Maybe it was Kindertrauma's loving ode to Poltergeist III during this year's Hey, Internet! Stop Being Such Cynical Effing Douchebags! blog-a-thon that got me predisposed to like a film that's almost universally reviled. After all, I tend to take the words of Unkle Lancifer and Aunt John as gospel. It couldn't be that the movie really isn't that bad, could it?
'Cause when you break it down, Poltergeist III (1988) is all kinds of lousy. Somehow, though, all the crappy elements come together to create a work of magically enjoyable crap. In other words, The crappy sum is not nearly as crappy as the crappy parts. Poltergeist III is a bit like the cinematic equivalent of Desperately Seeking Susan-era Madonna, all jelly bracelets, lace, greasy hair, untweezed eyebrows, gloves, crucifixes, oversized bows, animal prints, and neon. Each horrid enough on its own, together they form a vortex of nonsense that's disturbingly compelling.
In related news, I still loves me some Madonna despite the fact that she's slowly morphing into the puppet from Saw and I'm starting to find her thighs threatening.
It was flat out ballsy- or just plain stupid- for writer/director Gary Sherman (Raw Meat, Dead and Buried) to essentially strip away everything people loved about the first two films as he embarked on P3. Gone were most of the Freelings as Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) went to stay with her aunt Patricia and uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen) for reasons that remain vague throughout the movie (really, would Steve and Diane ever let Carol Anne out of their sight after everything they've been through?). Gone was the bland suburbia, as the action moved to a glass and chrome Chicago high rise. Additionally, Poltergeist III is more gory and teen-oriented than its predecessors. All of this new inevitably leads to cries of "Hey! What gives, jive turkey?" from legions of the world's Polterfiends. It's understandable, but sometimes change is good. Of course, I think the idea behind Halloween III is kind of a good one too, so take what I say about it with a grain of something or other.
What the film gets right, it gets really right. The ample use of mirrors as Reverend Kane pursues Carol Anne throughout the skyscraper is killer. Everyone's got a creepy, shriveled up, ne'er-do-well doppelganger and though it's cheesy at times, the effects are mostly spooky enough. Brood-esque Carol Anne in particular is bitchin'.
The biggest faults in Poltergeist III are...well, they're pretty big. The script is fairly weak and no one is given much to do beyond yelling "Carol Anne!" repeatedly- and boy, do I mean repeatedly. After it started to get on my nerves, I kept track; I counted 19 "Carol Anne!"s in a matter of ten minutes.
Despite this, most of the cast soldiers through admirably. As Bruce's daughter Donna, Lara Flynn Boyle (looking a bit like a young Lindsay Lohan), is both dull and charming. Tom Skerritt is reliably Tom Skerritt. Heather O'Rourke gives her all and rises above the material as best as she can. It's heartbreaking to watch her in her red footie pajamas, smiling though she must have been in pain, her face puffy with illness.
Nancy Allen, though...was she blackmailed into doing this picture? I love Nancy Allen, but man, she didn't even try. In fact, She was, like...anti-trying, to the point where you could read on her face how little she wanted to be there. Her performance sucked all the life out of every scene she was in, and I'm not sure why. Maybe the weight of her massive shoulder pads was too much to bear and her concentration was off.
At times, the entire production falls victim to a kind of lethargy. The most egregious example of this comes as Bruce, Patricia, and Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) set off to find Carol Ann, who has fallen into the clutches of Reverend Kane. Tangina says "We must get upstairs as fast as we can!" and the three of them proceed to take their time, casually making their way with zero urgency. There's simply not a lot of tension to be found in Poltergeist III, and it's a shame. With a heavier hand, perhaps, from the director and a bit more enthusiasm, the film really could have been something.
That said, the scene where Donna busts out of beef jerky Tangina screaming her head off is really something, and that really something is totally boss.
Poltergeist III, I know you're no good for me, but I think I love you anyway. Why oh why do I always fall for the bad ones?