I had to show this to a couple of friends before I could write this article. I thought maybe I was going crazy…I actually liked the second sequel to The Exorcist? But my own opinions have been confirmed by the opinions of others: The Exorcist III is an underrated little horror movie gem.
I, of course, have known this for years, but I considered the film a guilty pleasure. It seemed that every horror fan and aficionado considered the whole series (sans part one, of course) a wash, and the recent prequels (yes, both of them) did little to really help the Exorcist-as-a-franchise cause.
To be honest, I was slightly ashamed that I liked the goofy, over-the-top sequel, and I was even more ashamed to admit the fact that it scared the poop out of me as a kid.
And ya know what? It still kind of does. I’ve come out of the closet.
I’ll forego giving you the usual plot rundown. Suffice to say that the movie follows George C. Scott as Lieutenant Kinderman, the cop from the first movie, as he investigates a series of seemingly copycat murders. Turns out the whole mess might have something to do with a mysterious patient who might have some connection with both the original Gemini killings as well as a botched fifteen-year-old exorcism.
The movie is directed by William Peter Blatty, author of both the original “Exorcist” novel and its sequel, “Legion,” on which this film is based.
I’m very surprised to say…he directs with a steady hand and a fairly creepy eye. There are a few kills that use perfect set design and lighting to really get your heart pumping, and, more than that, there are a few great scenes between Scott and Patient X that, though they feel more akin to a play than a feature film, are genuinely creepy forays into the world of the macabre.
The general audience disappointment from this film, I feel, stems from an element of the movie that I think is a great strength: It understands the tone of the original movie without feeling the need to recreate its plot. This time you get a murder mystery plot instead of the tight, demon-centric family drama. But don’t worry, Exorcist fans; there’s enough religious imagery, talk of ancient evils and demon possession to keep you happy.
And that’s what I dig about this film. It manages to find a plot that, though very out-there, blends together elements of film noir with realistic crime drama and horror to give us something very unique.
Of course nothing in this movie would work at all if not for two elements: a great screenplay and a terrific performance from the incomparable George C. Scott. Blatty puts together a series of long dialogue scenes and witty dialogue exchanges to be matched, keeping every exchange grounded in the characters but still rhythmic and spot-on. Plus Scott’s out-of-left-field “carp” speech is worth the price of a rental all by itself.
Am I going to go so far as to put this on the same level of the original film. Hell no! I’m not insane, folks. William Friedkin’s original movie is a masterpiece of the horror genre. Hell, it’s a masterpiece of just about any genre, putting character and drama ahead of the demonic elements of the film. I’ve always said that The Exorcist is a family drama that just happens to be scary, and because of its mundane every-day feeling, becomes all the more so.
And Part III takes a similar route, focusing on the relationship of Scott’s Kinderman and Father Dyer (you know, the priest that gave Father Karras the last rights after he fell down that long flight of stairs). We see the murder case get to Kinderman in a very personal way, and the man spends most of the movie walking the line between tears and screaming.
Only George C. Scott could really pull that off.
The movie, it must be said, falls apart a little at the end when it introduces the obligatory and titular exorcism. Blatty takes his creepy premise just a little too far, showing us a bit too much and pushing the visuals into the realm of unintentional comedy. Still, even in the last few scenes the movie swings for the fences, and it all keeps from collapsing because of the strength of the material that has come before.
In the end, The Exorcist III is a worthy sequel to the original. And to be totally honest, that’s saying something.
Now if we could just get the filmmakers to title this The Exorcist II so we could forget the atrocious second installment, I’d be ecstatic. I mean…locusts? Seriously?