Poltergeist III

Poltergeist III Information

Poltergeist III (otherwise known as Poltergeist 3 or Poltergeist 3: We're Back) is a 1988 American horror film. It is the third entry in the Poltergeist film series. Writers Michael Grais and Mark Victor, who wrote the screenplay 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 Pictures. The film was panned by critics, and was a box office disappointment.

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.


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). Carol Anne has been told she is in Chicago 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 of the first two films, just noting that Steven was involved in a bad land deal. Along with Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), Bruce's daughter from a previous marriage, they live in the luxury skyscraper (Chicago's 100-story John Hancock Center) of which Bruce is the manager.

Carol Anne has been made by her teacher/psychiatrist, Dr. Seaton (Richard Fire), to discuss her experiences from the first and second films. Seaton believes her to be delusional; however, the constant discussion has enabled Rev. Henry Kane (Nathan Davis) to locate Carol Anne and bring him back from the limbo he was sent into at the end of the second film. Not believing in ghosts, Dr. Seaton has come to the conclusion that Carol Anne is a manipulative child with the ability to create mass hysteria and 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 drains the high rise of heat and 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, by telepathically telling her to break the mirror. Donna and her boyfriend, Scott, 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 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 a pool in the high rise, 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 Donna did not actually come back, but rather the person who came back was a reflection of Donna, under the control of Kane, who then vanishes back into the mirror, with a reflection of Scott at her side.

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. The ending is somewhat unclear. Tangina manages to convince Kane to go into the Light with her. Donna, Bruce, and Carol Anne are returned to Pat; however, it is never revealed if Scott returned, or is still trapped on the Other Side. The final scene shows lightning flashing over the building, and Kane's laughter is heard.


  • Tom Skerritt as Bruce Gardner
  • Nancy Allen as Pat Gardner
  • Heather O'Rourke as Carol Anne Freeling
  • Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina Barrons
  • Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Gardner
  • Richard Fire as Dr. Seaton
  • Nathan Davis as Reverend Henry Kane
  • Kipley Wentz as Scott


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".

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 casting 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 the first two films; Joe Renzetti was hired instead.

Corey Burton provided the voice work for Kane, although he was uncredited for this effort.

Heather O'Rourke's death and a revised ending

At the time Poltergeist III began shooting in Spring 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 began on Monday April 13, 1987 and lasted for 12 weeks, wrapping up on Friday June 26, 1987, 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 Monday February 1, 1988 (barely a month after her 12th birthday) during Poltergeist III's post-production period.

Shortly before O'Rourke's death, the studio had requested that the ending of the film be reshot. However, with her death, this made filming a new ending very difficult, given how central her character was to the film. Rather than cancel the project with so much of the film already completed, the ending was written in a way that a body double could be used in O'Rourke's place. This is why Carol Anne's face is never seen when she comes back from the Other Side during the final scene of the film. The new ending was filmed the week of March 14-18, 1988.

O'Rourke's death complicated MGM's marketing for Poltergeist III, out of fear of appearing to be exploiting her death. Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen were discouraged from giving interviews about the film to avoid questions about O'Rourke's death.


The film received extremely negative reviews from critics, resulting in a 15% rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Zelda Rubinstein's performance earned rather mixed reviews, causing to grant both nominations for a Saturn Award and a Razzie Award (which she also received previously for the first sequel) at the same time. However, despite the poor reviews for the film overall, Heather O'Rourke's performance earned generally favorable reviews from both critics and viewers. Famed Chicago film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both strongly disliked the film; both of them were extremely annoyed and frustrated by the film's exccessive use of a certain screenwriting tactic of characters crying out each other's names almost all the time; particularly the character of Carol Ann. Ebert noted that when he went to see the film, the audience in the theater also became annoyed at the film's excessive use of characters crying out other character's names, so the audience started screaming back the names of the characters towards the screen.

Box office

While Poltergeist III made back its $9.5 million budget, it wound up being the lowest grossing and least attended film in the Poltergeist trilogy. The film opened at #5, making $4,344,308 on its opening weekend, averaging about $2,953 from 1,471 theaters. The bottom fell out from then on, as the film then fell out of the top 10 in only its second weekend, dropping 52 percent to only $2,093,783 (1,467 theaters, $1,427 average) ranking at #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.

Awards and nominations

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

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