Film Review: Poltergeist III (1988)

Also known as: Poltergeist III: We’re Back
Release Date: June 10th, 1988
Directed by: Gary Sherman
Written by: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Lara Flynn Boyle

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Carol Anne!” – the whole damn cast, the whole damn movie

Fuck.

Sorry, this made me angry.

Yes, I have seen this film before but it has also been a really long time. While I re-watch the first two every few years, I just remembered this one being so terrible that I never had the urge to see it again. However, it is actually much worse than what I remembered. But since I wanted to revisit all three of these movies for review purposes, I had to tough it out and try to get through this 98 minute mess.

Let me start with the positives of this film to quickly get them out of the way. Surprise, surprise… there is only one positive: the special effects.

Now the general creature effects are actually worse than the two films that predate this, but there are some really good optical effects in regards to how mirrors were used in this picture. There are several scenes where a character is moving on one side of the mirror and evil haunted shit is happening in the reflection. These effects were pulled off magnificently for being done in an era where this couldn’t be achieved through CGI or other easier modern means. There are a few spots were the effect doesn’t work because there are two different actors having to mimic the same movements, like when Nancy Allen’s back is turned away from her evil reflection, but for the most part, this stuff came off great.

But seriously, that’s it for the positives.

I should mention that Tom Skerritt was pretty okay too but I miss Craig T. Nelson.

The rest of the film is plagued by an atrocious script that should have been bird cage liner. Then there is just a slew of unlikable characters who give the audience a clinic on terrible acting and line delivery. Most importantly, this is, by far, the most unimaginative film in the series. The mirror idea was cool to explore but this is all that the movie has going for it and they do it to death. There are literally walls of mirrors and glass in just about every fucking room in this film.

The third act of the movie is just actors running around screaming each other’s names over and over and over and over and over again. Fuck, the final act of this film is mind numbingly repetitive and infuriating.

Plus, this undoes the whole point of the second film, which was about the family’s love for one another overcoming evil. Now Carol Anne’s parents shipped her off to an aunt’s house in Chicago and the family isn’t together. So… yeah, what the fucking fuck?!

It’s terrible that Heather O’Rourke died before this film came out and that it probably ruined any chance for another sequel but regardless, this film alone killed the franchise anyway. I mean, it didn’t just kill it, it took a big ass hippopotamus shit on it.

Man, did this franchise fall into the murky depths of awful.

I think it is best to just ignore this chapter in the franchise and to see the ending of the second film as the true ending of the story. This was just some terrible fan fiction.

And Jerry Goldsmith is terribly missed because this movie’s score sounded like a drunk ape pounding its fists onto a Radio Shack keyboard.

I have to go puke now.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake. And really, you should probably ignore this one too.

Film Review: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Based on: characters by Steven Spielberg
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes, 130 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“You’re all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!” – Kane

Most sequels aren’t created equal and the general consensus is that this one isn’t very good. Hogwash! I love it! Not as much as the first but it’s still a great ’80s horror film and better than most movies like it.

What makes this a solid entry into the short lived film series is that it broadens the mythos. Really, in the first film, there wasn’t much of a backstory. All you knew was that the house was haunted by evil and as the movie rolled on you discovered that it was built on top of a graveyard. This film sort of ignores the generic graveyard under the house idea and puts something even worse under the house: Reverend Henry Kane and his dead followers.

Kane, as played by Julian Beck in this movie, is absolutely fucking frightening. He is, hands down, one of the greatest screen villains of the era and more of a horror icon of the time than modern history seems to remember. He was a pure force of evil in a time when slashers ruled the horror genre. He wasn’t a slasher, he was something more powerful and more cunning. Julian Beck played Kane so profoundly that it is impossible not to get chills during the doorway scene when he confronts the family on their front porch. Honestly, it is my favorite moment in this entire franchise.

The film also adds in Will Sampson as a Native American named Taylor, who is actually known as the Medicine Man and is Kane’s nemesis. Taylor arrives at the family’s new home, convinces them that he is there to help and then lives with them in an effort to keep them safe from Kane’s attempts at stealing away Carol Anne. I loved Sampson in this and it is probably my second favorite thing he has done after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The entire family returns for this film, except for Dominique Dunne, as she was murdered by her boyfriend in real life. But that’s just one of many tragedies that surround the cast of this film series, which some consider to be cursed.

Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina, the clairvoyant that helped the family survive the first movie. Some of her lines in the film are pretty cringe worthy but I can look past this stuff in ’80s horror pictures. But it is probably worth noting that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She would also be nominated again for the same award for her part in Poltergeist III. However, she did win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for the first Poltergeist.

Craig T. Nelson had more to do in this movie, as he took a bit of a backseat to JoBeth Williams in the first one. I thought he did really well and his emotion and doubt were conveyed pretty convincingly, as he just wanted the forces of evil to leave his family alone.

The special effects in this were also spectacular for 1986. While some of the cloud effects and matte painting work is very noticeable in modern HD, the CGI ghost effects were stellar and have held up well. The scene where young Robbie is attacked by his braces still looks incredible. Also, the practical creature effects used for the beast form of Kane, as he crawled through the bedroom without legs was stupendous. This definitely deserved the Academy Award nomination it got for special effects.

Lastly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score seems to come alive more in this chapter. His theme to the series is expanded on and presented in new ways. I miss movies that had scores like this. Movie music nowadays just isn’t as memorable.

Poltergeist II is not on Poltergeist‘s level but there is a part of me that enjoys it more because the villain was clearly defined and scary as hell. Plus, Sampson and the Native American influence were great additions to the proceedings.

And sure, the big final battle with Kane on “the other side” is ’80s cheese to the rind, but I still friggin’ love it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella, James Karen, Michael McManus

SLM Production Group, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] [talking to the television] Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can’t hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can’t hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.” – Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist was a massive hit back in 1982. I was too young to see it in the theater but once it hit TV, it was on all the time. It was also one of the few horror movies to actually scare the shit out of me. While those scenes aren’t as effective to my 39 year-old brain now, throughout the ’80s, I was terrified of clown dolls, creepy trees and the possibility of my face falling off just by washing it. Hell, I was afraid to turn the television off when there was snow on the screen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that haunted infernal machine.

There was just something about the styles of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper coming together that created a special kind of magic that complimented the two men’s styles even more. Granted, there was a lot of friction during the production of this film and bad blood formed between the two men but the end result is quite exceptional and still carries that magical quality today, thirty-six years later. In fact, the sequels didn’t come close to capturing lightning in a bottle like the original did and I really feel like that is due to Hooper not directing them.

The special effects in this are damn good for the time and the movie does feel like its a big budget affair when compared to other ’80s horror. This is much closer in special effects quality to Ghostbusters or Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters than say Friday the 13th or Halloween III.

Poltergeist also has a really solid cast with Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Beatrice Straight. I also love that James Karen is in this, even if he isn’t as over the top as he was in Return of the Living Dead.

On paper, if you ignore the two capable directors behind this, Poltergeist is really just a run of the mill haunted house story. This is a tale that’s been told a million times but something about this film is just different and better. I wish I could define it with words but for fans of ghost stories, you just sort of have to experience this. I’d hate to keep using the word “magic” but there really isn’t another word to fit what this is.

I love this movie. Even if it scared the everliving crap out of me as a kid, I still watched it… a lot. As an adult, I still throw it on every couple of years and never grow tired of it.

Plus, for those ’80s horror aficionados that love those rotating room scenes in A Nightmare On Elm Street, this movie did it first. And it did it nearly three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Sixteen Candles (1984)

Release Date: May 4th, 1984
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Schoeffling, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Gedde Watanabe, Billie Bird, John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Jami Gertz, Brian Doyle-Murray, Zelda Rubinstein

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Can I borrow your underpants for 10 minutes?” – The Geek

This was the movie that put John Hughes on the map and made him one of the most prolific directors and writers of the ’80s and ’90s. While not my favorite Hughes film, it still has some charm, resonates today and set the stage for his better films that would follow.

One thing Hughes was really good at doing was tapping into the teenage psyche and making it relatable to audiences of any age. In a way, his approach makes his films feel timeless, even if they are bogged down in ’80s cliches and tropes. While his films may feel like a cultural time capsule they still feel genuine and his characters still feel authentic.

While the teen comedy genre was already booming by the time that Sixteen Candles came out, it was this film that created some of the tropes that became synonymous with the style. While Fast Times at Ridgemont High predates it by two years and set the stage, it was a much more serious film at its core. Sixteen Candles keeps things fairly lighthearted and it also doesn’t delve into the teen sex comedy well as deeply as most of the similar films of the time like Private SchoolThe Last American Virgin, etc.

This was really Molly Ringwald’s breakout performance. She had appeared in a few films and was on the early episodes of the sitcom The Facts of Life but it was here that she became a major bankable star in the ’80s.

This film also helped Anthony Michael Hall become a household name, even though he had already done National Lampoon’s Vacation, by this point. He would be a pivotal part in two more of Hughes’ teen films: The Breakfast Club and Weird Science.

It’s worth noting that the sibling duo of John and Joan Cusack also had roles here.

Sixteen Candles was a great foundation that Hughes used to propel his career forward, thus giving us several great pictures. Without this movie, Hollywood in the ’80s and what became known as teen comedies, would be very different. Hell, everything today could still just be Porky’s and Meatballs clones.