“Guess who’s back in town?”

The MGM logo roars, before thrusting viewers into a Chicago skyline; there’s no familiar music, no voice over, or any other identification as to what film this trailer could be advertising. Even when the tag-line finally comes, it’s still unclear – that is, until a barrage of clips arrives, some featuring Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne finally tip it off: it’s the trailer for Poltergeist III! 

I can imagine that on the big screen, this might have had audiences excited – even in the wake of a lukewarm reception to the 1986 sequel Poltergeist II: The Other Side. The reception this time around though, couldn’t even be described as luke-warm – more like ice-cold.

Much has been said – mostly by Siskel & Ebert – about the script for Poltergeist III and its bouts of name-shouting sequences. Everything you’ve heard about that is, unfortunately, totally true. Also unfortunate, is that less seem to bring up the film’s wonderful use of (mostly) unaltered, in-camera effects.

While the script has major faults – even outside of the shouting-matches – it plays with mirrors in an ingenious way. Sure, horror films have oft-mined mirrors for spooky moments, but some of the camera set-ups in Poltergeist III are spectacular; double-hallways and reversed-dressed stand-ins are just the tip of the iceberg. Certainly a few of these moments ring as cheesy (Rev. Kane looks goofy as hell, and is shown far too often), and the film drags on in more than a few moments – but even when the effects don’t work on a scare level, they’re worth checking out just to sift through how they pulled those shots off. Plus, there’s one grue-infused moment that had me punching the rewind button at least three or four times.

While I do wish these elements had have been paired with a more fully-formed script, at the very least the whole thing is downright bizarre enough at times to hold interest throughout. It’s no wonder that director Gary Sherman has gone on record saying that, while the film certainly isn’t his favourite of his own filmography, he’s proud of some of the moments in here.

As he should be.