The Exorcist III (1990)
By: Trist Jones on June 6, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Warner (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, French DD 2.0. English, Arabic, Bulgarian, English (FHI), Finnish, Icelandic, Italian, Italian (FHI), Romanian Subtitles. 110 minutes
The Movie
Director: William Peter Blatty
Starring: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, Nicol Williamson, Scott Wilson, Nancy Fish
Screenplay: William Peter Blatty
Country: USA
Everybody knows that The Exorcist is considered a seminal horror classic. Everyone also knows that The Exorcist II: The Heretic is an abortion of a sequel (and film in general). It's fair to say then that when an largely successful horror film has a largely unsuccessful sequel, any sub sequential instalments in the established franchise tend to fade away into obscurity, being pish-poshed by fans of the genre and the general viewing population. The number three didn't seem to be a very lucky number in when it came to films prior to The Lord of the Rings, especially in the horror genre. It's a shame then, when a truly great film becomes a victim of circumstances beyond it's control, and such is the case of The Exorcist III.

The Exorcist III is actually based on William Peter Blatty's book; Legion, a superior (though medically wordy) book which itself is the sequel to the original Exorcist (the book). That in mind, The Exorcist III was both written and directed by William Peter Blatty, as the direct sequel to the original film. It sees Lt. Bill Kinderman, the officer investigating the murder of Burke Dennings during the first film, returning to investigate a series of grisly and cryptically linked murders, the victims all deliberately chosen. The thing is, the killer's M.O. is identical to that of The Gemini Killer, a serial killer who was executed the same night as the climactic exorcism of the original film. On top of that, the police hid the true details of the murders during the killer's reign in order to weed out fakes, so no one but a select few on the force and the Gemini knew how the murders were carried out. While simultaneously investigating strange reports coming from the catatonics ward and visiting his long time friend Father Dyer in hospital, Kinderman's attention is mysteriously drawn to a man locked inside one of the padded cells for the psychotics… a man who looks disturbingly similar to his long dead best friend, Father Damian Karras.

The Exorcist III is easily one of the most underrated horror films of the 1990's, if not all time. Tonally completely different from its predecessor and predominantly faithful to the novel upon which it's based, The Exorcist III is exactly what good sequels often should be. There's never any point trying to rehash the success of the original, especially when it's as powerful as The Exorcist, so taking characters, concepts or ideas from that original material and pushing them in a new direction is always a welcomed notion in my books. The film is also visually and stylistically different, but manages to maintain the same sense of dread the original exuded.

The Exorcist III moves along at a relatively slow pace which, like the original, is likely to put particular audiences off. There is no explicit violence or gore, in fact, most of it is the drastic opposite (until the end at least). Again, The Exorcist III is a far more cerebral experience, and arguably more so than the original. Without spoiling too much, genre heavyweight and possibly the most underrated actor of all time; Brad Dourif turns in possibly the most riveting performance you're ever likely to see in a horror film. As the Gemini Killer, his performance is second to none and his conversations with Kinderman (played this time around by another fantastic actor, George C. Scott) are some of the most simultaneously disturbing and amazing sequences caught on film. It's a perfect combination of fantastic script plus fantastic actor equals pure awesome.
George C. Scott also turns in a performance that easily surpasses Lee J. Cobb's interpretation of the role, while also remaining oddly faithful to the little nuances Cobb gave the character in the original. Both actors have such a commanding presence on screen that it's impossible to look away, and when the two are together the film truly shines.

The whole film is eerily still, and when certain 'things' happen you are taken completely aback. There's one particular moment that is widely talked about as one of the most effective 'boo' moments of all time, and it holds up to repeated viewings. It's also sadistically hilarious to watch others jump or scream when it does happen. You can rest assured however that there is only one 'boo' moment in this film (actually there's a second but it doesn't really count), the rest plays more on feeding you bits and pieces progressively and making you think. I really should make mention of the elderly actors in this film as they turn in some truly haunting performances, particularly Mary Jackson who plays Mrs. Clelia ("Are you here to fix my radio?").

Blatty, already a fantastic writer, also turns in a surprisingly good effort in his directorial debut. His control over the visuals and subtleties (particularly when Kinderman visits the head of the Georgetown University church) of this film, along with the nuances of particular characters and actor performance really make this film a must watch.

The score, or soundscape as it is, is perfectly suited to the visuals, comprising largely of guttural, demonic echoes and reverberating sounds create a genuinely disturbing atmosphere that makes even the smallest of moments far more harrowing than they would be had they been accompanied by a more theatrical score.

Unfortunately the only problem one can pick out with this film is a serious case of studio interference. Morgan Creek, upon realising that the initial draft did not contain a single exorcism, demanded rewrites and pretty much forced Blatty to make the ending you see in the film now. It's unfortunate because it really goes to show how ignorant and purely money driven some of these idiots are. Had they taken a look at the book, which was released and optioned in 1983, they would have realised that there were no actual exorcism rites to be found in the book (outside of referencing the events of the original novel), and last minute changes wouldn't have been enacted during filming.
It's a no frills job on the video in terms of quality. It's good, but it certainly isn't going to knock your socks off. Depending on what sort of TV you're watching it on, there might be the occasional instance of digital artefacts or noticeable colour progression, but the print for the most part is as clean as you could want for a film release like this. It's presented in 1.85:1 Anamorphic, which is pretty much the standard go these days.
Probably the most noticeable feature of this film has been remastered for the DVD release in 5.1 Dolby Digital. The audio clarity is definitely head and shoulders above what you'd expect for a release like this, even surpassing the mix laid out for the original. This is definitely an instance of lights out, sound cranked.
Extra Features
Forget it. You get the theatrical teaser which doesn't show you anything really. It's a nice trailer, but there are ones out there with footage omitted from the final cut. It would have also been fantastic to get a commentary on this, but alas, we are not so fortunate.
The Verdict
It's another one of those instances that crops up far too often in with good horror films when they reach DVD. You have a fantastic film, but it's relative obscurity leads to a rather poor DVD package. The fact that it is only available in the Exorcist boxed set here in Australia doesn't help things out much here, but if you're willing to spend the few bucks it costs to import it, it truly is worth the money spent. Again, another sad case of 5 star film suffering of no star extras syndrome.
Movie Score
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