The Exorcist III

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The Exorcist III  (1990)    20th Century Fox/Horror    RT: 110 minutes    Rated R (language, bloody images, graphic descriptions of murders, blasphemy)    Director: William Peter Blatty    Screenplay: William Peter Blatty    Music: Barry De Vorzon    Cinematography: Gerry Fisher    Release date: August 17, 1990 (US)    Cast: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, Nicol Williamson, Scott Wilson, Nancy Fish, George DiCenzo, Don Gordon, Lee Richardson, Grand L. Bush, Mary Jackson, Viveca Lindfors, Ken Lerner, Tracy Thorne, Barbara Baxley, Zohra Lampert, Harry Carey Jr., Sherrie Wills, Alexander Zuckerman, Tyra Ferrell, James Burgess, Kevin Corrigan, Father John Durkin S.J., Samuel L. Jackson, Fabio, Patrick Ewing.    Box Office: $26 million (US)/$39 million (World)

 

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 The Exorcist III is easily one of the top ten weirdest mainstream movies ever released. How else can you describe a movie that features basketball star Patrick Ewing as “The Angel of Death”? I’m not sure “weird” even covers it. It’s a direct sequel to the original 1973 movie (in it, Exorcist II: The Heretic never happened) AND an adaptation of writer-director William Peter Blatty’s 1983 novel Legion which was the film’s original title. Then studio heads intervened and decided The Exorcist III would be a more marketable title. It didn’t work, guys! The movie still tanked at the box office.

exorcist 3 I HATED The Exorcist III the first time I saw it. I went opening day to a twilight showing at the old City Line Theater (it was the second-to-last movie I saw there). The trailer looked promising; I had high hopes which were dashed after a decent opening. I found The Exorcist III boring, incoherent and utterly stupid. I thought it was badly written and poorly made. I laughed through a lot of it. Basically, I thought it was a big piece of crap. BUT (isn’t there always a but?) there was something about it I couldn’t quite shake or dismiss. I began to debate whether I saw a great bad movie or a movie that was just bad. Or maybe I just didn’t get it. Hey, it’s been known to happen. I rented it when it came out on video the following winter and watched it a second time. Then a third time. It all started making sense. The Exorcist III is one of the freakiest movie experiences I’ve ever had. Everything I initially thought was bad about it actually works in its favor.

 The story picks up 17 years (15 according to the characters) after the events of The Exorcist. Lt. Kinderman (Scott, Patton) and Father Dyer (Flanders, St. Elsewhere) are still haunted by the death of their mutual friend Father Damien Karras. They get together for a movie (usually It’s a Wonderful Life) every year on the anniversary of his death. Also on Kinderman’s mind is the brutal murder of a 12-year-old boy with whom he was acquainted. It’s the first in a series of grisly murders with religious implications. What’s even worse, the M.O. matches that of the long-dead Gemini Killer. He knows it’s not a copycat because they released false information to the press to weed out the loonies and serial confessors. The M.O. is an exact match. It becomes personal when Father Dyer becomes the third victim.

 Dyer’s murder occurs while he’s in hospital. Kinderman’s investigation takes him to the isolated unit of the disturbed ward and a mysterious John Doe patient who seems to know Kinderman. Here comes a MAJOR PLOT SPOILER! The patient is the Gemini Killer (Dourif, Child’s Play) in the guise of Father Karras (Miller). Huh, what? Here’s what happened. When the Gemini was executed by the state, he needed a new body to continue his unfinished work. Pazuzu found one. As Karras lay dying on the sidewalk, the soul of the Gemini entered his body and later dug his way out of the grave. Since then, he’s been recharging the dead brain cells in anticipation of picking up where he left off. Every night, his spirit leaves Karras’ body and possesses elderly people with dementia (catatonic people work too). The only way to stop him is…. yep, you guessed it, an exorcism.

 The original version of The Exorcist III didn’t end with an exorcism. Instead, the ending was similar to the novel. The studio insisted on something with more punch; hence, writer-director William Peter Blatty went back and filmed additional scenes leading up to and depicting an exorcism. It’s a cool scene but I think the movie may have worked better with the original ending. On the other hand, people were pissed that there wasn’t an exorcism in Exorcist II so the studio tried to head off any backlash. It feels tacked on but it still kind of works.

 I started off this review by saying how weird The Exorcist III is. I mentioned the casting of Ewing as “The Angel of Death”. This will take a little explaining. It’s a dream sequence set in Heaven. This particular version of Heaven is alluded to by Father Dyer in the first movie; he says he imagines it as a nightclub with a big band playing. He got his wish; the heavenly band is led by Tommy Dorsey. Also, for some reason, model/hunk Fabio is hanging around. It’s a crazy sequence. Other weird bits include Kinderman’s speech about the carp in his bathtub, his this-side-of-sitcom-odd family, Scott Wilson’s chain-smoking psychiatrist and the very Jewish Lee Richardson as a priest. Somebody even mentions Phil Rizzuto at one point; how often does he get a shout-out in a movie (besides Sea of Love the year before).

 At times, The Exorcist III is positively surreal. A scene where Viveca Lindfors attempts to kill Kinderman’s daughter with a huge surgical instrument is both bizarre and hilarious. The cinematography is quite good. I like the use of long shot in this one scene where a night nurse goes about her business, not knowing that the Gemini will strike at any second. I LOVE the opening scenes; they are a real mood-setter. The acting is all over the damn map. None of the performances are bad in The Exorcist III; the better word is “otherworldly”. In fact, that describes much of The Exorcist III. There’s no way it takes place in this world; I’m not even sure if it was made in this world. It’s a one-of-a-kind horror movie. I LOVE that it doesn’t follow the traditional sequel route and rehash the same story. It is its own movie and I like that. I can see why it bombed at the box office. Nobody was ready for this movie. It’s one for the books, that’s for sure! 

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