UNK SEZ: Hey, hold the toy phone! It turns out my long time pals MEEP and BEN of RETRO MOVIE LOVE PODCAST both love POLTERGEIST III as much as I do! What if the three of us picked our three favorite things from this shamefully undervalued third installment? This pyramid of power must come to pass because Three is a magic number! Good old MEEP goes first…
MEEP: Recently experiencing Poltergeist III on the big screen in 35 MM brought it all back for me. The late 80’s MGM/UA Communications logo. The music. The fashions. The dialogue. That building. I know it’s hard to separate yourself from your love of the Freelings from the first two Films, but I think it’s also fun to be in a part III of a Movie that mixes it up a bit. It’s a busy Movie that actually tries. So few Movies do that anymore. A general laziness seems to be commonplace these days in modern Filmmaking. And so few Films focus on characterization. I want to care about the characters in the movie I’m watching, dammit.
There’s much to savor here but if I had to pick ONLY three reasons that help solidify my love of Poltergeist III they would be:
MEEP: 1. The shifting of suburbia as a playground for evil to a super modern, urban setting. What better way to get away from the true evil that lurks in the suburbs: Chicago’s Sears Tower! I love Movies set in buildings, and for me Poltergeist III and Gremlins 2 are the most important ones in the genre. They are both in their own way bonkers sequels that go out of their way to entertain and add a little something different to a franchise. And both happen to be the last Films made in their franchise! Gary Sherman and Joe Dante didn’t play it too safe and ended up with Movies that will be remembered as franchise killers. I love them for it! No risk, no reward. Both of these Movies are full of them for me. Also, I don’t mind that for a long time characters run around a building, calling out each other’s names, either. I probably would be doing the same thing. My 4 year old son is also obsessed with buildings and elevators. Is he too young to show this Film to him yet? What would Seaton think about that?
MEEP: 2. Kids in peril. I know for some they’d rather not have kids in Horror Movies, but, if done right, kids definitely have their place in the genre. I feel like around this point in the 80’s we were getting some really fun ones like The Gate and The Monster Squad, so in it’s own late 80’s logic, it’s natural for The Freelings to ditch their daughter and send her to chilly Chicago. What are they doing, anyway? Rebuilding another house? Do you think they live in another subdivision? Carol Anne really needed a change of pace. She’s been through so much. And she goes through a hell of a lot in this one. But, I also feel really bad for the outfits they put her in. They are unfortunate and the Film does try to make her seem younger than she was (Heather O’Rourke was around 12 when they shot this — we were born the same year). Perhaps that is the true peril. We all know by the end of a Poltergeist Film that a family’s tight bond will save Carol Anne, but, no one saved her from those iconic red pajamas and that winter gear.
MEEP: 3. Growing up with it in the 80’s. It’s strange to me how much I took for granted Films of this era while living through it. I saw so many of these Movies first run, in a Movie theatre. Even if Movies were changing, there was plenty for me at the local theatres and multiplexes to devour. Poltergeist III played at the Cineplex Odeon Fortway Theatre in Brooklyn, which had sparkly stars on the ceiling above you, and it seemed to go over well enough opening day. I was there for the first show, naturally. By this point it was June and I was off of school and I was at the Movies almost every day. I remember also seeing Big Business and my third screening of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood that very same weekend. Poltergeist III elicited the appropriate reactions in theaters, though at the recent retro screening I went to it seemed that they were more interested in the comedic aspects of the Film. I think watching Movies that are nearly 30 years old will always attract laughs, and there are some genuine laughs in Poltergeist III, but, I tend to take the Movie slightly more seriously, or at least at face value. It’s just where I’m coming from as a dedicated Movie watcher who’s now getting as old as Kane.
Do I think Poltergeist III is a great Film? That’s for you to decide. I’m just saying it’s a very important one in my life. I’m so thankful to be around such cool kids who love it as well. I have read some of Ben and Unk’s thoughts about the Movie and I couldn’t agree more. Heather O’Rourke, Nancy Allen, Tom Skerritt and Lara Flynn Boyle’s jean jacket and hat 4 eva. Pass the popcorn and the whoppers, please.
BEN: 1. Carol Anne’s Trauma History. Horror sequels rarely really deal with their protagonists’ struggles with post-traumatic stress from their experiences in the previous film (Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and Slumber Party Massacre II are other rare exceptions!). Poltergeist III actually delves into Carol Anne’s struggle dealing with some severe emotional shit from being stalked and kidnapped by ghosts and abandoned by her parents. When Carol Anne tells stupid Dr. Seaton that she’s “lonely I guess,” I want to cry, for I sense that she’s not only lonely because she misses her friends and family, but also because she is alone in what she’s experienced.
Poltergeist III offers up some surprising commentary about how people were discussing trauma in the late 1980s. This was the moment when children reported Satanic ritual abuse at daycare centers, and adults confessed to remembering childhood alien abductions. Garbage people—real life Dr. Seatons—said that such people were “lying” and “hysterical,” ignoring the fact that people sometimes find their traumatic memories clouded by fantasy because reality is too difficult to tolerate. In other words, sometimes it’s easier to imagine that you were abused in Satanic rituals than admit to yourself that you were molested by a relative. Anyway, Dr. Seaton learns his lesson and so do we all: the other dimensions of trauma are real, no matter what forms they take for those who find themselves trapped there, and the only way to avoid losing your loved ones to them is to love and believe them fiercely. Turquoise jewelry also helps.
BEN: 2. Aunt Pat’s Crisis. Maybe I am confronting the worst parts of myself by saying this, but I identify with Aunt Pat so much. Here is a woman who wisely decided not to have children because she wanted to have her own life, open a gallery, wait to marry until she became a fully authentic person, and be a stepmother to a hip teenager. You get the sense that, growing up, she was the person in her family that had to keep it together and over-achieve while Diane and her mother went with the flow and had psychic flights of fancy. Diane had other priorities: she wanted to marry young to steal Stephen Freeling from that slut Cookie Gurnich, she wanted to devote her life to raising a family, she wanted to move to the California suburbs and watch cable TV. Fine. Not Aunt Pat’s thing. What does she get for knowing herself and making conscious choices? She has to adopt her niece and all of her supernatural stalkers because Diane can’t deal with the drama anymore (btw, we, Diane’s friends, know that she would NEVER pull that shit, but let’s talk about the world of the film rather than real life). It is possible that Aunt Pat is just a trifle cold and guarded because that’s the only way to even try to set boundaries with her family.
Now Pat has to drive a carpool for two weeks in a row, when she took the pill so that she would never have to drive a carpool. Furthermore, she has a houseguest indefinitely, when she obviously knows that having a houseguest for three hours is too long. Her husband treats her like a selfish bitch when she complains about these untenable circumstances, and then she has to run around a high rise for hours WHILE WET and dramatically apologize to the universe for her reasonable feelings. People who know themselves well enough to create lives that violate “acceptable social conventions” always get stuck with crap like this. People say that this movie isn’t scary, but Aunt Pat lives my ultimate nightmare.
BEN: 3. Late ’80s Affluence For some reason late ’80s Chicago always seemed glamorous in a unique way (see also: the office party in Adventures in Babysitting), but Poltergeist III is the national pinnacle of late ’80s glamour. I could live in this stark, mirrored world forever. Where to start? I love the generic apartments with their white leather furniture (how rude that Aunt Pat and Uncle Bruce leave the TV in Carol Ann’s room! Typically a trooper, I’m sure that she noticed but didn’t say anything). I love Aunt Pat’s dress that cost her a year’s salary, which is probably so expensive because it incorporates so many unique yet complementary shades of gray. I love Donna’s name and her friends’ hats and earrings. I love that the characters live my dream of inhabiting an apartment building that is also a mall (I bet that it had a video store). I love that Aunt Pat has sushi at her opening because all rich people in Chicago only eat sushi (see also: The Breakfast Club) and cilantro (don’t forget it!). I love Aunt Pat’s chic as hell, tough loving Assistant Director who can afford to drive a Mercedes because the ’80s were so abundant for the 1%. More than anything, I love the humorless artist Takamitsu, his haunted sculptures, and all of the illuminati with poofy hair and padded shoulders who come to admire his work. Aunt Pat is surely the most glamorous gallery owner in all of Chicago, although isn’t it a bit déclassé to have your gallery in a mall?
UNK: 1. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: All hail, Tangina! Can there ever be enough Tangina (ZELDA RUBINSTEIN) in the world? The answer is no. To me, this sequel is precious beyond measure simply for existing as a space for this iconic horror hero to roam about in. I’m only sorry that a spin-off series that centered on the diminutive ghostbusting goddess never materialized. Think of the potential! I so dig the way POLTERGEIST III keeps our Tangie under wraps and out of the film’s opening and waits until the perfect moment to play its knee-high ace card. Suddenly we find ourselves at a table with Tangina and a few mysterious friends of hers in an outdoor café. As she pours tea, she is hit with a psychic alarm lightening bolt of knowledge that “He has found her!” and like Clark Kent, she’s up and running. Soon she’s on a plane (not unlike SCATMAN CROTHERS’ Hallorann in THE SHINING) speeding her way to save the day.
Our gal has got her work cut out for her as she’s not only facing the dark spirit of Reverend Kane but also a new nemesis in the form of snarky shrink extraordinaire Dr. Seaton (RICHARD FIRE– screenwriter of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER!) who clearly studied at the same college as FRIDAY THE 13th PART 7’s devious Dr. Crews (TERRY KISER). Indeed, in the universe of POLTERGEIST III, psychiatry itself is presented as volatile and dangerous. In fact, Tangina reprimands Dr. Seaton for pressuring Carol Anne to address her past and even claims that Carol Anne’s traumas have returned because she dared to speak of them out loud! I don’t know how healthy that idea is but it’s hard to doubt her as the voice of reason when Seaton’s rationalizations are more outlandish than any ghostly explanation. Consider that rather than accept the supernatural, Seaton believes Carol Anne has the ability to force lavish hallucinations upon entire communities and brainwash others to do her bidding without their knowledge. I mean really, if Seaton’s theories are correct Carol Anne would be the most powerful person to ever walk the Earth and that can’t be true because we all know that lil’ Tangie is!
Face it folks, it’s a rare and beautiful thing to see an actress and her role fit so snuggly together. As much as I strongly advise that all humans also check out the hypnotic ANGUISH, the delightful TEEN WITCH and even her role on PICKET FENCES (alongside her POLTERGEIST III co-star TOM SKERRITT), you don’t have to be psychic to know RUBINSTEIN shines the brightest in the POLTERGEIST trilogy.
UNK: 2. THE KRUEGER-ING OF KANE: It’s not everyday that a third installment in a horror franchise makes more than its predecessors, so when dream demon Freddy Krueger accomplished just that feat, several sleeping horror giants (Myers, Voorhees and PHANTASM’s “Tall Man” to name a few) were immediately nudged awake. Although the result was unlikely to receive a thumbs up from critics, the idea of resurrecting POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE’s ghoulish reverend Kane as a centerpiece villain was a rather inspired one and perhaps too good (and potentially financially rewarding) to resist. Sadly, the brilliant JULIAN BECK had died months before his remarkable performance as Kane had seared theater screens. Surely no replacement could ever fully fill his shoes but it could be said that there was something so creepy about the Kane character that even a lesser facsimile would successfully unnerve. All he would need was a group of teens to threaten in order to stay competitive with his fellow nightmare makers!
And that’s how we all got invited to a clandestine late night pool party with Carol Anne Freeling’s teen queen step-cousin Donna (the lovely LARA FLYNN BOYLE who would go on to play another Donna in TWIN PEAKS!) and her LEO SAYER-headed giggly boyfriend Scott (KIPLEY WENTZ). I don’t care what anyone says, I LOVE THIS. Even though it’s mostly all set up resulting in nothing and absolutely no teen is killed on screen, I LOVE THIS. I love the anticipation and even the unfulfilled promise of it like a jean jacket loves a BEDAZZLER. Say what you will but for sheer ‘80s-ness, P3 leaves its precursors in the dust. I have a feeling that the slasher teen-baiting aspects of this movie are exactly what makes many dismiss it as a pandering also-ran that fails the sense of awe and wonder about life and death found in this first two flicks and that may be true, BUT it also makes for a more casual, light-hearted watch and that’s worth something too!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you miss Ma and Pa Freeling (JOBETH WILLIAMS and CRAIG T. NELSON). Let me put it this way, if you HAD to replace them (and due to $ they probably did), could you think of anyone better to replace them with than ALIEN’s TOM SKERRITT and effervescent charm boat NANCY ALLEN? I can’t! In fact, if we’re talking emotional range, I think this is NANCY ALLEN‘s finest hour. She sails from placid to tempest like a master and is so incredibly sincere the whole trip. Furthermore if ya miss the original folks- you’ve come to the right place! That’s what this movie is all about! Take a number! Get behind poor Carol Anne!
UNK: 3. THE (VERY) SPECIAL EFFECTS: Director GARY SHERMAN (love me some DEAD AND BURIED too, btw) made a brave and endlessly intriguing choice to orchestrate all of the film’s supernatural shenanigans live on camera rather than later in some lab (a last minute lightening strike was tacked on in post but he had no part or approval of it). SHERMAN designed all the fantastic set pieces himself and apart from the usual squishy props there’s a wealth of visual entertainment involving forced perspective, sneaky slight of hand and trippy bogus reflections. Some of the illusions work better than others and sometimes the timing/reactions can be wonky but I think every single (sometimes awkward) swatch of it adds to the overall surreal, off-balance, disorienting tone. The end result is rather like running dizzy through a harshly lit funhouse mirror maze.
The first two POLTERGEIST flicks made it clear you didn’t need an old dark house to have a spooky time and this third haunt places the game board in perhaps the most unlikely space of all, a brightly gleaming, slickly modern, well-populated building. There’s really nothing like it. Sure, some of it is bizarrely off but I think this flick’s fans are attracted to just that perplexing off-ness. It’ll never be as beloved as the first or as brazenly disturbing as the second but its quirky originality deserves mucho respect too. Even if it may be a wee bit better at mystifying than satisfying, I don’t mind going on record saying POLTERGIEST III stands skyscraper tall as the most creatively audacious and mischievously innovative of the series.
NOTE: For the ultimate POLTERGEIST III fansite, fly on over HERE!