Poltergeist III takes the film franchise out of the suburbs and into the city, shifting the focus from the family dynamic of the Freelings to an elaborate apartment complex festooned with mirrors all over its surfaces. Director Gary Sherman has the unfortunate task of tackling a Poltergeist film that lacks connection to the previous installments besides the return of Kane (Nathan Davis), this time pursuing Carol Anne through mirrors and puddles hoping she’ll finally lead him to the light. Poor plotting and a lack of direction result in this dreadful final entry in the trilogy, a film the Poltergeist series could have done without.
The first mistake Sherman and co-writer Brian Taggert make is eliminating the rest of the Freelings from the film and opting for a surrogate family, in this case Carol Anne’s aunt Pat (Nancy Allen) and uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt). Diane and Steve Freeling’s relationship is lost in Poltergeist III, as is the attachment to character so prevalent in the previous films. Instead, this sequel opts for a less character-driven approach, to the point where the movie resembles more of a slasher with nameless teens – including Carol Anne’s cousin Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) – running around the apartment complex stealing beer from a store and looping security cam footage so they can use the pool.
There’s no tension or stakes in this subplot, nor are there many characters to actually root for. With Carol Anne out of the picture – sucked into the mirror spirit world in much the same way that occurred in the original Poltergeist, although this time without a television – the rest of the characters are derivative and often annoying, with Allen’s Pat becoming the most frustrating part of the film. Her continual denial of paranormal things happening to her, like being trapped in a car garage that has miraculously transformed into a winter demolition derby, becomes ludicrous the longer the film progresses. Even Carol Anne’s therapist, Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire), is largely unmemorable despite a ridiculous oversized sweater and nearly abusive patient relationships.
What does stand out, however, are Poltergeist III‘s numerous mirror tricks, which do emphasize the amount of work done behind-the-scenes to make these feel realistic. While the film’s mirror world is disconnected from the rest of the franchise’s explanation of the spirit realm, the special effects are quite good in particular scenes, and viewers will likely get some entertainment out of keeping an eye on the many mirrors in the backgrounds of shots to look for subtle differences in the characters’ movements.
As stated, though, the mirror world in the film doesn’t necessarily jive with the previous entries in the series, and Poltergeist III wholly feels like an entirely different film besides the presence of Tangina and Carol Anne. Likewise, Sherman’s direction lacks cohesion, noticeable at the ending of the film when Tangina’s warnings and mystical necklace actually have little to do with the conclusion (the alternate ending, included on this disc, is actually somewhat better at using this Chekhov’s amulet). Poltergeist III suffers from an alarming number of half-baked ideas, resulting in an overly simplified ending that wastes Tangina’s death on something less than cathartic.
Poltergeist III is a disappointing ending to the trilogy, and it has the added misfortune of being forever associated with Heather O’Rourke’s death. Sloppy and curiously lacking the elements that made the other Poltergeist films successful, Sherman’s entry in the series is unmemorable – though it does foreshadow the later television series Poltergeist: The Legacy, equally unrelated to the series besides name and an episode also directed by Sherman.