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Film / Poltergeist III

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Tangina: Carol Anne and Donna are not in that room.
Bruce: Well some goddamn thing is.
Tangina: O yes. Anger, rage, evil — they are in that room.

Poltergeist III (1988) is the second of two sequels to the horror film Poltergeist.

Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) has now been sent to live with her aunt Pat (Nancy Allen), uncle Bruce (Tom Skerritt) and Bruce's teenage daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle), in a high-rise apartment building in Chicago. She goes to a school for gifted children and has to have sessions with a psychiatrist who doesn't believe in any of the supernatural stuff, and who's convinced she's just making everyone believe things. But soon the malevolent spirits, in particular that of Kane, start following Carol Anne again and terrorizing the building. This particularly gets out of hand one evening when Pat and Bruce have to attend a social event and leave Carol Anne in the care of Donna.

Poltergeist III provides examples of:

  • And Starring: The opening billing titles end with "And: Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina". She's the only person apart from protagonist Heather O'Rourke who appeared in all three filmsnote .
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Martin has a little sister called Marcy who's acting very nasty to everyone she interacts with—putting down and almost bullying Carol Anne, antagonizing Donna—and Martin is really fed up with her behaviour.
  • Arc Words: "Outside, in!"
  • Artistic License – Law: Doctor Seaton's maltreatment of Carol Anne is quackery at best and malpractice at worst. He antagonizes Carol Anne and her family, essentially bullying along with the harassing bullys at school. It's a wonder why he hasn't at least been fired by the school he works for.
  • Asshole Victim: After everything Dr. Seaton puts Carol Anne through, you can't feel sorry for how he's pushed down an elevator shaft to die by a ghost disguised as Donna.
  • Body Horror:
    • "Scott" literally tearing off half of "Donna"'s face (downplayed though since they then are revealed not to be these actual living people, but "ghosts" posing as them).
    • Donna crawling out of Tangina's dead body—see the NightmareFuel.Poltergeist III page and its image.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of the movie, when Carol Anne's "spelling game computer" asks her to spell "parakeet", Pat jokingly spells "B-I-R-D" back at it. At the end when a ghost version of Carol Anne appears to the other characters, carrying the spelling game computer, the computer asks to spell "parakeet" and then itself answers "B-I-R-D".
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Once again, the producers chose not acknowledge the existence of Carol Anne's sister, Dana, played by the late Dominique Dunne. When Carol Anne talks about her family, she mentions missing her parents and "even my brother" but doesn't mention Dana.
  • Continuity Nod: Tangina says her necklace was a gift from a powerful medicine man who walked with the spirits.
  • Cool Uncle: Carol Anne looks up to Pat, the cool younger sister of her mother, but even more to her uncle Bruce (even though he's not the one who's her blood relative), who apparently is well-liked by everybody in the building, and who seems really fond of Carol Anne himself.
  • Divide and Conquer: Tangina warns Bruce and Pat that Kane will repeatedly attempt this on them and that they must stick together. They manage it until the climax.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Pat insists on being called "Pat", as opposed to the "Trish" she apparently was called when growing up and she hates. Carol Anne has difficulty switching to this other/new name though (but not because of objections—she just is used to the habit of using "Trish" to address her aunt).
  • Easy Amnesia: Presumably, someone was able to lock away Carol Anne's memories of Kane and his cult so he could not track her down in Chicago; or Carol Anne eventually "forgot" due to trauma. Unfortunately, Dr. Seaton undoes this protection and Carol Anne appears on Kane's radar due to her thoughts and memories about him being revived.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The first thing characters notice is off, is how cold it is in the building. It turns out it's colder inside the building than outside. Then ice appears out of nowhere in the building. And it (the cold, and the evil) gets worse from there.
    Tangina: Can you feel the cold? He [Kane] is devouring the heat, the energy.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: In contrast to the first two films, this one takes place over less than a day.
  • The Final Temptation: Towards the climax, Carol Anne suddenly appears through a window and says she'll stay with Kane, but she promises Pat the others will be returned if Tangina's necklace is handed over. Pat refuses because she doesn't want to abandon Carol Anne, after all. Then it's discovered this was another ghost impersonating the child.
  • Fish out of Water: Carol Anne has difficulty adjusting to living in big-city Chicago (she lived in a California suburb in the first movie, and in an Arizona desert village in the second) and when being called out by Donna for wearing ridiculously warm cloting, she answers "Hey I'm not used to this [cold], I'm from California!"
  • Flipping the Bird: When Donna and her friends sneak past the security camera, one of the boys puts up his middle finger at the camera.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Right off the bat, images of Kane appear, first overlaid a skyscraper window washer employee, and then appearing on mirror reflections. This foreshadows that Dr. Seaton has been performing ongoing appointments with Carol Anne through hypnosis and counseling, and Kane has already found Carol Anne's general coordinates in Chicago due to Seaton tampering with Carol Anne's suppressed memories.
    • Tangina, before she, Pat and Bruce go into Carol Anne's room, says to them "Let me take the chances". She later sacrifices herself to save Carol Anne and her family.
    • Bruce and Pat are tricked by a ghost pretending to be Carol Anne, but Tangina intervenes. When Pat asks how she could tell it wasn't Carol Anne, Tangina admits surprise a blood relative couldn't. This apparently relates to The Power of Love and foreshadows the way Pat turns on Carol Anne for much of the second half.
    • During an attack, Tangina tells Bruce, "Outside in." He later realizes what she meant: Kane controls the inside of the building, but not the outside, which is how they can reach the top safely.
  • Gratuitous French: Bruce says to Carol Anne that Pat thinks being called Trish is "déclassé". When Carol Anne confusedly wonders what that means, he reverts to "Just call her Pat, will you". Carol Anne later repeats the word to a boy who's bullying her, even though she doesn't know what it means.
  • Heel Realization: After Bruce disappears after entering a window, a ghost pretending to be Carol Anne appears and insists she doesn't want to be saved because no one loves her. Pat admits she does love Carol Anne and is sorry about what she's been saying about her.
  • Idiot Ball: Dr. Seaton clearly saw poltergeist activity in the scene where a coffee cup is flung through a one-way mirror, but he continued to insist that everything was a result of Carol Anne's manipulation. This leads to a plot line where definite poltergeist activity is happening all over the place but blame continues to be put on "manipulative" Carol Anne for being the cause of all the problems. After Dr. Seaton proposes this theory, it seems to be aunt Pat who believes it most in her attempts to place blame:
    Pat: Your daughter's upstairs, a shivering, emotional wreck. Then you run out on me to chase after that evil little brat again. Don't you understand? Don't you see what [Carol Anne]'s doing? It's just like Dr. Seaton said.
    Bruce: Nothing Seaton said explains what happened tonight.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Donna, after being brought back from the Other Side, is shivering with cold and has to be put in a warm bath.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Kane at the end of movie acts like he is giving up the fight, but you can hear his maniacal laugh at the end, suggesting that he is still at large. It's unclear if it's the former or if Tangina's volunteering made her an Unwitting Instigator of Doom and Kane got to complete his diabolical plan.
  • Jerkass: Dr. Seaton... Not only is he actively trying to paint Carol Anne as a manipulative liar, and arguably not living up to the standards of his profession as a psychiatrist—he also witnesses Carol Anne being bullied at the school he's the head of, and instead of doing anything about that, just complains about him finding Carol Anne annoying.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While initially portrayed throughout as a bitchy Child Hater, it's made clear towards the end that Pat does genuinely care about Carol Anne in her own way, she's just not as comfortable with raising children as Bruce is.
  • Karma Houdini: Despite being an evil abomination and the cause of at least dozens of deaths, Kane is ultimately led into the light by Tangina, seemingly getting a happy ending that plenty of others didn't. The final scene lampshades him not really being 'gone', so who knows.
  • Mirror Monster: At the beginning, while Pat is looking away to something else while sitting in her art studio, the audience sees in the mirror behind her how the statue next to her turns its head. Also, when Kane first starts showing up, we see him as a reflection in mirrors (or glasses). Played more exaggerated in the second half of the movie, when "monsters" not just are shown in mirrors, but actively grab good characters through mirrors into "the Other Side".
  • Missing Mom: Donna's mother is not in her life. It is unclear if her mother died, abandoned her, or if her father simply got full custody after a divorce. Pat tries to be a good stepmom and Parental Substitute for Donna, though.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Zig-zagged with Bruce. Early on, he expresses a very low opinion of Steven and Diane, as he (initially) believes the two worked Carol Anne up with phony stories of ghosts, psychics, and witch doctors. On the other hand, he positively adores Carol Anne and does everything possible to make her feel at home.
  • Off with His Head!: At the end of the movie, once Pat decides she's had enough of Kane, she decapitates Kane with a shovel. Subverted though because Kane is still a ghost, and thus can't be "killed" (seeing he technically already is dead) by being decapitated.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Dr. Seaton doesn't realize that Carol Anne forgetting about Kane is vital so that Kane remains lost in the hereafter and unable to haunt Carol Anne. While Tangina does call him out for this, he had no idea what he was up against.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • In this film, Carol Anne has been sent by her family to live with her aunt and uncle in a different part of the country. Her aunt, being her mom's sister, is a bit colder towards her in comparison to her uncle, who in spite of only being related to Carol Anne by marriage ironically fills this role better of the two parental substitutes.
    • Pat also is a substitute mother to Bruce's daughter Donna (she's her step-mother, and presumably Donna's mother doesn't live anymore).
  • The Power of Love: As Tangina explains to Bruce and Pat, their love for each other (and the children) is what ultimately will defeat Kane.
    Tangina:Your love, your bond, your caring for these two children... is our most valuable weapon.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Sadly, Heather O'Rourke, the girl who played Carol Anne, died suddenly on February 1, 1988, before post-production on the film was completed. As a result, the ending was hastily rewritten with Tangina offering herself as a sacrifice substitute to rescue the others kidnapped by Kane. A substitute actress filled in for Carol Anne, and her face is hidden from view as Tangina rescues them.
  • Scully Syndrome: Carol Anne's psychiatrist, Dr. Seaton, insists that Carol Anne is "putting suggestions into everyone's minds" even when the supernatural things start happening in front of his own eyes. Sadly, this leads to Pat also turning against Carol Anne (see Idiot Ball above).
  • Sequel Hook: The film ends with a flash of light and Kane being heard laughing evilly.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: This film undoes the defeat of Kane at the end of Poltergeist II due to Dr. Seaton making Carol Anne talk about him. Not only that, but the ending to III suggests that Kane did not cross over and may still be at large, making Tangina's efforts in vain or unintentionally helpful to Kane's schemes.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: In the elevator, Pat says she wants to pack up Carol Anne's things and send her back home ASAP.
    Bruce: It wasn't her fault.
    Kane: [appearing in a mirror] YES, IT IS!
  • Skepticism Failure: Bruce in the second half. Pat takes surprisingly longer, as noted elsewhere on this page.
  • Skinny Dipping: Subverted; when Donna & friends go to the pool, one of the boys (tongue-in-cheekly) suggests going naked ("Who needs a suit?"), but this is promptly put down by another character ("You do"). They subsequently take swimwear from the pool's stock room, and wear this when in the pool.
  • Taught by Experience: Kane succeeds in getting Carol Anne (as well as Donna), but Tangina says he also wants Bruce and Pat. She says he's learned that people left behind in the living world will do anything to save loved ones he's taken to the Other Side, and he wants to eliminate that possibility.
  • Thicker Than Water: Peculiarly inverted. Carol Anne is Pat's blood relative (niece, by her sister), but from about half-way through the movie on, Pat starts to proclaim she can't wait to get rid of Carol Anne out of her life by sending her back to her parents as soon as possible, to call Carol Anne a "brat" and to basically totally abandon and walk out on Carol Anne; but Bruce, not Carol Anne's blood relative, is the one actually helping and saving her. Meanwhile, Pat seems to be much more concerned about Bruce's daughter (Pat's stepdaughter) Donna, than about Carol Anne.
  • Unholy Matrimony: The mirror versions of Donna and Scott appear to have this going on, as they passionately kiss once they've reunited and seem to enjoy being evil together
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Tangina believes that Dr. Seaton forcing Carol Anne to talk about her experiences is what allowed Kane to find her. There were glimpses of trouble before the therapy scene, suggesting Seaton was already working on Carol Anne, but things start getting real afterwards and Tangina detects Kane finding his mark with certainty.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Bruce, Carol Anne, and Donna all come back safe from the Other Side, but what happened to Scott? According to the actor who played Scott (Kip Wentz), he wasn't contacted by the director when re-shoots were done (this was the second ending, filmed in March 1988, a few weeks after Heather O'Rourke died) and he didn't find out that a new ending was shot until shortly before the film opened. The team outright admitted that in the haste to re-shoot, they simply forgot about him.
  • White Void Room: The original ending was supposed to show a progression through the apartment, where the environment goes from cold and icy, to more and more frosted over and blistery, until the Final Girl reaches a bedroom, which has become the wintery center for the villain's rage, with nothing but a zero visibility blizzard surrounding the two as they stand amongst some frozen bodies that are strewn on and around some frozen furniture. No walls, just an expanse... as can be seen here in general, and here in particular. However, the ending was re-shot in a hurried manner; it shows some frost and mist in a shadowy bedroom, but otherwise avoids this trope.