EIII

A 25TH ANNIVERSARY LOOK BACK AT: THE EXORCIST III (1990)

10849823_862868733757625_7613396181198944396_nMention THE EXORCIST in a conversation and most horror fans will declare it the scariest film of all time. While that declaration is well deserved (it’s an absolutely perfect film in every capacity), a film that is quite often overlooked when it comes to the legacy of that film, is the third film in the series, THE EXORCIST III (1990). While wisely ignoring the events of THE EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (rightfully so, most of us try to act like that one doesn’t exist whatsoever), THE EXORCIST III did what very few sequels were able to do and it did it with an intense amount of fervor: it rose to the challenge of not only being as good as the original, but in my opinion (and feel free to call bullshit on this, it won’t change my mind), it actual improves on the original in some ways, giving a solid, well told story of a Detective caught in between a personal battle between his faith, a murderer, a demon and a familiar face from the past.

THE EXORCIST III is by far one of my favorite films of all time, and I felt like it would be a good time to talk about the film and what it is about the film that makes it one of the scariest horror films of all time, a movie that possesses you (hey, it’s a pun!), never allowing you to escape. So if you have a few minutes to spare, here is A 25TH ANNIVERSARY LOOK BACK AT: THE EXORCIST III


Directed by William Peter Blatty (from a script he adapted from his novel, Legion), THE EXORCIST III bypassed the dull and boresome second film in the series, and decided to not only return to the eerie and unsettling tone of William Friedkin’s 1973 film adaption of Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist. It was a bold film, full of shocks and scares, and a hefty amount of gore that wasn’t present even in the original (save for the still shocking crucifix masturbation scene of the first film, damn that scene STILL messes me up). Originally titled LEGION (like the book), the film was originally up for directorial grabs to horror maestro John Carpenter (damn, how that would have been wonderful), but when Carpenter walked away from the project due to Blatty’s real passion for wanting to helm the film itself, the famed author and creator of the original film decided to give it a go.

William Peter Blatty's THE EXORCIST III (1989)

William Peter Blatty’s THE EXORCIST III (1989)

THE EXORCIST III takes place a good fifteen years after the event of the first film, following Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (a game changing George C. Scott filling the role left vacant by Lee J. Cobb, who had played Kinderman in the original film) trying to solve a series of murders (including that of a young boy he knew) that recall that of a serial killer called “The Gemini Killer”, who had been put to death years before. While we’re following Kinderman on his quest of solving the crimes, we’re also able , as viewers to get into his personality and heart, as he meets with Father Dyer (played this time by SALEM’S LOT actor Ed Flanders taking over the role from real life priest Father William O’Malley, who had played Dyer in the first film) whom he had met and become friends with during the finale of the first film. The two have kindred spirits based on what had happened to Father Karras, and meet together to watch their mutual favorite film, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, as almost a ritual to remind them of the good in the world. When Kinderman confides the details of the recent murder of the young boy, we as viewers sense an upsetting feeling in both men, and the way they react to speaking of such things reveals somewhat of a hole in the heart in them both. It’s under the surface, but the chemistry between Scott and Flanders is in my opinion, one of the greats in horror history. You believe in their friendship, and feel the loss and regret that each man feels regarding Father Karras having killed himself to save Regan during the climax of THE EXORCIST.

As Kinderman is called to a second murder, this time of a priest, something odd sets in, as the way the man was killed is a little too specific of a killing to just overlook as someone randomly killing people. Perplexed, Kinderman ponders an explanation that to him, can’t be reality: that the Gemini Killer had killed both people, being that the murderer had been executed years earlier. Soon after, Father Dyer is not only hospitalized bu found murdered, and to top it off, the words “IT’S A WONDERFULL LIFE” are written in his blood along the walls. Broken by his friend’s death and feeling like it’s all too familiar, Kinderman loses it, explaining to the staff that all of the current murders, though done by different people (due to completely different finger prints at the crime scenes), all have VERY specific elements to them that all point to the supposed to be dead Gemini Killer, who had killed his victims a certain way. When the police were trying to weed out the copycats or crazy people saying they were the killer fifteen years ago, they released false specifics regarding the crime scenes (an extra “L” in his words, and the right finger missing), with nobody REALLY know how the Gemini Killer had killed his victims, with the exception of the police and the killer himself.

The hospital’s resident psychiatrist, Dr. Temple, (BEHIND THE MASK and IN COLD BLOOD‘s excellent as always Scott Wilson) tells Kinderman about a patient of theirs that has a fifteen year past with them, having been found wandering around fifteen years ago, and up until recently had been completely silent. Temple tells Kinderman that very recently, the patient has gotten very violent and is very insistent that he is the real Gemini Killer. As Temple leads Kinderman into the patient’s cell, a shock and  surprise to not only Kinderman, but to us as viewers happens. The patient is none other than that of Father Damien Karras (original EXORCIST actor Jason Miller). It’s at that moment that we know that this film is one that will not only serve up the fright, but that all bets are off. Blatty isn’t afraid of preying on the emotions of his characters, and it’s that writing in THE EXORCIST III that makes it such a frightening and upsetting film at times (most of the time). The moment that Father Karras shows his weathered, years of being possessed face, it’s impossible not to recall the struggle of his faith that he went through in the first film, the journey of his character that almost surpassed the struggle that as viewers, we went through with poor young Regan and her possession. The character of Karras is such a well written one in not only the original book of The Exorcist, but the film as well, that the mere sight of seeing him again, brings up a lot from its viewer.

Confused by seeing his friend, Kinderman sits down with the patient, who doesn’t recall anyone named Karras, but insists and even brags about having killer Father Dyer. We soon found out that the body of Karras was inhabited by the spirit of the executed Gemini Killer, due to the demon who had possessed Regan in the first film being so furious at being forced out of her body. As revenge, the spirit of the serial killer was placed into the dead body of Karras, and as the body sits in a psychiatric cell night after night, the spirit possessing various dementia-filled senior citizens, making them commit murders for the spirit. When the spirirt speaks as The Gemini Killer, it shows us and Kinderman the face of the Gemini Killer, played as intensely as possible by the always phenomenal Brad Dourif (CHILD’S PLAY, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST). It’s that juggle between Dourif and Miller being the face of the patient that makes it so hard for Kinderman to come to terms with what’s happening.

With such a strong setup, and a screenplay written so powerfully, where the film goes from there is a testament to the skill that Blatty possesses as not only a writer, but as a director as well. There’s an anger to Kinderman, a madness that the body of his friend is being a conduit for the same evil that killed Father Dyer. Like the original film, there’s somewhat of a loss and questioning of one’s faith, a questioning of whether or not the film’s lead has what it takes to stand up to a demon so powerful that it leaves people and relationships destroyed. We feel for Kinderman in a similar way that we felt for Karras in THE EXORCIST.

At the studio’s insistence, Blatty was forced to add somewhat of an exorcism to the film’s tail-end, and though it strays pretty heavily from the book, it works for the film, and though Blatty has expressed interest in hoping to be able to recut the film someday, I find it to be absolutely perfect, with Kinderman having to face not only his demons in a metaphorical sense, but having to face one in the form of a former friend. It’s a tough choice and when Karras is able to show just a small bit through the demon’s cracks, we get an emotionally powerful and intense ending that really lives up to the standard set by William Friendkin’s original film.

Though THE EXORCIST is a perfect film in every imaginable way, I find THE EXORCIST III to be a much more personal one, and I find myself revisiting it quite often. It’s not only a well told story, but full of its share of absolutely TERRIFYING moments. Show me a single person who didn’t jump during the infamous sheers scene in the hallway, and I will happily declare that person a liar, because I’m about as badass as they come and it STILL scares the hell out of me (ok, I’m not badass at all, but still, you get the point). It’s a visually striking film, full of absolutely wonderful and powerful performances and is a genuinely horrific horror film that deserves more praise than it gets. It’s a film that confidently sits in my twenty favorite film of all time, and will most likely remain there until the day I die (and get possessed by the Gemini Killer, so watch out!).

  • Kristin W.

    Nicely written. It’s been a long time since I saw this one, so I barely remember it. You’ve inspired me to revisit the series soon.

    • SMITH

      Thanks! Yeah, definitely revisit them. The first and third entries are spectacular!

  • Tom

    Finally someone giving some props to what I think is the Most
    underrated Horror movie off all time! This movie scares the Bejesus out
    of me! The Sheer scene in the hospital–I lost at least 2 years of my
    life. Brad Dourif was incredible in this. Great Review and Great taste
    sir!!

    P.S. Almost forgot….that scene where the old lady is confessing to her sins in the booth and confesses to all the murders and start laughing…skin crawls..

    Tom

    • SMITH

      ..and this is why you are my favorite person of the day. I couldn’t agree more, that laugh during the confessional scene…eeeesh.

  • malicedoom

    What an incredible review of a great, underrated film. Bravo.

    I saw this one at the theater during its original release countless times. To me, it’s even better than the original.

    • http://iconsoffright.com Jerry Smith

      Thank you!!

      Yes, the film is absolutely incredible, and I too am more of a fan of it than the original. It’s the perfect, terrifying, absolutely enthralling time that horror fans are always wanting. Great book too.

  • Glenn1441

    I enjoyed both the novel ‘Legion,’ upon which this film is of course based, and the film itself. However, it continues to disturb me that Blatty has the conceit to suggest that Kinderman and Damien Karras were ‘best friends’ — going as far as to present us with a heartwarming photograph of the two characters. Impossible. Neither the novel or film ‘The Exorcist’ gives any indication that the two became friends. No. Kinderman has a particular sort of respect for Karras and has something of an interest in Karras’ vocation, but other than that — no real friendship. That, along with the jumbled reshoots Morgan Creek insisted upon flaw this film.

    • Fender Melman

      My girlfriend was watching this last night while I was doing homework in the next room, and I had to ask her if I’d heard that particular line of dialog correctly. I’ve seen the first Exorcist film more times than I can count; that’s a significant misstep from Mr. Blatty, for the same reasons you mentioned.

      • Glenn1441

        Over these many years, Blatty has demonstrated that he simply can not leave well enough alone… for instance — the publication of a revised version of the novel ‘The Exorcist’ for the 40th Anniversary of its original publication, which astoundingly includes the addition of a new character. The novel and the film have made him a very wealthy man — from the beginning he negotiated his rights correctly and well — but I think he has become overly invested in and too enamored of the story and its characters, particularly Karras, Dyer and Kinderman. He is obsessive-compulsive in his desire for perfection, and it shows in his face. By that I refer to his constant tinkering with his facial features via plastic surgery, rather uncommon for a male ‘celebrity’ (barring Kenny Rogers and a few others). I mention that because I believe the surgeries, which are obvious, are indicative of his nature to continually ‘perfect’ what is otherwise fine as is.

  • Eran Solomon

    Great review, I agree with all.
    I would like to ask the experts here…
    What do you think happened after 3? I mean, after the re-funeral of Karras? How was all this explained to the press? Did Gemini get his way in the end, making Kinderman admit there are demons and there’s a God in this world? How was the priest’s flesh splattered all over the cell’s ceiling explained to the world? Did the world change for ever after all that’s happened here? It doesn’t look that way at the funeral. In Exorcist 1 there was no such problem as everything could be explained rationally (that’s why Exorcist 3 could continue the plot of 1) but here?

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