Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #312
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 17, 1990
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $39,024,252
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: William Peter Blatty
Producers: Carter DeHaven, James G. Robinson
Screenplay: William Peter Blatty
Special Effects: Brian Wade, Greg Cannom
Visual Effects: Mat Beck
Cinematography: Gerry Fisher
Score: Barry Devorzon
Editing: Peter Lee Thompson, Todd Ramsay
Studio: Morgan Creek Productions
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, Nicol Williamson, Scott Wilson, Nancy Fish, George DiCenzo, Don Gordon, Lee Richardson, Grand L. Bush, Mary Jackson, Viveca Lindfors, Ken Lerner, Tracy Thorne, Barbara Baxley, Zohra Lampert, Harry Carey Jr., Sherrie Wills
Suggested Audio Candy
 Mike Oldfield “Tubular Bells”
 Orlando di Lasso “Come Falda di Neve”
There comes a time during one’s tenure when you have to be prepared to stand up and be counted. This entails possessing the courage of your convictions and sticking your neck out for a worthy cause which you feel may have been handed a rough deal in the past. William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III is one such wounded animal. Shunned largely on release and buckling under inhuman expectations, it is only twenty-five years later that people can watch it objectively and appreciate just how superb a film it actually is in its own right. I’m happy to play devil’s advocate on this occasion and if that is met with raised eyebrows and stroked chins then so be it. If it means that Blatty’s film obtains a clean slate and fresh audience then my work here is done.
The Exorcist was always going to be a tough act to follow and the reason for this is that it was so undeniably ahead of its time. Arriving in the early seventies when Hammer and Amicus still largely owned the monopoly on scares, it signaled the insurgence of American horror and terrified audiences witless worldwide as it delivered us into evil so effortlessly. To give an idea how masterful Friedkin’s tale of possession really was, Richard Donner’s The Omen arrived on the scene years later and has dated that much more over the years. Astonishingly, The Exorcist still feels fresh even now and the glut of exorcism movies which have appeared over the past decade or so only serve to reinforce my opinion that it still hasn’t been bettered over four decades later. For all the technological advancements and modern-day techniques, there isn’t a film out there which showcases the manifestation of pure unsolicited evil so effectively or with such mortifying results.
Even its own sequel crumbled under expectations and John Boorman’s The Exorcist II: The Heretic not only failed to resonate but was considered a laughing-stock as plagues of locusts couldn’t hold a candle up to the sight of little Regan dancing with the devil in her nightdress. Things went alarmingly quiet in the wake of its unanimously vilified successor and it appeared as though there would be no way back for the franchise. So when Blatty announced his intention to offer his new testament there were understandably many quizzical looks and a fair degree of pessimism which rushed to greet it. Comparisons were made, many of them unfair, and it received a luke-warm reception. However, should you approach his tale objectively and forget for a moment the weighty cross it bore on its shoulders, there is a classic of its time and significant continuation of the folklore waiting to stun you into submission.
The first thing Blatty got right was to not become overawed with the challenge and instead craft a film sturdy enough to stand entirely on its own merits. At no point does he attempt a carbon copy of the original and instead chooses entirely another method to relieve us of our wits. It is remarkably restrained, containing menial use of those chiming Tubular Bells, no possessed adolescents, rotating heads or projectile vomit. The staircase which Karras tumbled down still play a critical part but is used intelligently and ominously through way of dream sequences, with the real fear playing out in our subconscious. Elaborate set pieces are at a premium and consternation is currency throughout, but the true terror lays not in what we are exposed to but what remains murky in our minds after the final reel has unspooled. Particular interactions and monologues, punctuated by brief but lasting imagery, make arguably just as intense an impact as the original ever did and that is lofty praise indeed.
Written in 1983 under the title Legion, Blatty’s intention was to release this using the same mantle and distance itself from the admittedly deeply flawed first sequel. Producers at Morgan Creek urged against it and ultimately misplaced extra footage which would have offered a far different Director’s Cut at a later point. Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (George C. Scott) is the central character and The Exorcist III chronicles his investigation into the horrific murder of a young boy. What begins as routine paperwork evolves into something far more ominous as he begins to piece together clues which suggest a return to the fray for the infamous Zodiac-inspired Gemini Killer, executed fifteen years prior. Kinderman has inside information over Richmond homicide department’s cover-up which corroborates his concerns and he embarks on an increasingly futile pilgrimage through his own deepest fear.
The magnificent Scott could sell AIDS to a dime store hooker and, as much as he is required to gurn and grimace here, his pitch-perfect performance is peppered with moments of sheer hilarity. Blatty practices what his Genesis killer preaches and gifts us light relief as an initial sweetener when introducing us to the life-long friendship of Kinderman (Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). In addition, there are laugh-out-loud moments with a deliriously funny monologue about a carp in a bathtub and a conversation with a mental patient about the imaginary item she is grasping for dear life which the great Blake Edwards himself would be proud of. Despite its jovial opening fifteen minutes, Scott falls effortlessly into character as events begin to spiral and any smug smiles are wiped clean off his face for the remainder of the movie after receiving his own exclusive “invitation to the dance.” Even an outlandish early phantasm which could easily have been regarded as comical, manages to underline the dread exquisitely.
The real bread and butter here is in Kinderman’s frequent tête-à-têtes with the suggested Gemini Killer, Patient X, from within the incarceration of his padded chamber, Cell Eleven. What begins as an interrogation of a man looking suspiciously similar to Father Karras, soon develops into something far more portentous as the devil of our piece begins to show numerous sides to its A game. Enter a young Brad Dourif, proving willingness to step up to the altar and match one of the finest actors ever to grace our screen stride for bloody stride. Synchronized light sources jut in from out-of-reach windows illuminating every skin pigment as Dourif performs his personal sermon and he bathes in the light like a seasoned veteran. When Scott interjects and he does so sparingly, we are gifted with his own magnum opus, a performance rarely likely to be bettered and one which both convinces and leaves us suitably shattered as it oozes forth from every screaming pore in his face.
As the realization sets in that the brutal and clinical murders being committed have far darker connotations than initially presumed, Kinderman’s own family are placed in mortal peril and this is where the terror kicks off in earnest. Despite being seemingly restricted to a cell and under strict surveillance, our prince of darkness shows great resourcefulness in convincing others to do his dirty work on his behalf. His world comes crashing in around his ears and suddenly it’s tangible but only should you place yourself in his brogues. Such an authentic turn by Scott makes it effortless and, as a result, when The Exorcist III shifts up a gear, we are given our glimpse of hell. Should you have been doing your legwork with the detective, then said glimpse should endure in your memory long after the credits have rolled.
There may well be a number of dilated pupils by my decision to award Blatty’s film a perfect score. It’s all in the writing, his screenplay is utterly majestic and, furthermore, delivered with such inestimable natural ability that it stands on the shoulders of the genre giants with relative ease. While Carolco, who showed initial interest in Blatty’s treatment requesting that Regan MacNeil birth a brace of possessed twins, stumped on a parody of The Exorcist called Repossessed, Morgan Creek by-and-large allowed him to remain true to his vision. Considering it had already become a bestseller, their decision was more than justified. Once principal photography was wrapped, they did request additional scenes be filmed to tie it together with its source material but thankfully kept their involvement to a minimum.
He almost commissioned film-making duties to John Carpenter but decided instead to carry his own torch. The result is a film which, under his own justification, is potentially even scarier than the original. While I dispute this claim, I do believe it to affect its addressee in a far more surreptitious and lasting manner. The Exorcist III shows the importance of good writing in relaying a story effectively and is every bit the spiritual successor to that hallmark movie. Considering this is the all-time favorite movie of one Jeffrey Dahmer, I’d say it’s job done; and you can argue the toss with him if you disagree.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Gushing grue is actually of minimal relevance as what is far more distressing are the umpteen meticulously lined paper cups containing every last drop of a victim’s blood supply with not a solitary cell spilt. Lasting imagery is prevalent, hell’s minions can be seen scuttling about the roof tiles but wisely out of everyone’s sight other than ours, and one particular snapshot will remain etched on my memory until my dying day.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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