THE EXORCIST III (1990)
(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
This review is for the original theatrical cut.
Third film in this series is written and directed by original film/book writer William Peter Blatty after being passed on by both The Exorcist director William Friedkin and then John Carpenter. This film is based on Blatty’s book Legion and follows Detective William Kinderman (George C. Scott) who is investigating a series of murders he reluctantly starts to believe are being committed by a serial killer who has been dead for seventeen years. The trail, however leads to Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a good friend of Lt. Kinderman who himself died while performing an exorcism around the same time the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) met his demise. As Kinderman delves deeper in this mystery, his beliefs are shaken as he may indeed be facing a sinister force with a horrifying agenda.
Blatty’s only other directorial effort is the bizarre 1980 The Ninth Configuration and his minimal experience does show at times with some of the pacing and scene staging being a bit off at points during the film. He also does manage, though, some very spooky and disturbing sequences, especially during the film’s creepy second half. It’s a vast improvement over John Boorman’s 1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic, which is generally regarded as an epic fail and the idea of a demon using a serial killer’s soul to exact revenge on the priest who once evicted it, is chillingly original. Blatty’s initial exorcism-less cut was met with poor test screenings forcing the studio to ask him to add an exorcism to the proceedings and the sequence’s exorcist Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) was also added to the film. After a bit of a slow build, Blatty’s thriller starts to really click in the second half and we get the spooky and sometimes outright disturbing flick we came to see, whether it was the studio mandated changes or not.
What really makes this work, too, is George C. Scott’s giving his all in a portrayal of a policeman finding out that there are indeed things that go bump in the night and the closer he gets to the truth, the more bump they go and the more bodies fall. A veteran actor, Scott always treated every film with the same respect and the Oscar nominated actor…he actually won for Patton, but refused the award…plays the material straight and with intensity. Brad Dourif is absolutely chilling as the Gemini Killer, whose spirit taunts Kinderman while inhabiting Father Karras’ body and as Karras, a returning Jason Miller gives us a tortured soul forced to co-inhabit a body with a man who is everything the priest stands against. Nicol Williamson is also good in his post-production added role as exorcist Father Morning and the rest of the supporting cast, including odd cameos from Fabio and Patrick Ewing as angels, also add solid support.
The Exorcist is a horror masterpiece and making one sequel was a risk that backfired badly. Blatty originally wanted this third film titled Legion, much like the book it’s based on and there was no exorcism in the original cut. The studio demanded it be more directly linked to the classic film by titling it The Exorcist III and then after audiences didn’t get what they came for, had the filmmaker/writer add one to the story. It still works despite studio tinkering and a director who was a bit of a novice taking the reigns. It’s not perfect, but is still, at times, a spooky and chilling film with some top notch performances.
3 nasty murder weapons.