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The Poltergeist Trilogy

Poltergeist (March 20/09)

Though it's not quite able to live up to its reputation as a seminal horror effort, Poltergeist is nevertheless a compelling and consistently creepy piece of work that boasts an impressively cinematic sense of style and several above average performances. The movie follows the Freeling family - which includes Craig T. Nelson's Steve, JoBeth Williams' Diane, and Heather O'Rourke's Carol Anne - as they find themselves forced to contend with malicious spirits within their home, with the disappearance of Carol Anne triggering the arrival of several paranormal experts (led by Zelda Rubinstein's Tangina). There's little doubt that Poltergeist's opening half hour stands as its most effective and enthralling stretch, as director Tobe Hooper does a superb job of establishing the central characters and their seemingly placid suburban neighborhood - with the title creatures' appearance on the scene initially viewed as nothing more than a playful disturbance. Hooper, working from Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, and Mark Victor's screenplay, effectively ensures that the movie remains plausible even in the face of several increasingly outlandish elements, though it's worth noting that the sluggish midsection does prove a test to one's patience (ie nothing much of interest occurs in the stretch between Carol Anne's disappearance and Tangina's arrival). There's no denying that the uniformly strong performances go a long way towards compensating for the sporadically puzzling behavior of the characters, with the family's less-than-horrified reaction to the Carol Anne situation and their head-scratching decision to return to the house following Carol Anne's return certainly ranking high on the film's list of baffling inconsistencies. The special-effects heavy finale remains quite potent all these years later, while the inclusion of several impressively brutal sequences (ie the notorious bathroom-mirror interlude) ensures that one is still forced to marvel at the movie's PG rating. Poltergeist's myriad of positive elements ultimately makes it relatively easy to overlook the film's few missteps, with the ineffectiveness of the two sequels only cementing its undeniably accomplished nature.

out of

Poltergeist II: The Other Side (February 15/10)

As needless a sequel as one could envision, Poltergeist II: The Other Side follows the Freeling family (Craig T. Nelson's Steve, JoBeth Williams' Diane, Oliver Robins' Robbie, and Heather O'Rourke's Carol Anne) as they're once again forced to fend for their lives after a vicious demon sets its sights on young Carol Anne. There's never a point at which Poltergeist II: The Other Side is entirely able to justify its existence, as the film primarily comes off as a bland rehash of its superior predecessor - with the less-than-fresh atmosphere perpetuated by interludes of an undeniably familiar nature (ie a riff on the original's legendary bathroom sequence). The exceedingly deliberate pace with which director Brian Gibson has infused the proceedings is exacerbated by an opening hour that's almost hopelessly uneventful, as the ongoing emphasis on various time-killing elements ensures that one is simply unable to wholeheartedly connect to the Freelings' increasingly perilous plight. The inclusion of a few admittedly compelling stand-alone sequences can't quite compensate for the pervasively pointless vibe, and although the stars are as personable as ever (Nelson is especially charismatic here), Poltergeist II: The Other Side is ultimately unable to replicate the first film's atmosphere of familial drama and outrageous horror.

out of

Poltergeist III (February 18/10)

Picking up shortly after the events of the second installment, Poltergeist III follows young Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) as she's inexplicably sent to live with her uncle (Tom Skerritt's Bruce Gardner) and his family (Nancy Allen's Patricia and Lara Flynn Boyle's Donna) in a rather sinister Chicago high-rise. It's worth noting that Poltergeist III initially benefits from its change of locale, as director Gary Sherman - working from a script cowritten with Brian Taggert - does a nice job of infusing the proceedings with several admittedly creepy mirror-related bits of business (ie a character will walk away while his or her reflection remains still). It's just as clear, however, that Poltergeist III's pervasively aimless sensibilities inevitably render its positive attributes moot, with the almost unwatchable final half hour - in which the uniformly underdeveloped characters are left with little to do but run around and scream - effectively ensuring that the film seriously wears out its welcome as it approaches its expectedly over-the-top finale. The final result is an endeavor that undoubtedly falls right in line with its entirely underwhelming predecessor, and it's ultimately difficult to envision even die-hard fans of the original movie finding anything here worth embracing.

out of

About the DVDs: Poltergeist arrives on blu-ray armed with a striking transfer and a 31-minute behind-the-scenes featurette (and there's also a booklet covering the cast and production).
© David Nusair