20th CENTURY FOX (1990)

 

Director: William Peter Blatty

 

Starring: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, Nicol Williamson, Brad Dourif, Grand L. Bush, Scott Wilson

“All this bleeding”

 

After the titanic masterpiece of The Exorcist came the monumental gutloaf that was Exorcist II: The Heretic. The end of the line was reached with that movie, famously denounced by moviegoers and also William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty, the Exorcist name became soured beyond salvation – or did it?

 

For there was redemption in the shape of the creator himself – William Peter Blatty.

A local church has been desecrated by an unseen evil and a young boy has been brutally murdered. It hasn’t been a good night in Georgetown, and it’s all fallen into the lap of Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (Scott). Kinderman’s seen it all, having been on the MacNeil exorcism case fifteen years earlier, and seemingly nothing fazes the gnarled old detective. Not even seeing It’s a Wonderful Life 37 times with his friend (and Exorcist veteran) Father Dyer (Flanders). The time has come for viewing number 38 – it’s an annual tradition that on the anniversary of Father Karras’ (Miller) death, the two cheer each other up with the movie.

 

After a priest is violently killed in a confession box, the case ramps up and whispers of demonic evil begin to spread. A tragic death of someone close to Kinderman sets the case into real motion – the fingerprints found at the scenes aren’t a match and ominous calling cards are left via the victims’ bodies, ones that potentially signify the return of The Gemini Killer, James Venamun (Dourif), who died on the night the demon was expelled from Regan MacNeil. Determined to solve the case and visiting the in-hospital psychiatric ward, Kinderman is introduced to a man claiming to be the Gemini Killer, someone previously in a catatonic state until recently and one that bears a striking resemblance to an old friend – Damien Karras.

 

Blatty had written a follow-up to The Exorcist shortly after that movie was released, titled Legion, but the studio passed in favour of John Boorman’s visual diarrhoea. He finally got his wish to shoot Legion though wilted to the studio's demands by naming the movie The Exorcist III – despite lobbying against the use of the word ‘Exorcist’ for fears the movie-going audience would associate it with Heretic and stay away (as it turns out, this is exactly what happened). With William Friedkin originally slated to direct, Blatty himself took the reins and remained largely faithful to his source material.

 

The Exorcist III is a damn fine movie. With far more in common with the original Exorcist, the movie has a foreboding atmosphere and a sense of dread hanging all over it. Blatty’s directorial decisions aid the tone of the movie wonderfully and paired with a great script, the movie is a tight, creepy mystery thriller. The original movie is referenced sparingly, and whilst the events of the Heretic are not alluded to at all, they are never contradicted, therefore the movie aims to stand on its own and it does for the vast majority.

 

Blatty wisely opts for the ‘less is more’ approach in terms of the movies scares. Murders are explained and hinted at, bodies are obscured and it’s up to the actors to portray the relevant emotions and the viewer to picture the images in their minds – a far more effective way of horror film-making. For The Exorcist III, this is a major success – sure, there’s blood shown but the horror belongs in our minds. The movie is genuinely creepy, the disembodied voice in the confession box is pant-wettingly effective, the score is creepily on-point and the superb static hospital shot including the nurse and the emerging, giant scissors-wielding nutter is one of the great horror shorts/moments. After the blood-and-thunder of The Exorcist, the restrained approach here compliments that movie perfectly. Unlike the ridiculous locust rides of Heretic, Blatty stages ethereal dream sequences that simultaneously fit the tone whilst moving the story along.

 

Rasping through the movie, George C. Scott is spot on as Kinderman (replacing the late Lee J. Cobb), his charismatic and determined performance powers the movie along, and his relationship with Ed Flanders unfolds brilliantly. It’s always great to witness Jason Miller in action, and his haunted eyes and weary features compliment the ‘new’ Karras ideally. The movie belongs to Brad Dourif, who delivers a powerhouse performance as James Venamun – spitting, snarling, charming and thundering his way through each scene, it’s an emphatically great performance.

 

The movies final act is where the tone shifts and becomes jarring as the narrative explodes into a full-blown exorcism scene complete with a rising Hell, snakes and priests in peril – after the slow, meticulous pace of the previous acts, it’s clearly a departure to appease the gorehounds – in fact, the studio stumped up extra cash and demanded an exorcism scene be inserted into the movie. It isn’t a terrible scene, it’s just very at-odds with the clearly-laid story before it.

 

A favourite of legendary serial killers of old, The Exorcist III re-ignites the torch of The Exorcist with good-old fashioned horror conventions – great storytelling, great acting, compelling moments and genuine scares. There’s even greater poetry to have the creator, Blatty, deliver the movie. Where the majority of Exorcist sequels fall flat, The Exorcist III rides high and is well-worth your viewing time.

 

It’s a wonderfull life…

November 1st 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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