William Friedkin’s The Exorcist has been a tough act to follow for the genre as a whole since its release in 1973. Any subsequent sequels to the legendary possession feature, especially one completing a trilogy, might not hold up well compared to the horror powerhouse. However, The Exorcist III is a worthy entry to the trilogy from its sacrilegious practical effects to its nuanced subject matter. Starring George C. Scott (Dr. Strangelove), Brad Douriff (Child’s Play), Ed Flanders (True Confessions), Grand L. Bush (Die Hard), Nancy Fish (Death Becomes Her), Nicol Williamson (Return To Oz), and Jason Miller (The Exorcist) and based on the novel Legion by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist III was released on August 17th, 1990.
The harrowing return of Pazuzu returns when “Police Lt. Kinderman notices similarities between his current murder investigation and the methods used by The “Gemini” Killer who was executed 15 years before. He soon discovers a hospitalized mental patient claiming to be the dead serial killer, but who looks uncannily like a priest Kinderman knew who died during an exorcism. As more bodies are found, Kinderman looks for connections between the two supposedly dead men.” Now, 30 years later, the The Exorcist III has not only acquired a cult following, but is based in a human moral dilemma of good versus evil that still torments society today.
One In The Same
A cop and a priest walk into a theater… and the events that unfold are everything short of a joke. Lieutenant Kinderman and Father Dyer’s synergy establishes most of the underlying themes present in The Exorcist III and guides a commendable plot around men-in-peril. The relationship between the two older characters, one a seasoned police detective and the other an ordained man of God, gives the film an extra layer of emotion while building on significant universal trends illustrated by the strains of their work, the differences in their beliefs, and the unfortunate similarities in their service.
As servants to a higher power, Kinderman and Dyer grapple with the two categories of evil that plague our existence: the factual and the unexplained. It’s an interesting start to the film that is consistently carried throughout the narrative in Kinderman’s motivation to successfully solve a murder spree and identify The Gemini Killer against his personal call to settle an unholy score by achieving redemption and vengeance.
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“While it’s been 30 years since the release of The Exorcist III, it seems as if the line between good and evil is definitive for some and blurred for others.“
Much like The Exorcist, the third installment explores supernatural evil through wretched possession subject matter with a hint of early medical science application. Conditions of severe amnesia, Autism, mental illness, and even Alzheimer’s are viewed as disdainful diagnoses rather than circumstances of simple, uneducated malpractice. The body acts as a vessel and the soul is one that threads through worlds temporary and eternal. Natural human operations and functions are pitted against otherworldly possession and animation as two evils are met and questioned. However, The Exorcist III further applies a more realistic, relatable quality of horror by incorporating more authentic acts of violence created by man.
As church and state work together to fight against Pazuzu’s demonic infiltration, The Exorcist III supplements omnipresent wickedness with mortal death, sickness, injustice, racism, hate, and murder- all of which are still unfortunate problems the world continues to battle. Police standards and procedures cohesively weave in and out of religious practices and rites suspending the film’s intention in disbelief over fact and fiction. Like God and the Devil, earthly violence and divinity clash in an epic showdown that allows the film’s motifs to run fluidly and effortlessly organic.
Dead People Talking
Though it will never receive the acclaim of The Exorcist, the third chapter of Pazuzu’s story stands as a strong closing to Batty’s series. In his sophomore directorial project, William Peter Blatty goes behind the camera to bring his novel to life. Solid framing, varying perspectives, reflective and still shots, and traveling camera movements highlight Blatty’s storytelling abilities. Gerry Fisher’s (Highlander) cinematography produces well-rounded content with a hint of flair in his evolving artistry. The compilation of techniques is not painfully original, but instead a skilled adaptation of the applications in genre films of the late 80’s. Knowing how he wanted his story to be told (especially following the untouchable success of The Exorcist and the egregious failure of The Exorcist II: The Heretic) plays to Blatty’s advantage as a director with each scene being surprisingly controlled and natural.
The Exorcist III has many exceptional qualities, but one of its strongest attributes is written in its dialogue. The screenplay, penned by Blatty, is sometimes a little dense but it is ultimately informative and intentional. The communication between the characters can come off as dry, but terror is added in the description of the homicides committed by The Gemini Killer. The spoken details of the murders infer horror that viewers don’t have to actually see to fear. Describing the carnage and process of the homicides in addition to the hellish dictation of Pazuzu allows the audience’s imaginations to run wild instead of spoon-feeding them horror the whole way through, one of the genre’s most underrated little miracles.
“Though it will never receive the acclaim of The Exorcist, the third chapter of Pazuzu’s story stands as a strong closing to Batty’s series.”
The settings of The Exorcist III are just as much responsible for the film’s genuine terror as any of the other elements of the film. Speaking to the central environment of a Georgetown hospital and expanding only slightly to mostly church buildings, The Exorcist III stacks stoic institutions against decorative arenas. The hospital is cold, sterile, and stark while the churches are ornate, gothic, and warm. All of the film’s set-pieces are near perfect. Long hallways, dark compartments, like a cell or confessional booth, and bright windows are all common contents that dress up the locations of demonic reach and tie together the physical language found on two sides of the same coin.
Isn’t That What Really Counts In The End?
When it comes to showmanship, William Peter Blatty is a master of prominent horror display. Visual and auditory pieces are brought together in The Exorcist III to create a substantially intense atmosphere that thwarts all methods of hope up until the end. The scares of this film are ugly and powerful as moments of extreme tension are cut with scenes of tepid narrative progression. Whether subtly assertive or aggressively direct, the more frightening parts of The Exorcist III do well to break up some of the film’s more monotonous, drawn-out scenes.
Brad Douriff puts on a performance that rivals a multitude of possession-based roles, bringing a tremendously chilling quality to the film’s already sinister mood. Using his own voice or completely different ones, Douriff dramatically delivers horrendous testimonies using disturbing expressions. He ranges high to low pitches into his verbal application of every line as he preaches to Kinderman, making him a very memorable and effective player in Pazuzu’s manifestation. His crafted language is sharp and haunting as he spews the demon’s fiery words with palpable, vile flavor. Accompanied by the return of possessed eyes, lightning strikes, serpents, souls of the damned, peeling flesh, and the politically incorrect embodiment of The Gemini Killer’s victim, The Exorcist III is a practiced and effective exercise in religious horror.
“The Exorcist III is a practiced and effective exercise in religious horror.”
It’s impossible to praise all of the amazing qualities of The Exorcist III without noting the scene. For readers who have yet to see it, it’s a sin to spoil its incredible effect but it is one that reigns supreme in cinematic jump scares and for good reason. While that one garners appropriate attention, The Exorcist III displays so many other fine scare tactics evenly throughout its two-hour runtime. Indulging itself in Catholic Church imagery, the film splices peace with despair at every turn. The horror of gore splashed across a holy place as well as the depictions of angels, the dead, the devout, and purgatory are impressive and unsettling feats in visual representation.
The practical effects in the manipulation and desecration of holy statues is a shocking mechanism that further saturates the film’s darkness. Surreal and bizarre, the constant contrast in tone is unnerving. From statues crying blood and opening their eyes to crosses falling off the walls, all of the practical effects lend a severe authenticity to the horrors occurring. The film’s thundering use of sound pairs well with the visuals as snarling, infernal growling hints at the lurking presence of evil. Scored stings, voiceovers, ticking clocks, and even total silence are all used to give the film a brutal soundscape that appropriately assaults the senses in tandem with the imagery. To quote the demon at large, “The overall effect is astonishing…”
Possessing polarizing depth, unorthodox imagery, and ample cinematic instruments, The Exorcist III ends with a third act that perpetuates some of the most underrated sequences of horror that viewers experience rather than watch. The film exists under the cast of an extreme shadow, but wins in the end if given the right kind of attention. While it’s been 30 years since the release of The Exorcist III, it seems as if the line between good and evil is definitive for some and blurred for others. The world still suffers at the hands of hate, which still begs the questions: Is evil the prophetic consequence of a spiritual entity or is it solely the vile work of man? Which is worse? Are they one in the same?
What do you think about William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III? Do you find the themes relevant? Does it hold up well as an installment of The Exorcist? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!