THE EXORCIST III, 1990
Director: William Peter Blatty
Stars: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders and Brad Dourif
A police lieutenant in Georgetown mourns the anniversary of a priest's death as a serial killer strikes.
According to the Bible's Gospel of Mark, Jesus was traveling in the land of Gardarenes when he came upon a man possessed by Demons: “And he asked him, 'What is thy name?' And he answered, saying, 'My name is Legion: for we are many.'” (Mark 5:9)
Such is the reason why William Peter Blatty, the famed author of The Exorcist, named its sequel Legion when he published the book in 1983. Unlike its predecessor, it is mostly a police procedural drama about a series of grisly murders in the Georgetown area. Lieutenant William Kinderman, the affable investigator from the first story (and affectionately portrayed by the late Lee R. Cobb in William Friedkin's adaptation), is the central protagonist this time. Due to the very graphic nature of these killings, he is at moralistic odds regarding his own faith and the concept of evil.
Wisely, Blatty completely ignored the events in the 1977 turkey Exorcist II: The Heretic, since the story was nonsense and he was thankfully blameless of any involvement. In fact, he fought with the studio, Morgan Creek Productions, by trying to keep the E-word out of the title of the adapted movie, which he himself wound up directing. He wanted to distance this story as much as possible due to the negative publicity his own franchise had created with the first sequel.
Unfortunately, the producers at Morgan Creek were determined to market it as an Exorcist sequel for obvious commercial purposes. The only problem was there were no exorcisms performed in Blatty's book. At a cost of about four million dollars, the studio ordered re-writes and re-shot the ending so that an exorcism could be included in order to give the title some relevant credence. The character of Father Morning was hastily introduced into the movie at the last minute so that he could perform the climactic titular ritual.
This may sound like a tedious explanation of how the conflict between Director and Studio can destroy a movie, but it helps to outline Blatty's original concept for the ending and explain why the movie falls apart in its final act. Until the studio started meddling with the narrative, The Exorcist III was an immensely suspenseful and frightening story about a dead serial killer possessing hospital patients.
George C. Scott, picking up the role from Cobb, screams such passion into his Kinderman that he looks possessed himself, or at least in need of a good bowel movement. This is not a character who simply wants to solve a case. He wants to defeat this malevolent spirit for the safety of his community and the good of humanity. There is also a personal motive since some of the desecrated victims are priests who were previously longtime friends.
Horror Villain Go-To Guy Brad Dourif plays the most vocal part of the Gemini Killer, a ranting lunatic who died in the electric chair fifteen years earlier. And that is what puzzles Kinderman so profoundly about these murders. These cannot be copycat killings because there are recurring details that only the original killer had known about. Because of this, Kinderman knows the story is spiritual and supernatural . . . just like what happened in the MacNeil home all those years ago.
In a dank sanatarium, the Gemini Killer resides in the body of the presumed dead Father Karras, once again played by Jason Miller. Since it was Karras who assisted in Regan MacNeil's exorcism, the Killer explains that he was instructed by The Master to inhabit the priest before his actual death in order to create a gruesome scandal. God and Man are simultaneously struck down by the Devil.
The character of the Gemini Killer is personified by multiple actors. Not only do Miller and Dourif alternate as the spirit embodied within Karras, but the character is most scary when played by random old actresses. As anyone who has ever been afraid of witches knows, there is nothing quite as scary as an old lady. For this reason, Colleen Dewhurst earns honorable mention for supplying the uncredited voice of Satan, as spoken as a trembling old woman in a confessional booth.
With her shaky voice, she calmly confesses to her enjoyment of bleeding her victims to death. Entirely creepy.
If the production company had let Blatty keep his original ending and scrapped any random development of Christian intervention, then this movie may have had a more everlasting impact upon audiences. Instead, it is vaguely remembered as yet another feature where Scott overacts and Dourif acts crazy, all in the face of demonic spirits clamoring for revenge.
But the story is much deeper than that. It is a frightening and elaborate continuation of events stemming from the first Exorcist. Not only do we discover what happened to the body and soul of Father Karras, who ended his life by diving down the Georgetown steps, but we are given a fresh perspective from a neglected character. Kinderman's perspective had solitary focus in the original novel, but was shortened down as a supporting character in the movie.
And there are plenty of disturbing scenes that recall some of the disturbing images of Friedkin's classic. Kinderman's nightmare is a strange scene that portrays his gentle human nature against a creepy backdrop of long-dead homicide victims waiting at a train station. The smiling faces of the orchestra will always bother me.
“I miss you,” he politely tells the 12-year-old decapitated boy whose corpse is found at the beginning of the movie. There are a few other surprises in that sequence. Samuel L. Jackson makes an early screen appearance as a blind man on a bench, and Fabio shows up as an angel.
There is also a long shot (about two minutes long) of a silent hospital hallway that has one of the greatest payoffs I have ever seen in a horror movie. Make sure your sound is turned up.