Taste is subjective, but let’s face it: There are some crappy one-off horror movies, and definitely lackluster sequels to otherwise decent films. On the bright side, sequels are sometimes actually pretty good. In fact, sometimes they even threaten to outshine the originals. For some, examples might include Evil Dead II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors or Sharknado 2: The Second One. For me it would also have to include Gary Sherman’s Poltergeist III, which was definitely not a critic’s darling.

Frankly, this movie’s quality defied my own expectations, and all those critics can suck a big elephant’s trunk. Just let me be clear here: The story is ultimately ridiculous. On that I would agree. However, in the hands of a skilled director and worthwhile actors, just about any story can be made to work. While I don’t wish to build Poltergeist III up too much, it seems like many horror fans would agree with me that it’s pretty solid overall. After all, movies are made for them, not for critics!

The Performances

Yes, this is the last film that Heather O’Rourke appeared in before her tragic death. However, I’m not just being nice, sentimental and sensitive to say she greatly helped this movie by continuing as Carol Anne. She could have lived 1,000 years longer and it wouldn’t bias my view on this film either way. Of course, the other great returning actor for Poltergeist III is the mesmerizing Zelda Rubinstein, who plays Tangina Barrons.

Yet again, there’s no inherent need to be kind to her performance, at least for me. In fact, my natural instinct is to scoff at “psychic scenes” in movies, at least a little bit. However, Zelda plays her part with such conviction that, honestly, it seems she was born to play this character! In fact, none of the performances drag this film down, whether we’re talking Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Lara Flynn Boyle, Richard Fire or Nathan Davis as the freakish Reverend Henry Kane.

Cool Concepts

Photo credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

I don’t know what it is, but I’m sort of a sucker for the idea of an evil “mirror” world. While this has been explored in plenty of movies (including Jordan Peele’s Us), there’s something special about how it’s done here. Granted, it’s not as clever as adding a twist that our world is the evil one, but it’s nevertheless fun. Why is it freaky? Just stop to think of it: When you look at your reflection, you are seeing a rather literal representation of yourself. It can almost be too honest. At the same time, there’s a sense of trickery involved, of magic and mischief. For example, the “infinity mirror” is truly freaky sometimes, and not very difficult to create. But what if mirrors were a portal to another world? Well, it would be pretty startling, wouldn’t it?

Poltergeist III also has Dr. Seaton skeptical of Carol Anne’s psychic prowess, suggesting she’s putting everyone under hypnotic suggestion. That by itself is an interesting premise, too, and the interplay between a doubter and believers is often entertaining even in lesser films than this. It becomes funnier when we know that, in the Poltergeist universe, Carol Anne is legit. From the very start we know Dr. Seaton is wrong, and quite possibly a fool. Yet, at the same time, he would be quite reasonable to assume some elaborate scam is afoot.

Still, while portals to another dimension open up around him, he reaches the point where even he is uncertain of his uncertainty. One gets the sense that this character’s skepticism would eventually drive him crazy, as he sees events unfold which defy doubt. At the end of the day, Poltergeist III is fun to watch while also making us think. That’s why it joins the aforementioned A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 as being one of the best Part 3 movies in horror.

What are your thoughts on Poltergeist III? Does this article praise it too much?

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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