31 Screams in October, Vol. 3, #3: The Exorcist III (1990)

Posted: October 3, 2016 in Movie Review
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3. Exorcist III (1990)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Starring: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, Nicol Williamson, Brad Dourif

I’m really in awe of the fact that the “Exorcist” series exists beyond the first film, or that it somehow survived the first sequel. I suppose time really does heal all wounds. Following the disaster of “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” it took another 13 years before the on-screen adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s “Legion” would be put together. This time around, it would be the author himself in the director’s chair.

It is 1990, fifteen years to the day of the exorcism of Regan MacNeil… and also the death of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Survivors from that fateful day, Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) have met every year since then to go see a motion picture at the cinema. Perfectly reasonable pastime as far as I’m concerned. Each man claims he is going to keep the other company. Both are telling the truth, as neither has ever fully recovered on an emotional level. Worse still for Kinderman, a series of gruesome murders have popped up… murders he finds unmistakably familiar as the work of the “Gemini Killer” (Brad Dourif). There’s just one problem. The Gemini Killer has been dead for fifteen years. Incidentally (a word the Gemini Killer loves to use), the serial killer was executed on the same night as the original exorcism.

After Father Dyer becomes one of the victims (which include a minstrel boy and another priest), Kinderman’s investigation takes him to an insane asylum filled mostly with the elderly. When the doctors introduce Kinderman to “Patient X,” he is horrified to discover the seemingly very much alive Father Karras. It would appear that Father Karras’s body has been invaded by the spirit of the Gemini Killer. It’s explained that this was done out of revenge for the exorcism of Pazuzu (not called by that or any other name here). This complicates things because, of course, how could Karras/Gemini be responsible for the recent string of murders if he’s locked away in isolation and wearing a very secure straitjacket? The answer is this: the Gemini Killer is using the loony old folks and one of the doctors to do his bidding. An exorcism is attempted and failed but, with the dying priest and Father Karras’s help, Kinderman is able to defeat and destroy the Gemini Killer once and for all… and FINALLY lay his friend to rest.

William Peter Blatty had wanted to name this film “Legion” just like its source material, but the studio heads at Morgan Creek insisted that “Exorcist” be part of the title. In a cruel twist of fate, those same execs would later report back to Blatty that the reason for the film’s astounding box office failure was the fact that “Exorcist” was in the title. It was felt that fans were still jaded from the memory of the previous film and so chose to stay away this time. Those that did make the trip to the theater saw a great detective story with a touch of horror thrown in to the mix. Aside from the exorcism scene at the end, all the gory bits took place off-screen. Like reading a book, the mere description of what the Gemini Killer was doing to each of his victims was… in my opinion… far more disturbing than if we had seen it in living color.

About the only time this film diverts into psychedelia like its immediate predecessor is the scene just before we learn of Father Dyer’s murder, where Lt. Kinderman is dreaming of a crowded room full of familiar faces among the living, the dead, and the rich & famous. Fabio and NBA star Patrick Ewing both appear in non-speaking roles as angels. The inclusion of Patrick Ewing in particular seemed odd to me, until I remembered where he played his college ball… Georgetown. Needless to say, this film was a vast improvement in almost every way over “Exorcist II,” save perhaps for its score. With both George C. Scott and Brad Dourif here to chew up the scenery, you could do worse with your time. Of course, you could also do better.

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