The Exorcist (1973) undoubtedly qualifies as one of the classic horror movies of all time. It tells a bone chilling story that pulled at the heart strings as a demon terrorizes an innocent girl, Regan MacNeil. Filled with gruesome events, the effects of this film linger in the mind after the final credits roll. Linda Blair put on an epic performance as both the young Reagan and the diabolical Captain Howdy. How would the 3rd installment, The Exorcist III, fare against such stiff competition?
The thought that there may be evil forces that can infiltrate and rot us from within unsettles the soul. People fainted and left the theater in disgust. It was a triumph of horror storytelling. I sill love the tale of how my mother went to go see the movie while I was in the womb. That all being said, sequels are a mixed bunch. Sometimes they hit, but far more often they miss, badly. The first Exorcist sequel was called The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). This movie was a veritable fiasco. Everything from the script to the execution was a catastrophe.
Surely, thirteen year later, The Exorcist III (1990) would be a debacle of epic proportions. It had to be a studio money grab, didn’t it?
The Exorcist III – Rising From the Ashes
Wrong. Many of the triumphs of this film happened long before the first frame of film was shot. First, the man, William Peter Blatty, directed the film himself. William Peter Blatty wrote “The Exorcist” novel as well as the printed sequel, “Legion”. Second, they made a couple of key casting decisions. First, they were able to get Jason Miller to reprise the role of Father Damien Karras.
Second, they enlisted the services of the legendary George C. Scott to play Lt. William F. Kinderman, a police inspector on the case of recent “Gemini Killer” murders.
Finally, Brad Dourif plays The Gemini Killer, James Venamun, with certifiable insanity and malice. It was interesting note, another familiar name appears in this cast. Zohra Lampkin from Let’s Scare Jessica to Death makes a minor appearance as Mrs. Kinderman.
The Exorcist III – A Different Kind of Movie
The Exorcist was a tightly told narrative about a girl named Regan that falls under the spell of an evil demon named Pazuzu. This story derives perfection in simplicity. William Peter Blatty presents a completely different breed of horror movie. The Exorcist III employs surreal psychological horror. While there are many victims, no child requires salvation from evil.
This movie relies more on the cerebral intersection between Lt. Kinderman and the depravity of the Gemini Killer. The latter driven by demons. Conversely, The Exorcist III has far more in common with Silence of the Lambs than The Exorcist. Rather that direct visual horror, much of the effectiveness is garnered though atmosphere and tension.
Beware the Gemini
Around the streets of Georgetown, murders are occurring. The pattern fits a previous serial killer called The Gemini, but he was executed 15 years prior. What is more mysterious is that none of the fingerprints match. It is as if a different killer is responsible for each one. Lt. William F. Kinderman is on the case. Looking for clues, Kinderman learns that a local psychiatrist had a patient with amnesia. This patient claims to be The Gemini Killer. Upon meeting this patient, Kinderman descends into a pit of madness that leads through the occult depravity and religious salvation.
No Simple Horror Movie
Blatty interpolates several horror techniques into a single tapestry. First there is the slasher. A serial killer prowls Georgetown, inventing ever more disturbing ways to kill. There is the supernatural, which creates an omnipresent feeling of dread and despair. Finally, there is the hard-luck cop story that anchors the plot. The grizzled police veteran that can’t believe what he is witnessing but has to confront the insanity in order to solve the crime. It reminds me of another underappreciated film from the same era, Angel Heart (1987).
By smoothly transitioning from these standard tropes, the film is able to maintain a near constant tension that keeps the viewer hooked through several twists and turns. This tension is punctuated by jumps scares, gruesome murders and demonic dialog with a possessed man of the cloth.
In one of the stand-out scenes, the hospital orderly is finishing some paper work when she hears a noise. The woman looks. She investigates. She goes back to her work. A police man shows up. He leaves. She investigates again. It goes on for minutes; a long distance shot down a dark hospital hallway, slowly building tension before a final scare. It is masterful work for William Peter Blatty, a man with so few directing credits to his name.
An Underappreciated Classic
At times, it feels like this movie tries to hard to be a special effects spectacular like The Exorcist (1973). The original film had the benefit of special effects master Dick Smith. The effects are not nearly as polished and feel second class compared to the tension that frames the rest of the film. Sticking to psychological horror would have worked in its favor. Regardless, none of this is enough to derail this film.
The Exorcist III is really an underappreciated classic. It is often overlooked because The Exorcist II was so bad that it was easy to dismiss. Very rarely does a sequel manage to recover from a sophomore slump. William Peter Blatty excels in creating a tight psychological thriller. If this movie has any flaws, its pacing is slow and methodical. If you have the patience, it is rewarding.
The Exorcist III deserves to be recognized as a competent compliment to the original.
The Exorcist III (1990) - An Underground Classic - Malevolent Dark
Director: William Peter Blatty
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33