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The F*cking Black Sheep: Poltergeist III (1988)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

POLTERGEIST III (1988)

DIRECTED BY GARY SHERMAN

Gotta be honest guys, one F*cking Black Sheep of a movie I used to love watching as a kid – I’m talking about nine or ten years old when the flick ran on the infinite late-night HBO loop – is POLTERGEIST III. And not just on cable. Remember how we used to record flicks onto VHS, often two or three at a pop, usually ending up with a compilation of titles that had absolutely nothing to do with each other? Don’t front, you know what’s up. Yeah, well I think I had POLTERGEIST III on such a VHS recording with like TWINS and BLOODSPORT. Hell of a mother*cking bill.

Point is, I saw PG3 very early and in my days and quite often, and while I would never codify it as a great horror film or in any way on par with the Hooper/Spielberg original, out of pure nostalgia at this point, I still have a good amount of love for this goofy sumbitch. And having just watched it again the other day, for the first time in what has to be 20 years by now, I have to say, I still think the movie has been unjustly treated in the past. Look, sequencing classic horror films is a thankless job. Even if done well, sequels will never hold a candle to their predecessor (PSYCHO, THE EXORCIST, soon to be THE SHINIING, etc.), and it’s only with a bit of distance we can start to judge the sequels on their merits, rather than through a comparison-contrast lens.

So hey, now that POLTERGEIST III just enjoyed its 30th birthday, let’s get into why this F*cking Black Sheep deserves a goddamn hug!

Right off bat, the setting of a sinister high-rise is a hell of a way to go. That old dusty ass Kane possesses the building (John Hancock building in Chicago) through ice and water is silly, yes, but nice touch as it relates to the lore of the character. One thing that immediately strikes about PG3, and for the glaringly negative, is Julian Beck’s absence, the actor who so splendidly brought Reverend Kane to life in the first two flicks. I’ve said it before, few things raise the hairs on my extremities the way Beck does in POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE, slowly sauntering up the Freeling house in the rain and whistling f*cking Dixie. His line reading of “I get around, I always get around” continues to haunt my sister and I to this day. He’s sorely missed in part III, and talk about thankless, his replacement, Nathan Davis, does all he can but can’t help but be a pathetic ersatz Kane.

As for the rest of the cast, there’s nothing wrong with good old Tom Skerritt running the show as Carol Anne’s uncle Bruce. That’s f*cking Dallas right there! Much more seriously for me as a gawking preteen punk was Lara Flynn Boyle as Carol Anne’s cousin Donna. Too cool, too sexy, too everything. Even before we plunge into the horror, which I ultimately gravitated to more than anything, I always dug the hell out the scene where Donna and Scott (Kipley Wentz…seriously?) rig the security cams, buy beer and sneak into the pool. The very pool that would soon freeze over, convert into a portal to the other side (or the upside down if you want, Stranger Things fans) and spit both lovebirds out as foully chewed-up blobs of icy viscera. How can you not dig this flick?!

Let’s speak to the spookiness. Handicapped by Kane’s absence, Tangina’s senescence, overall, the movie isn’t overwhelmingly terrifying. Even for a f*cked-up 10 year-old. That said, there are no less than three harrowing sequences that always stood out and stayed in my mind. The first has to be that goddamn puddle scene in the parking garage. That got me. Not so much in the jump-scare of the hands lurching out or the sound-sting attached to it, which in itself is still effective, but the mere physics of Carol Anne’s submergence had my puny brain spinning. F*ck all that. That the puddle serves as another reflective portal makes the scene more pivotal to the plot than just an unrelated scary set-piece.

Another jolt to a kid’s brain comes when Donna, after being coated in bilious goop, births her way out of Tangina’s bodily portal the way Skerritt saw happen to Hurt in ’79. It’s insane! She rips, punches and beats her way out, only to later reveal it wasn’t Donna at all, but Kane working his minion black magic to fool each pawn along the way. Doubly upsetting! Making up for this, at the very least, is the death of perhaps the most detestable character in the entire franchise: Dr. Keaton. This bitch-bastard had all that was coming to him and more, which is why it’s impressive that he, as obnoxiously condescending as he is, became the only character in the franchise to be outright murdered. Love that shite!

Lastly, Kane’s decapitation and splendorous head-melting in the end always came as a welcome time. Pat (Nancy Allen) clocks the sucker with a shovel, his crusty old pate rolls off, shrivels up, liquefies into a puss-ridden puddle and dries out like a summer prune. It’s so unlike the kind of horror we get in the POLTERGEIST films that it comes as a fun surprise, even if a bit cheesy and overdone. And like I said upfront, PG3 isn’t all that mortifying, at least compared to the original, but the movie’s overall entertainment value comes from the aegis of a man I had no idea about watching the movie as a kid. Guys, I’m talking about director Gary Sherman.

The way Gary Sherman uses mirrors and reflections in PG3, just on a technical level, is downright striking. The precision, the planning, the perfect symmetry of frame; the way he sets you up and turns you around – the sheer directorial aplomb is better than people remember. That these surface-reflections intrinsically tie into the plot (Sherman co-wrote the script with OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN scribe Brian Taggert), and do so very early in the movie in way that went far over my head as a youth, only make these stylings all the more staggering. It would take me some ten years after seeing the film until familiarizing with Sherman’s work: solid horror movies like RAW MEAT, DEAD & BURIED, VICE SQUAD (please find this one), and even longer doubling back to realize he helmed PG3. Given all of the crushing drama that surrounded the production, Gary Sherman gave us a movie that not only could have been a lot worse, but should be given a fairer shake. Indeed, POLTERGEIST III is a fondly remembered F*cking Black Sheep!

STREAM POLTERGEIST III HERE

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GET POLTERGEIST III ON BLU-RAY HERE

Extra Tidbit: Give us your honest two cents on PG3 below!
Source: AITH

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