Saturday, January 21, 2017

POLTERGEIST III (1988) (Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review)

Collector's Edition Blu-ray 

Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13

Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Gary Sherman
Cast: Kip Wentz, Lara Flynn Boyle, Nancy Allen, Tom Skerritt, Heather O'Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein

The third and final film in the original Poltergeist trilogy features only two returning stars from the franchise, young Heather O'Rourke as Carol Anne and the diminutive spirit-medium Tangina as played by Zelda Rubinstein. This is not a good sign, apparently Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams didn't want anything to do with this sequel, which was probably a wise career decision. Also absent are original writers Mark Victor and Michael Grais who penned the original and the first sequel, and gone is composer Jerry Goldsmith who provided the rich, lyrical scores for the first two movies, which I think were very integral to their overall success. 

In this sequel we have Carol Anne (O'Rourke) being sent away to with her mom's sister Pat (Nancy Allen, Blow Out)in Chicago, who is newly married to Bruce Gardner (Tom Skerritt, Alien)in a 100-story luxury skyscraper. We don't get reason for why she's sent away, other than to assume since Williams and Nelson chose not to participate this was a convenient way to write them out of the story. Aunt Pat is bit of a self-obsessed 80s careerist, an art dealer who doesn't have a great connection with kids, not even her husband's teenage daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle, Twin Peaks), so she doesn't have the most maternal of instincts when young Carol Anne arrives to live with them, making Carol Anne feel like a fourth wheel. 

Carol Anne is enrolled at a school for gifted/troubled youngsters, where the head shrink, Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire, writer of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), begins to believe that her history of supernatural entanglements can be explained away by Carol Anne having the ability to project some form of mass-hypnosis or post-hypnotic suggestion, which to me sounds more far-fetched than the reality of the situation. Anyway, his probing of her psyche seems to have once again attracted the unwanted attention of the demonic doomsday cult-leader Rev Kane, this time played by actor Nathan Davis, as Julien Beck who originated the role in Poltergeist 2 had passed away from stomach-cancer. For hs part Davis does good work, decked out in prosthetic make-up which makes him look similar to Beck's character, but not an exact likeness, he looks a bit more zombie-like in appearance, sort of like the Crypt Keeper from Tales from the Crypt, and the result are certainly creepy in a way, but not on par with the iconic performance from Beck.

While all this is happening the magical dwarf Tangina senses from far away that O'Rourke is again in danger, apparently she's got a bit of The Shining in her, and she races to the high-rise with a mystical necklace given to her by the shaman Taylor from the last film, though she doesn't fare too much better than Mr. Hallorann from Kubrick's The Shining. The movie sets up the high rise luxury building as a technical marvel with some operating bugs to work out, a place with way too many mirrors, which of course plays into the larger picture. Kane and his evil spirit-minions are able to reach out through the mirrors, again trying to whisk away Carol Anne into the spirit world to lead them into the Light. Kane's reach also extends to reflective surfaces like pools of water, he is also able to possess the mirror images of people, which he does to both Donna (a sort of dull pre-Twin peaks Lara Flynn Boyle) and her bland 80s boyfriend Scott (Kipley Wentz).

The movie has some freaky special effects but they're nowhere near the level of creepy as the Giger designed make-up effects we saw on the second film, though I will say that the Great Beast at the end of the P2 was mighty awful, too. However, there are some some cool set-pieces, like when Tangina is attacked and turned into a mummified corpse, then another character crawls up through her remains, returning from the mirror-world, sort of. The mirror stuff is pretty technical and well-done, notably these are in-camera effects, they're cool, but maybe overused at a certain point. I liked the way that the Donna doppelganger's shirt had the lettering on their shirt reversed, which was a nice little detail.

While I enjoy a few touches throughout the movie on the whole it seems a tired from the beginning, the high rise setting takes away from the haunted house vibe which I enjoyed previously, the fact that the Freeling family is absent sort of kills it for me, too. The family dynamic was one of my favorite parts of the previous film, here everyone seems so disconnected. Then there's a weird scenario in the parking garage of the high-rise where everything is frozen over and the cars become murderous, the whole thing was just silly, a definite jump the shark moment. I give it props for fleeting moments of creativity and technical wizardry, but the atmosphere and suspense is null for me. Looking at the cast I like Skerritt well enough but Allen's Pat is just unlikable, and that the overwrought ending hangs on her proving her love for Carol Anne is bad. 
Also not helping is that this is the least attractive looking of the sequels in my opinion, shot in standard framing as opposed to scope like the previous films by cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy who has done some damn   decent TV work on The Americans and Big Love more recently, but this production seems flat. Jerry Goldsmith's wonderful music is also absent, instead we have a decent score from Joe Renzetti (Child's Play, The Exterminator), who had worked with director Sherman on Dead And Buried (1981), but it lacks the resonance of the Goldsmith scores, a lot of what's wrong with this picture is what's missing from it that I loved about what came before. 

Audio/Video: Like Poltergeist II this is not the first time that Poltergeist III has appeared on Blu-ray, we saw a decent 1080p presentation from MGM a few years ago, but it was bare bones. Scream Factory kick it up a few notches with a new 2K scan of the interpositive, and grain is more finely resolved, details and textures look superior, black levels are deeper and the image has a nice crispness and clarity.  Audio options on the disc come bay way of both DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround tracks. The stereo track has some good channel separation, everything comes through crisply, there's some good use of the surrounds with the score and some of the more spook-house type scenes get some rear channel action. Optional English subtitles are included. 

Oh My God! Why did we agree to make
this movie? 
Onto the extras we have two commentaries, one with director Gary Sherman moderated by Michael Felsher of Red shirt Pictures, which is mostly technical with some anecdotes about the production, taking time to speak about the death of O'Rourke. Plus a second with  Poltergeist III Webmaster David Furtney who provides loads of facts and info about the production, including alternate scenes. Red Shirt again provides a trio of new featurettes, a twelve-minute interview with Screenwriter Brian Taggert who speaks of his previous work with director Gary Sherman on Dead And Buried, being brought onto this picture, liking the director's pitch of it being Alice Through the Looking Glass sort of take on the material, even though that's not exactly what ended up on screen. Taggert also speaks about what a tough and interesting old bird Zelda Rubinstein was and the tragic death O'Rourke. 

Actress Nancy Allen shows up for a 12-minute interview, speaking about her experiences working on a movie she didn't quite understand, acting with Skerritt, and how technical and complex the film was, also stating that in her opinion it was a better sequel than the second film, to which I must respectfully say "nope". I love Allen's work in De Palma's movies and Robocop, but this was not one of her better moments in a movie, but I love you Nancy!  

Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr (C.H.U.D.) shows in for a 13-minute interview speaking about what an ho it was having special effects legend Dick Smith as the designer of the special effects, being able to facilitate his designs onscreen. Speaks about how game the cast were when it came to doing the effects, covering Lara Flynn Boyle in slime, making a body casting of Rubinstein for the mummified Tangina corpse, creating the Kane make-up for actor Nathan Davis (Thief), and the numerous in camera mirror effects seen throughout the movie 

A nice addition is a 3-minute alternate ending, no audio was available for these scenes and subtitles have been created using script pages, which was cool, not any worse than the theatrical ending in my opinion. Additionally we get the theatrical trailer, some TV spots, and a still gallery. Packaging extras include a slipcover (o-ring) with new artwork from illustrator Justin Osbourn, plus a sleeve of reversible artwork. 

Special Features
- NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive
- NEW Audio Commentary With Director Gary Sherman
- NEW Audio Commentary With Poltergeist III Webmaster David Furtney
- NEW High Spirits – An Interview With Screenwriter Brian Taggert (16 min) HD 
- NEW Reflections – An Interview With Actress Nancy Allen (12 min) HD 
- NEW Mirror Images – An Interview With Special Effects Creator John Caglione, Jr. (13 min) HD 
- Alternate Ending (3 min) HD 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 min) HD 
- TV Spots (2 min)
- Still Galleries (Behind-The-Scenes Photos, Stills, and Posters) (79 images) HD  
- Script Pages (132 pages)

The third Poltergeist film is a dud, no doubt about it, there are some inspired moments, but overall this is a downer of a sequel, and not just because of the sad passing of young star Heather O'Rourke after it wrapped. As a scary movie this is bad, which is shame for several reason, but for me it's more so because director Gary Sherman directed two classic slices of terror cinema previously, the subway horror Raw Meat (1972) and the macabre Dead And Buried (1981), both of which I cannot recommend strongly enough, they're awesome. I think Poltergeist II might be a case of a good director being thrown in director's jail after a box office dud, much the same way Robocop 3 (1993) pretty much ended the directing career of Fred Dekker (Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps). 

On the bright side, Scream Factory have put together a fantastic Collector's Editions with loads of extras and a superior A/V presentation for fans or the morbidly curious, this is one of those classic cases of a sub-par movie receiving an above par release, and I love that. 2/5

As a side note, one of the more annoying aspects of the movie aside, from Nancy Allen's awful late-80s hair, is how many times "Carol Anne" is said, whispered and screamed throughout the movie. Just for fun here's a YouTube supercut of how many time her name is said, enjoy!