By Peter Travers
June 27, 1988 12:00 PM

Sad-sack sequels and silly superstition about a cast jinx are quickly overshadowing a remarkable movie. The original 1982 Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper and co-produced by Steven Spielberg, was a powerful ghost story. The lackluster 1986 sequel, directed by Brian Gibson, distanced that memory. So did the notoriety attached to the deaths of several cast members: Dominique Dunne, the original’s teen daughter, was strangled by her lover. Julian Beck, the evil Rev. Kane in the first sequel, died of cancer. Will Sampson, the Indian medicine man in Part II, died after undergoing a heart-lung transplant. On Feb. 1, the youngest member of the Poltergeist family—12-year-old Heather O’Rourke—died from complications of an intestinal disorder. Now comes the dreadful Part III. Nothing here deserves note, except for O’Rourke, who finished the movie seven months before her death. While the other actors camp up the screenplay co-written by director Gary (Vice Squad) Sherman, O’Rourke acts the role she created at age 5 with thorough professionalism. Her character has been sent by her parents to Chicago to stay with an aunt and uncle (Nancy Allen and Tom Skerritt). The evil spirits who have haunted her from the first follow; so does the medium, played by an increasingly eccentric Zelda Rubinstein. “Innocence is the only gift given in life; all else must be fought for,” she mutters. Another character retorts: “That’s a lot of crap that doesn’t mean anything.” Precisely. Even the special effects—the undead lurk in the hallway mirrors of a Chicago high rise—fail to convince. O’Rourke’s reactions are so authentic she compels belief; she seems to be the only one who realized that character integrity was the key to the first film’s success. That is the mark of a true actress. She will be missed. (PG-13)