Tom Skerritt was the JAM in the 1970s and 1980s. He is an Emmy award winning actor with major roles in blockbuster films like Top Gun and Steel Magnolias. His mustache was iconic. He was also in 1988’s ill-fated Poltergeist III.
When horror fans discuss bad sequels, Poltergeist III comes up a lot. I get it – it’s not the same Reverend Kane, the plot revolving around Carol Anne feels tired after the first two movies, and the tragic death of Heather O’Rourke made the film’s marketing complicated and the intended ending impossible to film. But after watching it 32 years later, I’d argue there’s a lot to love.
The film mostly takes place in a high-rise apartment building, a setting not often effectively used in horror films. Skerritt’s position as the building manager is a fitting representation of the excess and booming economy of the late 1980s. The floor in which the Gardner family resides has a mirrored hallway which look supremely creepy even without the sinister Kane peering from within. Mirrored doors and walls were a big thing in the 70s and 80s; a trend I hope never resurfaces.
I actually completely forgot about Carol Anne’s school psychiatrist, who is convinced that Carol Anne can manipulate people into a deep hypnosis in order to hallucinate. First of all, in what conspiracy-theory led world would this be an applicable diagnosis to a psychiatrist? But I digress. What it does accomplish though is having someone external to Carol Anne’s family wondering what the hell is wrong with her.
Let’s talk about Lara Flynn Boyle. Her character’s name is DONNA! In 1988! It’s almost like David Lynch watched the film and was like “that Donna is my Donna”. Horror in the 1980s was all about groups of absent minded teenagers being terrorized by some sort of killer, so I suspect the director created Donna’s character to include that element. I love the pool scene where Donna and her boyfriend fall through the puddle into the other side. Dark puddles are scary. Avoid them. And I mean there’s a lot going on in this sequel. Tangina can use telepathy to talk to Carol Anne a la The Shining. Okay. I’m not hating on my girl Tangina, because she’s amazing.
What I love most about this sequel, though, is that it’s the only one that really digs into the possibilities and powers of the ghosts on the other side. That they can possess images, manipulate people and capture people to take them into their world. That’s objectively creepy! Reality bending ghosts, y’all. Looking to scoop up your souls. Oh, my heavens.
Heather O’Rourke’s tragic death prevented this sequel from getting a proper release and recognition, and perhaps rightfully so. It was the respectful thing to do not to capitalize on her death, and I get that. But give it another watch. And then tell me if you are or are not freaked out by hallway mirrors!