(Release Date: August 17, 1990)
I don't know where that came from, I'm... I'm sorry. It's been a hell of a week, folks.
Anyway, one of the ramifications in the aftermath of Exorcist II was the development hell (no pun intended) of writer William Peter Blatty's planned sequel, which eventually turned into the novel Legion! Indirectly, this also led to the inclusion of the meddling production company Morgan Creek into the Exorcist mix. For more on their handy work, see the story behind the TWO PREQUELS to The Exorcist. Meddling Meddlers!
Once Blatty signed the deal with Morgan Creek and they put up the big bucks to make the damned thing, "Legion" became "Exorcist III: Legion" which, in turn, became The Exorcist III, much to the chagrin of Mr. Blatty himself. After all, the novel and screenplay he had written didn't even contain any exorcisms, man. So how could that possibly... oh, wait... Morgan Creek thought of that, too, so instead of changing the name back to Legion, they instead had Blatty film new scenes that featured yet another "New" Exorcist. Blatty hated the idea, but figured someone would do it, so it had better be him. Of course that's just about the kind of logic one might expect from a company that could have avoided comparisons with Exorcist II but insisted on the title Exorcist III anyway. Totally Corn Ball!
That said, it's hard to ruin something that started out this well and while there are a few incongruous moments and head-scratching inclusions, the overall film is actually pretty good.
Eschewing the same story that we saw in both The Exorcist and its first sequel, Blatty created a macabre serial killer mystery surrounding the character of Detective Kinderman, here played with coarse anger and rage by George C. Scott. Since we saw Kinderman and his friends last, fifteen years have passed and he has struck up quite the friendship with Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). We also learn that he has an adult daughter now named Julie (Sherrie Wills) whom he fathered with Zohra Lampert's Mary! That's right, he's married to "Jessica" and, yes, she IS about to be scared to death all over again!
This has a little something to do with the fact that Bill Kinderman has just been assigned to investigate some particularly grizzly serial killings that bear more than a passing resemblance to those performed by The Gemini Killer! The evidence is overwhelmingly in support of this theory. The modus operandi is the same and the murders have features that only the Gemini and the cops themselves could possibly have known about. The only problem with this is that the Gemini Killer was killed in the electric chair almost exactly... hey, fifteen years ago! What's more, during the investigation into these nightmarish killings Kinderman and his investigative buddies Ryan (Don Gordon) and Atkins (Grand L. Bush) discover that the impossibly similar crime scenes have completely different fingerprints from each other.
The answer to how all this can be might just be found in a local mental institution where a certain "Patient X" is found. The chilling part of this is that Patient X looks just like one Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), Kinderman's old friend and one of the two exorcists we met in the first film. This, too, is impossible, seeing as how Karras died at the end of the events of the first film to save sweet young Regan (until the second film ruined even that). How does Patient X account for this? He doesn't. In fact, he won't cop to being Karras at all. He insists that HE is the Gemini Killer and to prove it, he shows Kinderman (and the audience) his true face (which happens to be that of Brad Dourif). So, the dead Gemini Killer is back and it has to be him, though the fingerprints point to multiple perpetrators. Meanwhile the all-knowing mental Patient X is admitting that he did all the killing, though he has been in leg irons this whole time and can't get the hell out of his cell and, oh, by the way, is also confirmed deceased!
You following all of this so far?
Well, I'll admit that's part of the challenge of this film and while it's certainly a good one, it also has its convoluted moments. I would tell you that this is the tip of the iceberg, but that would be implying that the film makes less sense than it does. Blatty manages to keep it together, in spite of the worst efforts of Morgana and the Creekers.
Part of this is due to the fact that Blatty is directing his own dialogue and at times this can be incredibly chilling and remarkably engrossing. There are long, dramatic stretches in which George C. Scott spars with this inmate that is alternately played by Dourif and Miller. Dourif can be more than a little over-the-top in his delivery, but rarely does he go so far as to turn a scare into a joke. This Gemini killer is truly frightening and deeply evil, even when he's at his most charming and funny.
Yes, Dourif, Scott and Miller are credits to a cast that also has a number of strange and surprising Cameos. Look closely and you'll see none other than Fabio in a scene that also includes basketball player Patrick Ewing and a pre-superstardom Samuel L. Jackson! You'll also notice coach John Thompson, C. Everett Koop, Larry King, Tyra Farrell, Vivica Lindfors and Teresa Wright. And that's not even to mention the actor who shows up to play Father Morning an ACTUAL Exorcist, Nicol Williamson!
Still, Blatty does keep things together and keeps it all from becoming a montage of varied ideas mixed into an insoluble stew. There is a great deal of blood and gore here (especially during the effects-heavy, yet artistic finale) as well as some jumps, shocks and starts. However, Exorcist III is primarily a suspense thriller with a much more psychological bend to its horror than an out-and-out shock fest.
To be fair and thorough, though, there are occasional moments of incongruity, strange choices and odd special effects. There are also a few plot holes that are hard to reconcile both within the film as a singular entity and with the screen story of the first film. The occasional startling moments as well as the times that we are shown very real gore feel like producer demands more than artistic choices and the best of the film still feels just a bit tied down by the worst. Admittedly "worst" is relative, especially when compared to that last Exorcist flick!
All in all, and in spite of the fact that this one should never have been called The Exorcist III, this is one film that is worthy of the name "Exorcist", flawed though it may be! Yes, unlike the first sequel, this one is worthy of that name and of Three and One Half Stars out of Five! Man, that Brad Dourif is one scary honky. The last time I saw a creep like that was at the Republican National Convention. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, folks, Serial Killers and Demonic Possession are one thing, but when I throw in something like politics, that's when people get REALLY freaked out! See you in the next reel, Catholic Horror Fans!
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