The Exorcist III (1990)
Director: William Peter Blatty
Writers: William Peter Blatty
Starring: George C. Scott, Brad Douriff, Jason Miller, and Ed Flanders.

The Plot: George C. Scott plays detective Bill Kinderman, a man who is a bit on the cranky side but is easily one of the very best men on the force. He was at one time great friends with priest Damien Karras, the man who helped perform the exorcism in the original The Exorcist, and now every year on the date of Karras’ death, Kinderman meets up with another one of Karras’ friends, Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). These two have a very special relationship, and while they console each other on this day of memorial, the pair have no idea that they will soon be confronted with their former friend’s death all over again. It seems that there is a copycat murderer who leaves all of the same hidden markings of “The Gemini Killer,” an infamous serial killer from the area, and he is killing off anyone who is related to the original exorcism. As Kinderman begins to investigate further, he finds that this road may lead him to some uncomfortable revelations about the fate of his former friend.

The Review
It isn’t often that here on Varied Celluloid you will find common cult classics being reviewed. This is not because of a disdain for popular culture, to be quite honest it has more to do with the great writers who have already covered these subjects. It’s easy for a writer to second guess himself when writing about these movies, but regardless of writing talent, every writer brings his own experiences to a review. So, when confronted with the idea of writing about one of my favorite horror movies of all time, it seems all too perfect a time to go ahead and get it done. Although it is a sequel to what is often considered to be one of the scariest movies ever made, the original The Exorcist, this third entry into the series is one that I hold in even higher esteem. This is not a popular opinion, and I wouldn’t want viewers out there to walk into the movie expecting to have the same reaction, but of the original trilogy, I hardly think any of the other titles are quite as artistically expressive as this excellent sequel.

The Exorcist II: The Heretic is arguably the defining example of a horrible sequel to a great movie, this has been well discussed elsewhere. I have, on very seldom occasion, seen others argue in favor of the movie, but after having seen it around fifteen years ago, I still can’t bring myself to try and watch it again. So, with a certain amount of distaste in the mouth of the general public, another sequel to The Exorcist had to be the last thing that anyone wanted to see in 1990. There was one key difference with this sequel, the author of the original book that the first movie was based upon was also penning the script (based upon his novel) for this new sequel. On top of that, he was also directing! For anyone who has ever seen The Ninth Configuration, it is very obvious that Blatty had a very visual directorial style. His first film was full of highly intelligent spiritual questions and themes, but it was also a beautifully molded piece of visual poetry. With that going into the movie, Blatty’s Exorcist sequel had all the buildup to be an underrated and amazing piece of horror cinema.

Often when authors make the jump to the big screen, there are certain missteps that are expected along the way. When a writer who primarily works on novels pens the script for a movie, one might expect there to be a certain hokeyness within the dialogue. I’ve heard of this problem before, but not only does Blatty prove this expectation wrong, he manages to excel with the spoken word. With dialogue that is punchy, irreverent, and full of a very high amount of wit, I am always reminded of David Mamet’s work whenever I watch the film. The movie is filled with back and forth banter during the moments that are supposed to inspire entertainment, especially during the introductory scenes between George C. Scott and Ed Flanders, and yet the dialogue becomes stronger and full of gritty bite whenever Scott has his epic showdowns with Brad Douriff.

This brings us to another aspect of the movie that one might not expect to be phenomenal, the acting. Honestly, what does a writer know about acting? If you look at the idea on paper, one wouldn’t expect Blatty to have transferred into the director that he did, but he somehow had an amazing relationship with his cast. It could have been due to his experiences with Blake Edwards, a filmmaker who he collaborated with during the sixties and wrote multiple screenplays for, but whatever the reason may be, The Exorcist III is one of the most impressively acted horror movies that I have ever seen. George C. Scott was such a tremendous performer that he could keep an audience on the edge of their seat while reading the ingredients of his favorite breakfast cereal, but in The Exorcist III he is absolutely captivating. Although Scott does his fair share of scene stealing, Brad Douriff puts in a career defining performance here. Although, upon watching the movie, an audience member may consider Douriff to be one of the central figures in the film, but he doesn’t actually show up until almost exactly the one hour mark. Once he does show up, a ferocity is unleashed onto the screen that can be felt.

There are so many creative choices made in The Exorcist III that deserve to be mentioned. Blatty managed to create a truly creepy atmosphere within his movie. While the original Exorcist might have been a bit more frightening, there’s something special about the spooky atmosphere that this movie manages to deliver. Blatty creates an unnerving and surrealist atmosphere that is exacerbated by some very peculiar editing. Without a moment’s notice, scenes cut to seemingly mundane shots that somehow become frightening with the bizarre juxtapositions. The music also plays a key role in creating this tension. Although it is a movie that is favorably remembered for featuring one of the biggest “shock” scares of all time, a scene involving a statue and a pair of shears, there are surprisingly few such shocks throughout the movie. Instead of shrieking violins over the soundtrack that would help promote such over-the-top scares, there is a low guttural growl that seems to dominate the majority of The Exorcist III. Sounding like a demon or a patch of high winds, the underlying score for the movie holds up the tension and keeps audience members from ever being able to fully settle down.

The script seems to be something I could examine for the rest of my days. Beating Tarantino to the punch by a couple of years, there is a definite interest in discussing pop culture in Blatty’s movie. References to Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life are numerous and its title becomes one of the most repeated lines throughout the feature. However, there are also several literary and biblical references made along the way. In fact, Jason Miller’s Father Karras reads a few lines from John Donne’s poem “Death Be Not Proud.” Yet, the allusions to The Zodiac Killer may be the most obvious bit of pop culture-related scripting. In this cinematic world, the Zodiac becomes the “Gemini Killer,” who closely resembles the real-life killer from the California area. Right down to the strange spelling errors that the killer made when contacting the press/police, as well as the way in which the police would release incorrect info to weed out the wild number of crazy people who wanted to claim that they were the murderer, Exorcist III is a very accurate allusion to this real-world killer.

The Conclusion
What else can I say? Well, probably a lot. Still, I have to wrap it up at some point. While it isn’t everyone’s favorite movie in the series, as the sickening score of 6 out of 10 on IMDB seems to say (as of October, 2012), but it is mine. I give it a five out of five. I love it and I watch it regularly. If you haven’t seen it before, search this one out immediately!

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