Mystery of the Re-Shot Ending (2 of 3)


From "Gorezone" magazine (U.K.), February 2006. Issue #6.

From Mystery to Controversy:
The Last Word on the Poltergeist III Ending

By David Furtney

In the last issue of "Gorezone," director Gary Sherman had this to say about me:
“The quote you mention was from an interview he [composer Joe Renzetti] did with someone he found to be ‘annoying, stupid and pedantic…’ This interviewer, who had been pestering everyone, including me, looking for ‘dirt’ was barraging Joe. To get him to stop, Joe gave him a bullshit interview filled with whatever it took to stop the harassment."
The “someone” Sherman refers to is me. First of all, I never claimed to be an “interviewer.” I let “Poltergeist III” composer Joe Renzetti know from the beginning that I was simply a big fan of the film. At the time, Joe and I exchanged a series of polite emails back and forth. I sent the first one in July 1997, right before my senior year of high school began, and then about 3 or 4 more the next year, asking about various details regarding his work on the film. Joe may very well have thought I was “annoying and stupid,” (I was only 18 at the time, after all) but he never said so to me, nor did he in any way indicate he was tired of our correspondence. He was sarcastic, and at one point jokingly asked me how the “book” was coming along, referring to it as “the making of Polt 3.” I actually have copies of those emails still saved. You can read the extent of our conversations at
In the above quote, Gary claims I was “pestering everyone” involved with the film. This could not be further from the truth. As I wrote in my original “Gorezone” article, after Joe stated that the ending of P3 was a re-shoot, I sent Gary Sherman one email asking what the original ending was, since Joe didn't remember much except for the "frozen bodies." I wasn’t trying to get “dirt” on anyone; before I contacted Joe, I had never even considered the possibility that the film‘s original ending was never shot, nor that a re-shoot could have taken place (since it had always been reported that Heather finished the movie before she died); I was simply curious as to why it ended so quickly without Carol Anne‘s face being shown.
When Gary wrote back that polite, detailed response claiming that Joe’s recollection “wasn't exactly right” and that the original ending had never been shot, it made sense to me. Mr. Sherman was, after all, the director of the film. And the co-writer. And the executive producer. And the visual effects designer. So, he above anyone would know what really went on. I thanked him for his taking the time to email me back. I followed up with a few more questions, like “Was the ‘Scott’ who comes up out of the pool the real one?” And "why did lightning strike the high rise at the end?” and “What was the original ending going to be? “ to which he responded:
“1. Tangina was going to sacrifice herself in exchange for Carol Anne. She would have led Kane and the others ’into the light’ to the other side.
2. Re: Scott. Look closely. The Scott who comes out of the pool is a mirror image. Look at his sweatshirt.
3. The lightning was only to punch up an ending that we all hated.”
He later told me that he was brought on board the film after JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, and writer/producers Michael Grais and Mark Victor had declined to do another sequel, and that the idea of doing the story in Chicago and have Carol Anne staying with relatives was his. He described the reason for wanting to do the SFX live on stage, saying that with optical effects at the time, the film lost quality after each generation was made in the optical printer, and he wanted the image to be as clean as possible. At one point, I informed Gary of a short blurb about him I saw in "Fangoria" magazine, in which it was reported that he was about to start work on a new series. Gary asked me where'd I'd read it, and then said the report wasn't true, adding "don't believe everything you read." In the same email, he offered to mail me a copy of the EPK (electronic press kit) for "Poltergeist III." I thanked him for the offer, and gave him my address at the time. The tape never arrived (though I was able to get a copy of it from someone else later).
It wasn't until another year or so passed that I began to notice some contradictions, mainly when I contacted actor Kipley Wentz. He insisted that the film’s ending was a re-shoot, matching what Joe first told me. It was at this point that I emailed Gary again, to try and get some further clarification. This time Gary became far less helpful in answering my questions. When I asked him about a couple of publicity still photos I had discovered that appeared to show parts of the original scripted ending, Gary said “the publicity stills were shot at a different time than the actual scene. The original ending was never shot.” That explanation seemed to make sense (although I found even more stills later, included in this article). When I mentioned the fact that Kip Wentz said he recalled filming the original ending (showing the characters huddled together after "thawing out" and Carol Anne tearfully waving goodbye to Tangina), and was surprised when he went to the premiere and saw a totally different ending no one had told him about nor asked him to be involved in, Gary stuck by his version of the story, saying "well that's the way I remember it. I don't want to talk about it anymore."
Realizing that something wasn't adding up, I began trying to email all the other people I could find who worked on P3, in an attempt to obtain their recollection of what took place. I decided to stop emailing Gary, since I figured at that point I was annoying him, but not intentionally. I realized he wasn't going to give me any more details. I also recall telling him that I understood how awful the tragic loss of Heather O’Rourke must have been, and that I didn't want to make him talk about something he didn't want to discuss. However, I was still intent on obtaining any information I could from other cast and crew. Believe me, if I would have received a statement from anyone corroborating what Gary said (that “Heather died before the ending was filmed”), I would have gladly included it in my research. It’s not my fault that everyone else who spoke to me said “it was a re-shoot.” In other words, don't blame the messenger. To this date, I have yet to find even one source who can confirm Gary's account. [UPDATE: In April 2007, Nancy Allen gave a live Fangoria radio interview in which she responded to a question I'd sent in via email.  She appeared to confirm Gary's story, but her claim is not credible either. She said:

"Yeah this is a question that comes up a lot...there wasn't really a re-shot ending...we did pick up shots but it wasn't a different ending because Heather was because we really didn't get the shots when we were there...and they had to use the double because Heather was, she had passed away at that point."

Notice she says they still had "pick up shots" to do when Heather died, which even conflicts with Gary's version that they still had "17 pages of script, most of which was to be the ending," to film. Neither can be true because at the time of Heather's death the film had already been rated PG. So, by definition, anything filmed after that point had to have been either re-shoots or the filming of additional scenes.
As a recap, here's what I did find:
Producer Barry Bernardi: “I recall that Heather died before the re-shoot and that we used a double.”
Actor Kip Wentz: “I was in Los Angeles when they re-shot the ending.”
Editor Jeanne Bonansinga: “The ending was later re-shot in LA because the studio didn't like the original ending. We tried to cut in some shots from the original ending to see her face, but very few were usable.”
SFX designer Doug Drexler: “MGM shot a new climax to its Spielberg instigated spook show carried on by director Gary Sherman, and we were invited.” (Not to mention the title of Doug’s 1988 article: “Poltergeist III and a half: The Re-shoot”).

In fact, here's the first page of Doug's article:

So, even if Joe Renzetti was giving me a “bullshit interview” about the ending being a re-shoot (a possible, but highly unlikely and ridiculous explanation), how does Gary explain the quotes from the people above? In addition, what about his own quote (emphasis mine), from the July, 1988 issue of “Cinefantastique” magazine: (Volume 18 No 5, page 39):
“I became so fascinated with Tangina’s dehydrated remains that we also did one for Bruce and Donna for the scene where Pat comes into the ice storm at the end. She’s being chased through the storm by Kane, falls and finds Bruce’s and Donna’s remains. Then I decided to change the ending. Tangina actually accomplished Kane’s death so I thought we should see Kane transformed into one of those dehydrated remains. It all became much more complicated than what we were initially going to do, but Dick, John, and Doug came up with something incredible.”
That “something” ultimately ended up being the sequence now in the film when Nancy Allen slices off Kane’s head with a shovel, and then the head decomposes on the floor. This scene was discussed in Doug’s 1988 "re-shoot" article. When Gary was asked in the previous issue of “Gorezone” about the scene of Kane’s face exploding ("what we were initially going to do,"), he insisted this was never filmed. I was able to get (what I at first thought) was some confirmation of this after speaking on the phone with legendary makeup artist Dick Smith (“The Exorcist”). When Mr. Smith looked at the Kane photo, he said that from his recollection, that photo was only a makeup effects test shot, and that the full “exploding face” effect was never filmed. But while it may be true that the full effect was never filmed, the part where Kane's face lights up apparently was.

This Kane "lines of light" face pic (which was an on set publicity still taken of a prop head that Smith created):

was the first iteration of Kane's demise. Later, it was decided to re-do that shot with a different version, seen below. These shots were photographed and filmed, with the resulting footage replacing the above shot: 


Doug Drexler said he recalled the “frozen bodies” scene being filmed during principal photography (the bodies were created by Cal Acord’s effects crew, not Drexler’s).
“Poltergeist III” was rated PG in November of 1987. MGM may have wanted the film to appeal more to the PG-13 demographic, so plans were apparently made to re-shoot the rest of the ending with more graphic scenes. Mr. Drexler said he recalled Gary flying out to New York City with the rough cut of the film to discuss changes to the ending, likely in December of 1987. In some of the notes Drexler sent me from this meeting, Doug wrote: "I don't think Zelda should come back at the end. It's very confusing." Another set of notes said "Ed [Edward Ledding, the production manager] says "Budget not approved. Actors not available for shoot date. Effect should be in hold mode."
Through my web site, I made contact with a man named Mr. Macklin Crux. He is a writer and performer who lived in New York City in 1987-1988. He claims to have been invited to a “distributor’s screening” of P3 in late 1987. The cut he saw featured scenes not in the finished film, including what he says was an ending different from the one released theatrically:
"I can confirm what Kipley has written.  I was invited to a 'rough cut screening' of Poltergeist III. I don't remember the dates but there was very little music and some of the FX shots were still being worked on. During some scenes we saw sketches. It was at the world trade center and it was only time I ever went there. We saw the movie. Months later our same group was invited to another screening and the death of Heather O'Rourke came up. The film was eventually released on video and it was clear this was a different ending. At the time I didn't give it much thought. But I can verify the movie had finished shooting when O’Rourke died. It wasn't that bad of a movie, in fact I enjoyed it but it certainly deserved better from its producers…
This screening was at the World Trade Center (the 9/11 one in New York City). As I understand it, SFX and editing were being done in Brooklyn (I could be wrong). [Actually, Crux is right-I learned that Doug Drexler's SFX makeup lab was in Brooklyn] This was not a test screening. This was for Distributors and Industry people only and it was more of a party atmosphere. I remember hardly being able to watch the film because it wasn't dark, we sat near a window and the view was better than the movie and my (ex) wife got really plastered. There were about 30+ people and there was lots of food, drinks and an old-fashioned Pop-corn trolley. I also seem to remember a lot of security.
We were also invited to rough cuts of Die Hard, Good Morning Vietnam, Gaby, and several others. Poltergeist III (and Gaby) stand out because of the differences. We got a free video in the mail, immediately following the opening (we watched it July 4th with friends). So while the rest of the country was seeing it in theatres, we had somehow got on a list for an advanced copy. The box was the same, which makes me think, they almost went straight to video but it was with a disclaimer at the bottom of the entire movie and included a featurette which presented a marketing strategy for the video release. I also remember that the video did very well but mostly from corporate and small business sales (for renting, not individual sales).
Please forgive me for saying so but the version I had seen featured O'Rourke much more than the final cut and not just the ending. The released version is a much better cut with less O'Rourke. Many cruel things were said at the screening about O'Rourke's acting ability. She may have been a cute kid but was unable to carry a film despite a great support cast. Knowing what I know now, I believe the cut had nothing to due with O'Rourke's death and everything to due with saving a project that over estimated O'Rourke's ability and her link to the two previous films. I should also mention at the screening, no one was looking for advice. [Regarding the ending]
I remember the family frozen (and it didn't look like an egg fest), the amulet and Kane touching it (and thinking how cheesy). I remember: Carol Anne & Tangina waving goodbye, no dialogue and it was slowed down (slow Motion), they were both crying.
I remember a small monologue which came off pretty good at the time in which Carol Anne tells [Pat to go away before she transforms into Kane], maybe 5 or six lines...I don't remember what was said but someone did remark ‘Carol Ann's getting pissed'’ and we all laughed. [NOTE: This scene remains in the finished film, right before the ending]

I've worked in Hollywood and NY for a while. No one orders a re-shoot during production.  Re-shoot means after Principle photography ends.  You have to see the rough cut and try to see what's salvageable.  If it involves script changes (re-writes), it takes time, money, and approval from many different sources. No one ever shelves a project that has finished photography. Get Real. I believe it came down to; do we release what we have or should we throw a little more money at it and get the focus off O'Rourke. I think a lot of these stories were concocted in order to save the reputation of a little girl with very limited acting ability who recently died not to mention their own collective asses. So I believe, principle photography ended, O'Rourke died while at the same time changes were being discussed and possibly being executed, and then a new final version was made and released. I also believe the re-write was written by a third party but that's just my opinion.  Rarely, a re-shoot is written by the originals involved.  Someone brought in by the studio to bring a new outlook to the project.
One detail I forgot to mention - there were no credits and the invitation was for ‘Poltergeist III: The Final Chapter.’  [or it also may have been called "We're Back...Poltergeist Continues]
It was around Christmas time and probably Dec. [Actually it was more likely in early November, right before the finished film was rated PG by the MPAA] It wasn't snowing yet but that night I remarked that it wasn't far away. I had just finished a musical about Monet (I really can't remember the name) in which I had the lead and finished up with ‘Drood’ that same year. I was an Actor but I was investing in a corporation called Media Depot which distributed VHS, CD's & other media to stores in the tri-state area.
We were considered a big outfit back then and were invited to a whole bunch of different events.  Today I write and edit and on rare occasions perform."

Here's Doug Drexler's work calender for the March, 1988 re-shoot of the ending. He had to fly out to Los Angeles from NYC the evening of Monday, March 14th. He worked on the SFX makeups at MGM through the end of the week. Notice the "melting head shoots" notation on Friday March 18th. That was the last shot of the film (Gary Sherman was quoted in Doug's article as saying "That's a wrap!" on that day).

Here's an excerpt from a March 21, 1988 “LA Times” article titled “MGM Ponders Selling of ‘Poltergeist III‘” (the article was published a week after the re-shoot quietly took place, and it's clear that the studio's PR department either did not tell reporter Michael Cieply about the re-shoot, or did tell him "off the record," for publicity reasons that should become clear):
The sudden death last month of "Poltergeist III" child star Heather O'Rourke brings MGM face to face with one of the toughest dilemmas any studio's movie marketers can expect to encounter.
The second "Poltergeist" sequel was already in the can, at a cost of more than $10 million, when the 12-year-old actress died of what had seemed to be flu symptoms, but proved to be septic shock from an unsuspected bowel obstruction. Now MGM has to sell the picture without seeming to exploit Heather, and without creating ghoulish confusion between screen threats to little Carol Anne Freeling and the young actress who played her.  "We're caught in a dilemma," acknowledges MGM marketing senior vice president Barry Lorie.
So how will MGM catch the eye of teen terror-fiends without deeply offending their parents? The studio hasn't firmed up marketing plans for the June 10 release yet. But some things are clear:
–Publicity is out: Promotional interviews are a favorite tool in selling horror films, and O'Rourke did some publicity for the earlier films. But MGM wants stars Tom Skerritt and Nancy Allen generally to avoid interviews, which would inevitably lead to maudlin questions about Heather.
–Testing is in: Before setting up an ad campaign-which might or might not feature O'Rourke-the studio plans extensive audience-reaction screenings. The tests might help MGM calculate how viewers take to such touches as a proposed dedication to O'Rourke, whose "They're here" and "They're back" lines helped sell the first two films.
David Wardlow, Heather's agent and a close associate of her mother, says the film "will be dedicated to Heather. There's no question about that." But Wardlow says the survivors have no veto rights over marketing plans.
–Meanwhile, safe is better than sorry: Scrambling to regroup after O'Rourke's death, cautious studio executives trimmed a shot of the actress from their initial trailer. But they left in a voice-over in which she delivers the new kicker: "Guess who's back in town...?"
Producer Barry Bernardi, Lorie and Wardlow all said they didn't believe the film would need special editing to defuse any horror scenes that might seem tasteless in light of O'Rourke's death.

[Probably because the "special editing" (re-shoot) to defuse (remove) such "tasteless" horror scenes-the frozen Carol Anne-had already been done!]

In January 2006, I sent an email to Barry Lorie, who was the marketing senior vice president for MGM back in 1988 and who was quoted in the article excerpt above. I asked him if he could shed any more light on how the studio handled publicity for the film after Heather's passing. Here's what he sent me:
"It's too long ago for me to recall any more info than you already have. MGM wasn't too keen about the picture from the git go, and with the untimely death of the child, it was a project that sort of fell through the cracks. I'm sorry I can't be of more help. B. Lorie."
Article concludes here: