At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Exorcist III “90”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Exorcist III “90”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Psychological Horror/Stars: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, Brad Dourif, Grand L. Bush, Nicol Williamson, Nancy Fish, Tracy Thorne, Barbara Baxley, Harry Carey Jr., George DiCenzo, Tyra Ferrell, Lois Foraker, Don Gordon, Mary Jackson, Zohra Lampert, Ken Lerner, Viveca Lindfors, Lee Richardson, Clifford David, Kevin Corrigan, Demetrios Pappageorge, Jodi Long, Samuel L. Jackson, Amelia Campbell, C. Everett Koop, Larry King, Patrick Ewing, Teresa Wright, Fabio; Voice of: Colleen Dewhurst/Runtime: 110 minutes

Among the many rules that make up the infamous rulebook of movie magic 101, there is one that I think is worthy of mention at the start of this review. That rule being that whenever you make any number of sequels to an already beloved cinematic property the odds are very much there that at least one sequel is going to be made which is actually good yet it will take a while before either moviegoers and/or the movie-reviewing community at large actually are able to catch on to this fact. Not because we as people are blind or stupid, but rather because of our built-in sense of expectations when it comes to a sequel to a film that, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, either might not have needed one to twenty more or which has little if anything to do with the plot/characters contained in the original story. Indeed, among the many examples of this phenomenon that come to mind, one can see that 1979’s Jaws 2 might not be anywhere close to the fangtastic original, but when looked at on its own merits still manages to be a pretty solid little movie all the same. Likewise, 2007’s 28 Weeks Later had to deal with being consistently compared to its phenomenal predecessor from 2002 by both critics and viewers despite no characters coming back from the latter, but it actually managed to turn out to be quite the gripping and even emotional film at the end of the day. Of course, one of the more legendary examples that I would be amiss if I didn’t include here would be none other than 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch. A horror film that, while initially being significantly scorned by horror fans for having absolutely nothing to do with Michael Myers, has since managed to attract a delightful cult following and is now seen as a fairly chilling standalone horror story that is a staple for quite a few people every October even IF it also has made me desperately find a way, any way possible to get that bloody Silver Shamrock jingle out of my head. The reason I bring this up to you today incidentally dear reader is because even the legendary horror film from 1973 that is The Exorcist has found itself unable to escape this cinematic predicament. This is because, while the less said about Exorcist II: The Heretic the better though from what I understand it too has a fanbase out there, this film did produce a sequel that might have initially gotten mixed reviews yet has since gone out to garner quite the cult following. That being the 1990 slice of cinema, and film I happen to be reviewing for you today, The Exorcist III. No, this film is nowhere even close to the quality on display in the original, but there is also no denying that with the aid of capable work on both sides of the camera this is still one viewing experience that is definitely able to send at the very least a few chills up your spine in the best way possible.

The plot is as follows: Taking place a solid 15 years after the events of the original with particular regard to those surrounding the exorcism of Regan MacNeil, The Exorcist III gets its spine-tingling narrative underway by reintroducing us to the police officer who found himself investigating those events by the name of William F. Kinderman. Kinderman, we are quick to learn, is still very much a member of that distinct group known as law enforcement and who also has retained his friendship with Father Dyer right down to going to movies like It’s a Wonderful Life together. At the same time though, he is also someone who not only misses his and Dyer’s friend, the late Father Damien Karras, but who also has been fortunate in that he really hasn’t had to deal with anything as otherworldly as what he encountered whilst handling the MacNeil case. That is until now. I say that because when our story gets underway, we see that Kinderman has been called to the scene of a particularly gruesome crime involving a 12-year-old boy losing his head (literally) and having it replaced with a piece of religious paraphernalia I’ll let you see for yourself. Of course, as if this wasn’t bad enough, we see that it isn’t long before a 2nd and then a 3rd murder occur with both proving to be just as visceral as the first. Now normally this would definitely appear to be the work of one particularly ruthless serial killer and in most cases you would be right. In a rather distinct twist however, we see that it might be a tad bit more difficult to identify who is doing this than we might initially have thought. This is because the fingerprints at each of the crime scenes are all distinct which, through the powers of deductive logic, would suggest that each murder was committed by a different person. Yet for Kinderman, the kills on display do not suggest that for him. Rather, they suggest the m.o. of a rather despicable butcher he had investigated 15 years prior known as the Gemini Killer with the only dilemma to that particular theory being that there’s no possible way it could be him because not only was he caught, but he also had been executed for his crimes. When Kinderman goes to investigate the hospital where the latest murder occurred however, we soon see that it isn’t long before he finds himself engaging in more than just a hunt for a ruthless killer. Rather, he is also taking the first steps back into the sinister world of demons, possession, souls, and which will see him match wits with a dastardly yet familiar evil that has taken up residence in the body of a man that looks a heck of a lot like one that Kinderman had most likely thought he would never see again. Thus can Kinderman get to the bottom of this mystery and put a stop to whoever or whatever is behind these crimes before they can claim any more victims? That I will leave for you to see for yourself…..

Now right off, it should be said that the work done by the various departments behind the camera on this creeptastic cinematic outing is actually really solidly done which is truly surprising. Not because it’s a horror film, but rather due to that infamous phenomenon known as “studio interference” which was quite the hurdle for the film to overcome and boy did it ever! Without a doubt, this starts with the work done at the helm by William Peter Blatty (who also wrote the novels for this as well as the original Exorcist) and he does a truly remarkable job here. Indeed not only does he do a wonderful job of really creating an effectively haunting atmosphere made up of equal parts dread and slow-burn suspense right from the word go, but he also does an effective job of making each scene in this feel like a chapter in a book. A trick he utilizes through having each scene wrap up in such a manner be it mysterious dialogue or even something genuinely shocking/dramatic that you are immediately invested and want to go further into the story as a result to see just where exactly things go from there. Along with all of that however, I think one other thing that I admire about Blatty’s work at the helm here is the degree of restraint on display here particularly in terms of the gore. Yes, the film is genuinely spooky and there are more than a few visceral moments, but by not showing us much and instead letting our imagination fill in the blanks, we see that Blatty is able to raise the fear factor exponentially here to great effect. Yet whilst the dread and suspense are also very much apparent in the script, as faithfully penned by Blatty from his novel Legion, there is something else to be found that I find to be quite intriguing. That being a surprising amount of humor that is not only genuinely funny, but also doesn’t feel forced or shoehorned in any way. As a result, don’t be surprised if you actually find yourself laughing a fair bit at times in this film before then going back to curling up in your chair or on your sofa frozen in fear. The film also contains some truly haunting yet elegant work from Gerry Fisher (1975’s Brannigan, 1981’s Wolfen, and Highlander from 1986) in the cinematography department. Indeed Fisher does a wonderful job of giving us camerawork here, especially in the scenes between Scott and Dourif, that really does manage to be an effective mix of haunting, chilling, and yet eerily stylish all rolled into one. Lastly, I would definitely be amiss if I didn’t take some to praise the work done by the brilliant Barry Devorzon (1979’s The Warriors, 1980’s Xanadu, and 1986’s Night of the Creeps) on this film’s musical accompaniment. Indeed Devorzon does a masterful job here at giving audiences a genuinely eerie score that complements the ominous and uneasy atmosphere perfectly whilst also ensuring that it works beautifully in synch with the rest of the film in conjuring up the right amount of tension and suspense in any given moment respectively.  Suffice it to say that this slice of horror cinema, as touched on in the beginning of this section, might have fallen prey to an extremely high degree of studio interference, but even so there is also no denying that the work done behind the camera by Blatty and his team certainly manages to do its part to the best of their respective ability in ensuring that this is one cinematic nightmare that will stay with you long after the credits have begun to roll.

Alongside the capable work done behind the camera, this slice of horror cinema is also aided immensely courtesy of a collection of fairly well-done performances in front of the camera as well. Without a doubt in my mind, this starts with the iconic George C. Scott who does a brilliant job here at taking over for Lee J. Cobb in the role of Lt. Kinderman. Yes, there are moments here and there where Scott does channel Cobb for a bit in the role, but what Scott manages to bring to the role that Cobb didn’t is a combination of dogged determination, his trademark talent for chewing the scenery, and also a solemn yet incredibly palpable degree of heartbreak and resignation respectively. Indeed, as we learn in the movie, the character of Kinderman has become all but worn out by the viscerality that he has encountered during his career and Scott does magnificent here at showcasing for us how this particular investigation manages to take Kinderman’s already fragile devotion to both the Lord and the letter of the law and push it and him as a person to the breaking point. A creative choice which ultimately results in a moment late in the movie that is genuinely one of the more powerful from an emotional perspective respectively. Suffice it to say that it’s a really underrated effort from one of the more distinct talents the land of movie magic sought fit to give us. We are also treated to a wonderful turn from Ed Flanders as Father Dyer. Indeed Flanders does a beautiful job here of not only bringing a warmhearted compassion and wry sense of the humor to the role, but the scenes of banter between him and Scott are so organic and charming (to say nothing of legitimately amusing) that they wind up feeling less like scripted movie moments and more like a collection of genuine conversations between a pair of long-time friends.  Now it’s not exactly a spoiler to reveal to you here that Jason Miller does reprise his role of Father Karras from the original Exorcist, but to go into any further detail definitely feels like it would. As a result, I won’t say anymore except that Miller (for what he was going through at the time of initial release) is able to do a good job with the material that he is given here. Far and away however, I think the performance that is perhaps the MVP (or at the very least a close second to the work done by Scott) of the film would have to be the one given by Brad “Chucky” Dourif. Yes he may only have 20-30 minutes of screentime total in this, but even so there is no denying that Dourif manages to be nothing short of magnificent as he manages to be everything from darkly comical and maniacal to intense and chilling without missing a beat. Indeed not only is it one heck of a performance, but in a world where Anthony Hopkins can win an Oscar for playing Hannibal Lecter with practically the same amount of screentime it is something of a travesty that this performance didn’t even get a Supporting Actor nod. Suffice it to say that when you also throw into this mix efforts from such talents as the iconic Nicol Williamson (Merlin from 1981’s Excalibur), Scott Wilson (Hershel from The Walking Dead), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia in 1982’s Creepshow), an early appearance from Samuel L. Jackson, and even odd yet effective brief appearances from Larry King, Fabio, and professional basketball player Patrick Ewing (?!) among others it’s clear that this film might not be flawless, but the work done in front of the camera does what it can to make up for it.

All in all and at the end of the day is The Exorcist III a perfect slice of horror cinema? As miraculous as that would have been, I sadly have to be the one to tell you that is definitely not the case. With that out of the way however, is this the worst thing to ever happen to The Exorcist film franchise? Thankfully, and happily I might add, that is incorrect also and if you think so then Exorcist II and Exorcist: Believer from 2023 would very much like to have a word or several with you and I cannot guarantee you that it will be a pleasant let alone positive discussion. Grade-A sarcasm aside however dear reader, I think it’s safe to say that even though The Exorcist III (or Legion if you would prefer to call it that instead) is by no means a flawless cinematic experience from beginning to end, that also does not make it an outright fiasco either. Rather, I would say that this is, flaws and all, a fairly gripping and underrated slice of horror cinema that if you’ve seen before then definitely give it a second look and if you haven’t seen it yet then definitely do so because I think you will find a fair bit to enjoy here despite the more than slight amount of studio interference on display within the overall 110-minute runtime. Thus with the aid of effective and undeniably skilled work done behind the camera to say nothing of a collection of fairly solid performances in front of the camera by a truly game cast of talent who all do really good work here no matter how big or small their overall amount of screentime may be, The Exorcist III most assuredly has more than enough positive elements going for it that at the end of the day all manage to come together in helping this become a film that is two remarkable things at once. Those being not only a flawed yet worthy follow-up to one of the most iconic horror films ever made, but also a genuinely creepy slice of horror cinema in its own right that you should definitely see at the very least once. Just don’t go around any nurses’ stations in the immediate aftermath of your viewing experience. Trust me when I say that you’ll definitely thank me later. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Exorcist III a solid 3.5 out of 5.