Last Wednesday, The Black Museum held its newest lecture at The Royal.
This long running series has put on many great events in the past, but this one in particular was extra special, as filmmaker Gary Sherman was particularly well suited for this forum. I've seen him speak at a few events now and man, does this guy have stories. He's an extremely affable individual who would describe himself as “someone who has been very lucky and often been at the right place at the right time”, but I'd say there's a bit more to it than that. It takes more than luck to find a crew that would follow him into the insanely ambitious project that was Poltergeist III.
While it is true that Sherman has always been a very technical director, whether it be that impressive opening tracking shot in Death Line or the abundant special effects (courtesy of Stan Winston) in Dead & Buried, Poltergeist III would be the culmination of his talents. Not bad for a project that Sherman himself said that he initially did not want to do. He explained that the studio had first tapped him for Poltergeist II, but he was unavailable. When they came back to him for part three, he agreed because they'd been instrumental in getting his debut Death Line made. His one condition was that he wanted everything to be done in camera with no optical effects.
|Filmmaker Gary Sherman talks Poltergeist III.|
We sometimes forget there was once a time when computers did not rule the day and Poltergeist III might be one of the most impressive examples of pre-CGI filmmaking out there. To most I'm sure, the third Poltergeist entry was a throwaway sequel, overshadowed by the tragic death of its young star, Heather O'Rourke. I can assure you that no one thought that after this lecture. Everyone in attendance walked away with a new appreciation for this movie. Although I believe we're still not sure who was crazier, Sherman for attempting it or the studio for signing off on his requests.
The evening consisted of a screening of Poltergeist III with running commentary from Sherman. Whenever a significant effect happened, they would stop the film and he would explain how it was done. We would then watch the scene again with this new context. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Sherman's techniques was that they were honest-to-God magic tricks. When he pulled back the curtain, the audience reaction was that of true awe.
Using mirrors and double sets, Sherman created an veritable amusement park haunted house – or rather skyscraper. You add in the talents of Dick Smith, the inventor of modern make-up (and the reason I grew up thinking Max Von Sydow was twenty years older than he actually was) you have a gift that keeps on giving. The session ran about three hours and Sherman regaled us about every facet of the production, including the parking garage explosion debacle and the three different endings.
|The late Heather O'Rourke in Poltergeist III|
Sherman also talked at length about O'Rourke who he absolutely adored, saying that being a pallbearer at her funeral was one of the worst days of his life. He's decidedly not happy with how the film turned out overall, but he's really proud of the effects, which is why he was glad to talk about them at this event. I hope does this talk in more cities because it's a film clinic for filmmakers and cinephiles alike, especially ones with a love of practical and in-camera effects.
I can't reiterate enough how super cool a night this was. It was a Black Museum for the ages that struck the perfect balance of subject and subject matter. Huge thanks to Paul, Andrea & Gary for putting it on.
|Filmmaker Gary Sherman w/ BM curators Paul Corupe & Andrea Subissati|
*Event pics courtesy of Brian Baker.