Poltergeist III (1988)

Gary Sherman made Death LineDead & BuriedWanted: Dead or AliveVice Squad and Lisa, so the guy knows how to make down and dirty horror and action, right? Despite this being the third film in the series, it’s a big budget movie for Sherman, but only Heather O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein from the original film and sequel came back.

Now, Carol Anne Freeling (O’Rourke) is in a Chicago high rise and being watched over by Bruce and Pat Gardener (the dream team of Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen). Bruce thinks they just want to get rid of their problem daughter while she’s told that she’ll be attending a school for gifted kids.

One of the doctors in that school thinks that Carol Anne is insane and not touched by evil, so he keeps making her bring up the events of the last film and despite her parents efforts of sending her far away to confuse the horrifying Rev. Henry Kane (no longer Julian Beck, but now Nathan David with Corey Burton doing the voice), all that talking about him brings him right back to her. Not even psychic Tangina Barrons (Rubinstein) can save her, as he uses dopplegangers of Carol Anne to murder her and Bruce’s daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) to kill the doctor.

Of course, everyone must battle in the land beyond death and Pat has to prove that she can be Carol Anne’s mother. Sure, the end sets up a fourth movie, but it never happened.

That may be because real life found a way in.

At the time this movie started production, O’Rourke had been ill with flu-like symptoms and subsequently underwent medical treatment as the movie was filming. The theory was that she contracted giardiasis from well water at her family’s home and given the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. She was prescribed cortisone injections to treat the disease and those injections resulted in facial swelling of the cheeks, which you can see in some scenes.

After O’Rourke completed filming, she returned home to California with her illness in remission. A few months later, she became sick again, her condition rapidly deteriorated and she died a month later as the movie was in post-production.

O’Rourke’s cause of death was ruled congenital stenosis of the intestine complicated by septic shock. It was a shocking tragedy that left an unfinished film that no one was sure how to release.

Meanwhile, Sherman still wanted to reshoot the end of the film and his complicated effects were all done in camera.

The movie was released with little to no marketing, as MGM didn’t want to exploit the death of the young actress. Skerritt and Allen were discouraged from giving interviews about the film to avoid questions.

It’s not great, but the effects are worth watching. The end — where Kane is obviously not defeated — is pretty cool. Too bad no one has done anything with him. Maybe he should go to Amityville.

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