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Article Title: Ghost Busting
Writer: Patrick Perez
Magazine: Cult Times "Christmas Special" Special Issue #1
Publish Date: 1996
Pages: 28-29
Copyright: © 1996 Visual Imagination Ltd
Ordering Info: $9.99 - Info/Order Now at Visimag.com

The first Poltergeist was just the beginning...

IN THE 1982 motion picture Poltergeist, the Freeling family was menaced by the spirits of the recently and not-so-recently departed. Their home in middle class suburbia was built upon the grounds of a cemetary. Faced with the loss of their daughter into another dimension, Steve and Diane Freeling (Craig T Nelson and JoBeth Williams) took their problem to professionals. Unfortunately, the Ghostbusters weren't formed as a business until 1984, so the Freelings had to turn elsewhere for their help.

So just who did Steve call? If the new programme from Trilogy Entertainment and MGM/UA is to be believed, the paranormal researchers belonged to an organization called The Legacy. The Legacy has been around for 14 centuries investigating and battling supernatural forces.

The Legacy has many tools at its disposal, ranging from the high tech to the historical. Legacy members are selected for varying skills. Most important among these is a willingness to accept that what appears to be reality may not behave that way.

In the original film, the writers took great pains to describe the difference between poltergeist activity and a haunting. In a typical poltergeist event (according to the film), one ghost is responsible for various anomalous events, usually of a mischievous or sinister nature over a span of less than a few months. A haunting, on the other hand, is normally associated with a geographic location than a specific spirit, and can last for years, though sometimes the paranormal intrusions are effectively benign.

After carefully detailing the difference, the film then presented a story of a classic haunting, and not a poltergeist event. What was an obvious script flaw in the first film, however, is what keeps Poltergeist: The Legacy from becoming simply a ghost of the week story. By focusing specifically on the activities of The Legacy, the show is free to concentrate on any type of supernatural phenomena. Thus, the show enjoys more freedom in presenting stories with varying premises. A programme in which the protagonist merely had to encourage the evil spirits to go into the light every week would soon seem repetitive. Stories in the first season have dealt with many phenomena, including ritualistic sacrifice, ancient curses, conjured demons, even true poltergeists.

Poltergeist: The Legacy thus breaks in style from the source movie. Focusing on various supernatural phenomena, it enjoys greater flexibility. Like Friday the Thirteenth: The Series, there is little in common with the original. In this case the result is a viable premise for a programme.

The people responsible for the production of Poltergeist: The Legacy are MGM/UA and Trilogy Entertainment Group, a partnership of Pen Densham, John Watson and Richard B Lewis. Trilogy were responsible for the new seies of The Outer Limits, based on the classic Sixties programme, as well as the theatrical films, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Tank Girl, and Blown Away.

In the series, the action centers around the activities of the members of the San Francisco Legacy House, in the endless fight against evil. It is just one of several such houses performing the same mission around the world. The leader of the San Francisco house is Derek Rayne, played by Dutch actor Derek de Lint.

Rayne has personal demons to fight, as well as literal ones. He witnesses his father, a former head of the San Francisco Legacy House, die at the hands of a demon. Subsequently, Derek took up the same fight. He has degrees in Biological Anthropology and Theology; and being a second generation Legacy member, he has unique understanding of the Legacy's history.

Derek is aided by his broadly experienced colleagues. Rachel Corrigan (Helen Shaver) is a psychiatrist who first came to the Legacy for help during her own experience with the paranormal. During this event, she learned that her eight-year-old daughter has 'the Sight', the ability to see what most other people cannot.

Nick Boyle (Martin Cummins) brings a hands-on approach to dealing with other-worldly creatures. He is a former US Navy SEAL, and is always ready to confront bare handed, whatever faces him and his partners, whether the foe is physical or ethereal.

Alexandra Moreau (Robbi Chong) is the San Francisco house's chief researcher. It falls to her to find what can be discovered when minimal data is available regarding the forces or phenomena facing the group. Whether an obscure marking carved into a figure, or the centuries old history of the mysterious event confronting the partners, Alex can be relied upon to find all available information. Like Rachel's daughter, Alex too has the Sight, and does not share the scepticism of Rachel and Nick.

Philip Callahan (Patrick Fitzgerald) is a Catholic priest, whose education offers obvious benefits to the group. Incarnate evil is a concept he certainly accepts as a professional hazard, and he proves useful in giving background on spirits encountered, regardless of the culture which spawned them.

As with many ensemble cast programmes, Poltergeist: The Legacy must deal with integrating all the characters into the storyline. Unfortunately, not all stories have been amenable to featuring each character, and often Alex or Philip have been shuffled off-screen to research an unrelated paranormal event. It would certainly seem less jarring to give them no screen time at all, rather than to confuse the story by having to explain why we don't see them.

One of the strengths of the series has been the clever use of experienced guest stars. Notable performances are turned in by veteran actors Anthony Heald, David Ogden Stiers (whose character, a former colleague and friend of Derek's, will be returning) and Ben Cross. Cross plays a demon conjured in human form by school boys hoping to get revenge against bullies and teachers and he plays it with understated elegance, creating a palpable sense of menace in the bargain.

The programme has been an unqualified success since it first started airing on the Showtime pay cable network. Originally slated to run 21 episodes, a second full season was ordered before the first had completed its run. After that, the show moved into broadcast syndication world-wide. The Outer Limits also has enjoyed similar success and exposure.

Poltergeist may have a few warts in the first episodes that have aired, in the form of predictable plots, but the producers have shown a willingness to forgo flashy effects to try to focus on human drama. Derek, in addition to being the head of the San Francisco house, is also a spiritual guide for the other members of Legacy House, helping them deal with their won personal crises.

It is refreshing to see an hour every week devoted to the Horror genre; it has been one of the most neglected. Poltergeist: The Legacy offers a nice escapist option to those who might find the real world horror depicted in shows like Millennium too much like every day life.


Helen Shaver (Rachel Corrigan) has appeared in the supernatural-themed films The Believers, about modern Voodoo worshippers; and The Craft, about teenage witches trying to fit in.

In 1980, NBC was so desperate for credibility with producers, it offered Larry Gelbart (creator of M*A*S*H) carte blanche to create any show he wanted. He cast Helen Shaver as one of the two leads in the resulting program, United.

The three children in the original film Poltergeist (Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O'Rourke) have died, Dunne having been murdered by her boyfriend.

Cummins (Nick Boyle) appeared in The Omen IV, and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.

The diminutive psychic played by Zelda Rubenstein is the only character to appear in all three movies, and is schedule for an appearance in a future episode of Poltergeist: The Legacy.