, Nancy Allen! But Lara’s time at Scott’s party presents a GOLDEN CORNUCOPIA of late-80s style with all the party peoples, including one with this hideous frizz-thing atop her head, a guy with a ludicrous hat that surely evolved out of something having to do with Culture Club, and the whole sense that the teens of yesteryear were on the cutting edge while wearing a SWEATER with a shirt collar poking out from underneath. This whole sequence is literally breathtaking.
Anyway, tons of ghostly phenomena happen, not one bit of it interesting, and even less making sense. It’s all just so random and idiotic, one is more than an hour in and feels as though the whole thing hasn’t gotten going yet. Things get frozen, they melt instantly, people go into the spirit world, come out, go back in, their doppelganger comes out… and on. And Tangina gets real crispy at one point.
SPOILERS > > >
At the end Nancy has finally had enough, and starts trashing Carol Anne to anyone who will listen! “Who cares about Carol Anne anymore! We never should have let them force her on us!” Then one insignificant piece of phenomena is finished, and Tom and Nancy embrace, saying “it’s all over!” Then Nancy is forced to eat all her words about how much she hates Carol Anne and try to convince her that she loves her and wants her to stay! Then Tangina appears and says that all she has to do is walk Kane into the light, and she does, and everything is over. This does not satisfy, as: 1) the entire series has been predicated on the idea that the spirits will accept no one but Carol Anne, and 2) THEN WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU DO THAT WAY BACK IN THE FIRST MOVIE AND SPARE EVERYONE ALL THIS TROUBLE, BITCH!?!?!?
< < < SPOILERS END
Now the deal is that Heather O’Rourke, who plays Carol Anne, died when shooting was almost over, and they felt it was morbid to use the ending they had shot, so they made up a different one [which was apparently the first thing that came into their heads] and shot it with stand-ins. You will notice that you just stop seeing Carol Anne during the final 20 minutes. And maybe that’s why the ending is just so goll-darned dumb. Of course, so is the whole thing. The whole movie feels like they knew they had to fill up 90 minutes with spooky stuff, so they did.
This movie was directed by Gary Sherman, who also did a very well-regarded [and pretty decent] horror movie called Dead & Buried. It’s too bad for him to be brought down by this, but because of the bungled ending, we’ll never know what it was originally supposed to be like. This is total and utter crap, but I liked it and found it fun for just how stupid it all was, and, of course, little Marcie.
If you like total garbage trying desperately to be “spooky.”
POLTERGEIST is the first and best!
POLTERGEIST II Pretty much sucks, but is still kind of fun.