Poltergeist III

Poltergeist III is a 1988 American supernatural horror film and is the third and final entry in the original Poltergeist film series. Writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor, who wrote the screenplays for the first two films, did not return for this second sequel; it was co-written, executive produced, and directed by Gary Sherman, and was released on June 10, 1988, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was panned by critics and disappointed at the box office.

Poltergeist III
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGary Sherman
Produced byBarry Bernardi
Written by
  • Gary Sherman
  • Brian Taggert
Based onCharacters
by Steven Spielberg
Music byJoe Renzetti
CinematographyAlex Nepomniaschy
Edited byRoss Albert
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 10, 1988 (1988-06-10)
Running time
98 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$9.5 million
Box office$14.1 million

Heather O'Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein were the only original cast members to return. O'Rourke died four months before the film was released and before post-production could be completed. It was dedicated to her memory. Julian Beck had died soon after the filming of Poltergeist II: The Other Side, and thus the role of the Rev. Henry Kane went to Nathan Davis in this film.


The Freeling family has sent Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) to live with Diane's sister Pat (Nancy Allen) and her husband Bruce Gardner (Tom Skerritt) in Chicago. Carol Anne has been told she is living with her aunt and uncle temporarily to attend a unique school for gifted children with emotional problems, though Pat thinks it is because Steven and Diane just wanted Carol Anne out of their house. Pat and Bruce are unaware of the events that the Freeling family had endured in the previous two films, only noting that Steven was involved in a bad land deal. Along with Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), Bruce and Pat's daughter, they live in the brand new luxury skyscraper (actually Chicago's 100-story John Hancock Center) of which Bruce is the manager.

Carol Anne has been made to discuss her experiences by her teacher/psychiatrist, Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire). Seaton believes her to be delusional; however, the constant discussion has enabled the evil spirit of Rev. Henry Kane (Nathan Davis) to locate Carol Anne and bring him back from the limbo he was sent during his previous encounter with her. Kane drains the high rise of heat and begins appearing in mirrors. Not believing in ghosts, Dr. Seaton has come to the conclusion that Carol Anne is a manipulative child with the ability to perform mass hypnosis, making people believe they were attacked by ghosts. Also during this period, Tangina Barrons (Zelda Rubinstein) realizes that Kane has found Carol Anne and travels cross-country to protect her.

That night, Kane takes possession of reflections in mirrors, causing the reflections of people to act independently of their physical counterparts. When Carol Anne is left alone that night, Kane attempts to use the mirrors in her room to capture her, but she escapes with the help of Tangina, who telepathically tells Carol Anne to break the mirror. Donna and her boyfriend, Scott, sneak into the security office while the guard is away, intending to make sure he sees only a videotape of the swimming pool while their friends are there. On one of the monitors they see a frightened Carol Anne running through the high rise's parking lot, and move to rescue her; however, before they can, all three are taken to the Other Side through a puddle by Kane and his people. By this point, Tangina and Dr. Seaton are both at the high rise, along with Pat and Bruce. Dr. Seaton stubbornly assumes that Carol Anne has staged the entire thing, while Tangina tries to get her back.

Scott is seemingly released from the Other Side through the pool, and Donna reappears after Tangina is taken by Kane disguised as Carol Anne. Scott is left at his home with his parents. Nobody notices that the symbols on Donna's clothing are reversed from what they were before she was taken. As Dr. Seaton attempts to calm Donna, Bruce sees Carol Anne's reflection in the mirror and chases her while Pat follows. Dr. Seaton is not far behind, and he believes he sees Carol Anne in the elevator. However, after Dr. Seaton approaches the elevator doors, Donna appears behind him and pushes him to his death down the empty elevator shaft. At this point it is revealed that what came back was not Donna, but a reflection of her under Kane's control, which then vanishes back into the mirror with a reflection of Scott at its side.

However, even in death Tangina is still more powerful than Kane expects. She returns long enough to give Pat and Bruce her necklace and an important piece of advice. Pat and Bruce struggle to find Carol Anne, but Bruce is captured and eventually Pat is forced to prove her love for Carol Anne in a final face-off against Kane. Tangina manages to convince Kane to go into the light with her. Donna, Bruce, and Carol Anne are returned to Pat. The final scene shows lightning flashing over the building, and Kane's evil laughter is heard.

Theatrical ending

In the original ending that was scrapped after Heather O'Rourke's tragic death, when Patricia jumps through the glass pane into the apartment, she finds Carol Anne, Donna, Scott, Bruce and Tangina frozen and dying. She then also becomes imprisoned in ice and gets attacked by Kane and her evil mirror reflection who want the necklace. Patricia tries to repel them and declares unconditional love for her family, but trips over frozen Tangina and falls to the floor. Suddenly, Tangina frees her arm from the ice and grabs the necklace. She convinces Kane that she is the one who can take him to the other side, not Carol Anne. Kane puts his hand on the necklace, but instead of ascending, his face cracks and he explodes. The blast frees everyone, but annihilates Tangina and causes a violent thunderstorm. Patricia, Carol Anne, Donna, Scott and Bruce finally leave the mirror dimension. Carol Anne sees a reflection of smiling Tangina in the mirror who waves at them and sheds a tear. With the shot of a rising morning sun, the movie ends.



Director Gary Sherman thought the idea of the city setting was just as scary as isolated suburbia. His feeling was that "there are people on the other side of the wall, and no one cares that you are in trouble".[2]

Unlike the previous films, nearly all of the special effects were live and were performed on stage. The only visual effect added in post-production was the lightning flashing over the John Hancock Center in the very final shot of the picture. Sherman himself designed the special visual effects.

The reduced budget meant that the filmmakers were unable to afford the services of Jerry Goldsmith, who had scored the first two films; Joe Renzetti was hired instead.

Corey Burton returned to provide the voice work for Kane, although he was uncredited for this effort.[3]

Death of O'Rourke

At the time Poltergeist III began shooting in spring of 1987, Heather O'Rourke had been ill for several months with what was misdiagnosed as Crohn's disease, and subsequently underwent medical treatment during parts of the filming. Principal photography for the movie lasted from April 13 to June 26 of that year, with June 10, 1988 as the film's scheduled release date. After O'Rourke completed filming, she returned home to California with her illness appearing to be in remission. However, in late January 1988, O'Rourke suddenly became ill again, her condition rapidly deteriorated, and she died on February 1, 1988 (barely a month after her 12th birthday) during Poltergeist III's post-production period.

After the completed film was rated PG by the MPAA in November 1987, Sherman and the studio decided to re-shoot at least part of the ending with a different special effects sequence. Planning and design for the new SFX make-ups took place between December 1987 and January 1988, with a possible shooting date set for early February. Following O'Rourke's death, Sherman did not want to complete the film, but pressure from the studio prevailed, and the entire ending was re-shot in March 1988 using a stand-in for O'Rourke. In April, a re-edited version of the film including the new ending was submitted to the MPAA, after which it received a PG-13 rating. The finished film proved to be a critical and box office failure. Sherman has said that although he is proud of portions of the movie (particularly the creative use of mechanical "in camera" effects instead of the traditional optical effects often seen in movies of that genre), it is the least favorite of his films.

O'Rourke's death complicated MGM's marketing campaign, out of fear of appearing to be exploiting her death.[4] Skerritt and Allen were discouraged from giving interviews about the film to avoid questions about O'Rourke's death.[5]


Box office

Poltergeist III was the lowest grossing and least attended film in the Poltergeist trilogy. It opened at No. 5, making $4,344,308 on its opening weekend, averaging about $2,953 from 1,471 theaters.[6] The film then fell out of the top 10 in its second weekend, dropping 52 percent to $2,093,783 (1,467 theaters, $1,427 average) ranking at No. 11, and bringing the 10-day cume to $8,165,286. Poltergeist III ended up with a domestic box office total of $14,114,488. The film sold 3.434 million tickets at 1988's ticket price of $4.11, compared with 25.410 million tickets for the first film, and 11.050 million tickets for the second film.[7]

Home media

MGM released Poltergeist II: The Other Side on DVD for the very first time on August 26, 2003, in a double feature collection along with Poltergeist III. To date, there has been no standalone DVD release of the film in Region 1. On September 13, 2011, MGM released the film on Blu-ray.

On January 31, 2017, Scream Factory released a Blu-ray Collector's Edition of the film including new commentaries and featurettes and the original ending before it was reshot. The ending was found among master negatives of the film and is accompanied by subtitles as the original audio track was lost. In the ending, Pat confronts Kane among the frozen bodies of Bruce, Donna, Carol Anne and Tangina with the latter grabbing the magical amulet that vanquishes Kane. The final shot features the above cast mentioned as well as Scott whose absence in the theatrical cut was never explained.[8]


Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs down" on their weekly syndicated show. They were both annoyed by how frequently the film's characters cry out each other's names, particularly "Carol Anne." Ebert said that when he went to see the film, the audience in the theater also became annoyed at the tactic and started screaming back the names towards the screen.[9] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that "Gary Sherman, who directed and co-wrote the film, has no notion of creating a coherent universe through the looking glass. He is content with fiery or body-shattering effects, interspersed with irritating small talk and accidental humor."[10] Variety stated, "Following the pattern set by his 'Poltergeist' predecessors, director-cowriter Gary Sherman demonstrates absolutely no interest in whether this film ever has a modicum of meaning as he rushes from one special effect to another. Even there, Sherman arrives too late."[11] Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times called it "another sequel that seems to exist for no better reason than justifying its title and number ... The effects, which revolve around the conceit of a demonic mirror-world, are ingenious and cleverly executed. The acting plummets into realms of posturing camp, howling corn and eye-rolling hamminess that shatter illusion like a dropped glass."[12] Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars out of four and praised the "nifty, how-did-they-do-that?" quality of the special effects, but went on to write, "Sherman gives it a shot, but he can't quite get the family tensions going that provided a psychological undercurrent for the supernatural events in Parts 1 and 2. The new characters are drawn thinly, and the old seem somewhat diminished."[13] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote, "Gary Sherman, the film's cowriter and director, has set up a showcase for scary effects, and some of them are rather nice, in a grisly sort of way. It's clear that Sherman knows how to engineer this sort of thing. What's also clear is that without some semblance of an actual movie around them, these pyrotechnics really start to get on your nerves."[14]

As of July 2019 the film holds an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 reviews (3 fresh, 14 rotten), with an average rating of 3.6/10.[15]

Rubinstein's performance garnered nominations for both a Saturn Award and a Razzie Award (which she also received previously for the first sequel).

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Result
1989 Golden Raspberry Awards Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress - Zelda Rubinstein Nominated
1990 Saturn Award Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress - Zelda Rubinstein Nominated


  1. "POLTERGEIST III (15)". British Board of Film Classification. June 22, 1988. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  2. E! True Hollywood Story: "Curse of Poltergeist"
  3. "Interview with the Voice of Kane". PoltergeistIII.com. Retrieved February 27, 2011.
  4. "Studio Unsure How To Market Latest 'Poltergeist' Movie". Lexington Herald-Leader. Lexington, Kentucky: Tim Kelly. March 27, 1988. p. J5.
  5. Cieply, Michael (March 21, 1988). "MGM Ponders Selling of `Poltergeist III'". Los Angeles Times. p. 6. Retrieved August 7, 2008.
  6. "WEEKEND BOX OFFICE : 'Crocodile' Swamps 'Rambo'; Hanks' 'Big' Hit". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
  7. "Poltergeist III (1988) - Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com.
  8. "Scream Factory's Poltergeist II and III collector's editions hit in January". October 10, 2016. Retrieved November 24, 2016.
  9. Siskel & Ebert. Buena Vista Television. June 18, 1988.
  10. Maslin, Janet (June 10, 1988). "'They're He-eere!' Again". The New York Times. C17.
  11. "Film Reviews: Poltergeist III". Variety. June 15, 1988. 12.
  12. Wilmington, Michael (June 11, 1988) "'Poltergeist III' Goes Through the Looking Glass". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 3.
  13. Kehr, Dave (June 12, 1988). "'Poltergeist III' has ghosts aghast". Chicago Tribune. Section 5, p. 3.
  14. Hinson, Hal (June 11, 1988). "'Poltergeist III': It's Ba-aack! Not Again!" The Washington Post. C3.
  15. "Poltergeist III". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
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