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Eight years after "Poltergeist III'' appeared to squeeze the last few drops of juice out of the horror movie franchise that producer Steven Spielberg started with the original "Poltergeist,'' TV is ready to squeeze again.
The result is "Poltergeist: The Legacy,'' a 43-episode weekly series that premieres Sunday night with a movie-length episode on Showtime. The series also is going out to local stations through an immediate syndication deal. Showtime will premiere it in its regular time slot, 10-11 ET on Friday nights, on April 26.
Sunday's opener is big, boisterous, bellicose and clogged to the eyeballs with special effects that range from the usual "Poltergeist'' (rooms full of gyrating flotsam and open doorways to hell) to flying skeletons with hot cinder eyes and demonic corpses seething with wriggling vermin.
Aside from that, it's 90 minutes or so of gibberish, unadulterated by interesting characters or genuine suspense. It is, in fact, a stew made up from the detritus of "The Omen,'' "Rosemary's Baby,'' "Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' "It's Alive!'' and the legend of Pandora's Box. Anyone who spots a spark of originality deserves a lifetime subscription to Showtime.
The original "Poltergeist,'' which was directed in 1982 by Tobe Hooper with a jet assist from Spielberg, was rousing entertainment, involving us with a family we liked: mom, JoBeth Williams; pop, Craig T. Nelson; and their adorable little girl, Heather O'Rourke, who first sensed the coming of the spirits by watching the static on their TV screen and saying, "They're here!''
Once the poltergeists and demons began bobbing up in their new house, we really felt for them. Such nice folks! Too bad they bought a house built over a haunted graveyard.
But Heather O'Rourke died shortly after the release of the second sequel. Williams was busy doing "The Client'' and Nelson was tied up with "Coach'' when MGM and its many partners started putting the "Poltergeist'' TV series together - though it seems unlikely any of them would have signed on for this drivel.
Rather than create all-new interesting characters, the makers of the TV series start us out with a prologue packed with people we don't know or care about, then put them through some kind of nightmare encounter that makes no sense because we don't know the rules of this particular corner of hell.
A few minutes later, we meet the little boy of the prologue, which is set in 1969 Peru, as he is today: A mysterious figure called Derek Rayne (Derek de Lint), who lives in a castle on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and runs a philanthropic organization called the Luna Foundation.
(Hmmm ... The Luna Foundation. And Luna the San Francisco vampire boss in Fox's "Kindred: The Embraced'' ... Coincidence? I think not.)
Anyway, the Luna Foundation is only a cover for The Legacy, a secret order that has been monitoring poltergeists for 4,000 years and trying to round up the five chests or "sepulchres'' that the ancient Irish Druids employed to imprison five wicked angels who broke the rules by mating with human women.
Derek and his disciples already have rounded up four of the ancient chests and have just learned the fifth one is in an antique shop in a small Irish village, marked down to about $30. If these five chests are arranged in a certain order and then opened, Satan will reappear on Earth. Well, something like that.
That means Derek and the gang must get to the fifth chest before young widow Rachel Corrigan (Helen Shaver) and her Heather-style daughter, Katherine (Alexandra Purvis), buy it, turn the ancient key and let the demon out.
You won't want to see what happens when the demon gets out. Let me just say it involves seeing Helen Shaver naked, having sexual congress that's the erotic equivalent of lying down in front of a runaway train and giving birth to the anti-Christ 24 hours later. When the demon baby goes for a crawl, it drags Helen along by its umbilical cord. The producers should supply barf bags.
The makers of "Poltergeist: The Legacy'' think the formula for success is rampant grossness and state-of-the-art effects. My greatest fear doesn't come from anything I saw in this awful show, but in the morbid possibility that, in today's ashcan culture, they might be right.
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LegacyWeb V.3 - March 2002