Thirteen years after the failure of what is widely considered one of the worst big budget studio films ever made, author William Peter Blatty took up the writing and directing reigns himself to create a third entry in The Exorcist saga. Wisely abandoning the trials and tribulations of Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil from the first two films, Blatty chose a different path, focusing instead on Lieutenant William Kinderman (now played by Oscar winner George C. Scott) as he investigates a series of gruesome murders with a possible link to an ancient and familiar supernatural foe. After the disaster that was The Exorcist II, it was quite a challenge for audiences to overcome their trepidation and show up for the third installment of the series. As a result, The Exorcist III was underappreciated and quickly forgotten after a short theatrical run. The legacy of the film has also been hurt by the fact it has yet to receive a worthy disc release with its last outing being a low quality and bare bones DVD in 1999. However, if you’re a fan of the original film and are willing to track down a copy of that long out of print DVD, you will be happy with what you find: a legitimately satisfying sequel to The Exorcist.
Our picture opens with the murder of young boy in the city of Georgetown under some particularly gruesome circumstances. The investigation is headed by veteran detective Lieutenant Bill Kinderman who, 13 years before, was involved in the events of the original Exorcist picture. What starts out as routine quickly takes a turn for the supernatural when the investigation uncovers links between the boy’s killing and the now dead “Gemini Killer”. As Kinderman continues to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together, more bizarre murders ensue including that of one of his best friends. It quickly becomes clear that these killings are not only somehow related to the “Gemini Killer” from years before, but also to Kinderman himself. Are these murders being instigated by an evil and ancient force that Kinderman encountered once before, but that he refused to accept as a reality? Is it possible that somehow his friend Father Damien Karras did not actually die 13 years before after being thrown from a window to fall down a long flight of stone steps? As Kinderman investigates, he seems to gain more questions than answers in his quest to stop the murders that grow ever closer to home. His only hope for survival is to somehow reconcile what he thought happened 13 years ago, with the inescapable reality of the events that are now trying to destroy him. The only question is: can he, before it’s too late?
You’re going to have to indulge me so I can ramble on for a little bit about why I absolutely love this film. First off, let me start with the outstanding mainstream and genre ensemble cast that was put together for this forgotten gem. Horror fans will immediately recognize the always eccentric Brad Dourif (Dune, Child’s Play, Alien: Resurrection) as the Gemini Killer, as well as Don Gordon (The Omen III, Bullitt, Lethal Weapon) playing Detective Ryan, and Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead, In Cold Blood, Monster) as Doctor Temple. We also get treated to Jason Miller (The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration) as he returns from the original film as Patient X, Nicol Williamson (Excalibur, Return to Oz, Spawn) playing Father Morning, and a frightening performance by Viveca Lindfors (Creepshow, Stargate) as Nurse X. If that’s not enough for you, how about cameos by Samuel L. Jackson, Fabio, C. Everett Coop, Patrick Ewing, and Larry King? It’s an amazing supporting cast for a horror picture, and it makes every scene a treat for true cinephiles.
Supporting cast aside, it’s really the 1970 Best Actor Academy Award Winner (Patton) George C. Scott (Dr. Strangelove, Firestarter, The Hustler, The Changeling) who carries this film into truly special territory. Despite Scott’s reputation as one of the best actors of his era, he still had some big shoes to fill replacing the deceased Lee J. Cobb (On The Waterfront, 12 Angry Men) who played Kinderman in the original film. He succeeds across all fronts, greatly expanding the rather small role established in the original by Cobb. Scott depicts a man who has suffered over the years since the loss of his friend Father Karras in the first picture. Despite all that he witnessed thirteen years before, and having a priest as a best friend, Scott goes out of his way to show Kinderman as essentially an atheist. There is a great bit of dialogue between Scott and Ed Flanders who plays Father Dyer, where the two friends are discussing the horrors of the world. During the theological debate, Scott rattles off a great line referring to God as, “some sort of cosmic Billie Burke,” (the actress who played Glinda in The Wizard of Oz) in an effort to make the point that if there is a God he certainly doesn’t care about what happens to us. I always found this scene to be particularly well played and interesting considering Scott’s well known personal atheism. You get the impression that Scott is really speaking from the heart during this powerful scene and not acting. One can’t help but wonder if Scott had a hand in crafting the dialogue in that scene which must have been deeply personal for him considering his strong unbelief. I found a vintage interview with him about his performance in the picture where the interviewer asks Scott if author/director William Peter Blatty scares him. After a brief pause, Scott flatly and almost flippantly answers: “Bill Blatty doesn’t scare me,” and leaves it at that with a look that says, “next question,” on his face. Clearly the acting giant was not buying into any of this superstitious exorcism business. It really makes me wonder what attracted him to the role in the first place, since the character arc of the Kinderman character is not one Scott would ever have accepted in his own life. Maybe that’s the hallmark of a good actor? To take on a role that is a complete 180 from yourself in real life, and then convincing the audience to believe in your performance. If that is true, George C. Scott did it as good as anyone ever has.
This film is a great example of how “what you bring into it” can really affect the impact it has on the viewer. One of the reasons the original film was so successful is that it really struck a chord with the religious among us who, in varying degrees of belief, bought into the concepts that Blatty was writing about. The same is true of part three, which is one of the many reasons it makes such a great connection and sequel to William Friedken’s original masterpiece. Curiously enough, I am pretty sure director Blatty would completely disagree with me on that point. If you haven’t seen Blatty’s 1980 effort The Ninth Configuration starring Stacey Keach, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, and Tom Atkins, I highly recommend you do so. This is the film that Blatty considers the true sequel to The Exorcist. Do you remember the infamous MacNeil house cocktail party scene in the original film where Regan urinates on the floor and tells astronaut Captain Cutshaw he is going to die in space? Just as Blatty took the small role of Detective Kinderman to focus part three on, he takes the same approach in The Ninth Configuration with Captain Cutshaw albeit first.
Apart from the wonderful performances and ensemble cast, The Exorcist III is an excellent and suspenseful horror thriller. There a quite a few moments of genuine fright and creepiness that Blatty directed to perfection. There is an amazing scene in a mental hospital that Blatty set beautifully where he leaves the camera in a stationary position looking down a large hallway. I don’t think that the camera moves for a good minute or longer which allows for an incredible amount of tension to build up. When the payoff finally comes, I promise your heart will skip a beat. The film isn’t perfect of course – I don’t care for how the characters of the Gemini Killer/Patient X are played by either Dourif or Miller, depending on which persona is being displayed. I’d like to think that Jason Miller was a good enough actor that he could have just played both roles. Another other issue with the film is that according to Blatty, the film was cut to ribbons by the studio and his original vision was never brought to fruition. To make matters worse, all the deleted footage appears to have been lost or destroyed. It’s especially tragic since there appears to be quite a demand from fans, as well as Blatty himself, to restore the picture with a director’s cut. All things being equal though, The Exorcist III is an outstanding film and worthy successor to one of the greatest horror films ever made. If you’re a fan of the genre, or just horror films from this period, I think its required viewing. Plus it stars George C. Scott as a detective trying to stop what is essentially a supernatural serial killer! What other reason do you really need?
About the Author:
Christopher Challis is an Army Veteran of seven years who is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, as well as the Combat Action Badge, and has served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Prior to his military service, Christopher owned the largest independently owned video rental and sales store in western Pennsylvania that specialized in rare horror and science fiction films. In addition, he is a collector and expert in the field of horror and sci-fi pop culture collectibles to include autographs, posters, action figures, and much more. Christopher currently resides in Texas with his wife and daughter, where they wish the temperature would occasionally drop below the boiling point in the summer. You can follow Christopher at @TheChrisChallis on Twitter.