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Poltergeist III

Chicagoan Gary Sherman helmed the new sequel minus the usual optical effects trickery.

By Sharon Williams

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   Producer Barry Bernardi summed it up. "POLTERGEIST III is about a high-rise haunted house. We also use the analogy of Alice Through the Looking Glass because in this film the poltergeists often manifest themselves on the "other side" through mirrors. And, the skyscraper in which the story is set has a very high-tech decor. There are a lot of mirrors." MGM releases the new sequel June 24.*

   The production was in the news earlier this year due to the tragic and unexpected death February 1st of its twelve-year-old star, Heather O'Rourke, who repeats her role as Carol Anne Freeling. O'Rourke died of a previously undiagnosed congenital intestinal obstruction after her work on the film had been completed. The news hit the Chicago-based production hard. Said publicist John Iltis, "Heather was such a bright, sweet kid. Everyone on the production loved her."

   Though MGM had planned to conjure up a third installment in its profitable POLTERGEIST saga all along, the premise of suburban spooks had begun to wear thin. Impressed with director/writer Gary Sherman's recent actioner, WANTED:DEAD OR ALIVE and his earlier horror effort DEAD AND BURIED, the studio assigned Sherman and co-writer Brian Taggert the task of developing a new slant. Using existing material from the previous films, the scripters moved the story location out of the suburbs and into a large metropolitan area. For Sherman, born and raised in the Windy City, Chicago was the logical choice for both architectural and budgetary reasons.

   The writers have given Steve and Diane Freeling a well-deserved rest from their progeny's psychic problems. This time Carol Anne moves in with her Aunt and Uncle, Bruce and Patricia Gardner (Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen), and their 14 year-old daughter, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle). The affluent family lives in the George Wellington Streeter Center, one of the world's tallest buildings, located on Chicago's near north side–the city's Hancock building served as the exterior. Carol Anne is attending the Seaton School for Exceptional Children. Exceptional, in this case, means that her relatives think she has one helluva vivid imagination. Reverend Kane, this time portrayed by Nathan Davis (Julian Beck, Kane in Part II, died) quickly changes their opinion of the situation. He finds out that Carol Anne is in Chicago, follows her there and the family is subjected to a surrealistic assortment of mind-blowing experiences. When all seems lost the pint-sized ghostbuster Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) shows up, and eventually saves the day. Take that literally. It all happens within a 24-hour period.

   Principal photography for POLTERGEIST III began last April, utilizing many of Chicago's famous locales. The Water Tower Shopping Atrium, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and a 39-room, $4 million Gold Coast mansion were all chosen as stand-ins for fictional portions of spook city. The last six weeks of shooting were completed at the Metropolitan Chicago Corporation studio complex on Chicago's near southwest side. In this former warehouse, 22,000 square feet of soundstage was constructed to film interior scenes such as the Gardner apartment, a parking garage and several areas of the George Wellington Streeter Center. These interiors, conceptualized by production designer Paul Eads, were important for both POLTERGEIST III's sleek urban look, with lots of steel, chrome and mirrors, and the filming process itself.

   Unlike its two predecessors, POLTERGEIST III will require no post-production optical laboratory work, said the filmmakers. Director Gary Sherman's decision to limit his moderately budgeted $9 million production to physical effects and special effects makeup, was for two reasons, according to the film's producer. "Gary really wanted to prove that we could do the film using physical and mechanical effects," explained Bernardi, "and still achieve the same impact of the previous films. He also wanted to prove that cost overruns [which had plagued POLTERGEIST II] were not necessary to make a good special effects film. We put all our money on the screen."

   Oddly enough Sherman, whose most outstanding horror film is the British-lensed RAW MEAT (1972), was once an associate professor in animation and optical effects at the Illinois Institute of Technology during the late '60s. For POLTERGEIST III, however, Sherman opted to nix the opticals. "It was all filmed live," Sherman stated, "using glass, mirrors and lenses. Actually, it's just a matter of reflecting and refracting light." Use of creative camera angles and constructing rooms with mirror images was also part of the process. "Actors were trained by a mime," continued Sherman, "to react exactly as their mirror images," to create some surprising effects.

   Much of what the actors reacted to was created by POLTERGEIST III's special effects makeup department. Coordinating the group of latex laborers were John Caglione and Doug Drexler, a partnership whose credits include FX, THE HUNGER, ALTERED STATES, BASKET CASE, MAKING MR. RIGHT and STARMAN. They are both acknowledged proteges of veteran makeup master, Dick Smith, who is listed formally as a consultant on the project. Smith had worked with the duo on STARMAN and recommended them to Bernardi. Other Smith colleagues working on the film are Oscar-winner Stephan Dupuis (THE FLY) and Kevin Haney.

   With effects being done live, the shooting proved arduous for the cast. Tom Skerritt said that his role in POLTERGEIST III had "been a lot of running up and down stairs, getting wet, almost drowning in a meat locker, hanging out over a 100-story building at night with 50 mph gusts of wind blowing, and being chased by cars in a snowstorm inside a parking garage." Quipped Skerritt, "But outside of that, Mrs. Lincoln, how'd you like the play?"

*= it was released on June 10

1988 © Cinefantastique

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