Lambasted upon its release and basically disowned by its director, Gary Sherman, Poltergeist III (1988) is the black sheep of the trilogy that began with the Steven Spielberg-produced original. Upon first look it's easy to see why this movie is perennially criticized: The story is incoherent and the characterization almost nonexistent, while the film also has a detached, cold mood that makes the film sporadically uninvolving. Then there's the ending; a messy, rushed set-piece that is very underwhelming.
But that's not the whole story. Poltergeist III, despite the myriad faults, also has a few things going for it. Thanks to Gary Sherman's insistence on practical/live effects, the film is mainly one big haunted house ride, with one dazzling magic trick after another taking place right there on the screen, most of which involve mirrors or reverse cinematography. Add to that a quick pace and some memorably creepy visuals, and you get a sequel that, though flawed, manages to be original and at times frightening.
Even though it will always be remembered as the final film of child actress Heather O'Rourke, who tragically died before the ending could be completed (which led to numerous post-production problems, including a hastily shot finale using a double for O'Rourke), Poltergeist III is worth rediscovering as an underrated, entertaining, and stylish horror film from the late 1980's, and a daring attempt to do a horror film that relies on live effects and camera tricks rather than opticals.
Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2016.