Friday, May 18, 2018

Classic Movie Review: The Exorcist III (1990)

The Exorcist III (1990) 
Directed by: William Peter Blatty.
Written by: William Peter Blatty based on his novel.
Starring: George C. Scott (Kinderman), Ed Flanders (Father Dyer), Brad Dourif (The Gemini Killer), Jason Miller (Patient X), Nicol Williamson (Father Morning), Scott Wilson (Dr. Temple), Nancy Fish (Nurse Allerton), George DiCenzo (Stedman), Don Gordon (Ryan), Lee Richardson (University President), Grand L. Bush (Sergeant Atkins), Mary Jackson (Mrs. Clelia), Viveca Lindfors (Nurse X), Ken Lerner (Dr. Freedman), Tracy Thorne (Nurse Keating), Barbara Baxley (Shirley), Zohra Lampert (Mary Kinderman), Harry Carey Jr. (Father Kanavan), Sherrie Wills (Julie Kinderman), Edward Lynch (Patient A), Clifford David (Dr. Bruno). 
I’m not quite sure why everyone decided in 1990 that it was time to make long awaited sequels to 1970s classics. This was the year Coppola made The Godfather Part III, Jack Nicholson made his Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes and Bogdanovich made his Last Picture Show follow-up Texasville. All of those films have their charms, but none of them come close to matching their famous predecessors. The same can be said of The Exorcist III – in which the original writer, William Peter Blatty ignored 1976’s The Exorcist II, and just adapted his own follow-up novel for the film. The studio mandated some reshoots and an exorcism finale, wondering (perhaps not incorrectly) how they could have an Exoricst film without an Exorcism. They clearly wanted something that Blatty didn’t want to provide – which was more of the same from the franchise that had some name brand recognition. It’s too bad, because so much The Exorcist III really is quite good, which is why it’s reputation has grown over the years.
The film stars George C. Scott, stepping in for the late Lee J. Cobb as Kinderman – the veteran detective from the first film. He’s still a cop 15 years after the events of the original – and he’s still haunted by the death of his friend Father Karras (Jason Miller). Currently, his best friend is another Priest – Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) – and the pair of them bicker with and needle each other as they discuss faith and God, and other questions big and small (like the magazines Dyer loves). Recently, a string of murders have happened, that look like they may have a supernatural element – that, or they could be the work of The Gemini Killer – although he’s been dead for 15 years as well. As Kinderman digs, he discovers with friend Karras is perhaps not dead afterall – there is a mysterious Patient X (played by Miller) who has been locked away in a psyche ward all these years. He has been catatonic most of that time, but has just started talking again – and claims to be The Gemini Killer.
The Exorcist III is a horror movie to be sure – but it has more in common with something like The Silence of the Lambs (which would come out the year after) than the original Exorcist film. This really is more of a horror tinged police procedural, with Kinderman having to put together the pieces of the puzzle. The films second hour has long stretches of Kinderman talking with The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) in the psyche ward – scenes that allow Dourif to do what he does best, and go over-the-top with his insanity. Scott, never the most subtle of actors himself, is capable of matching Dourif when need be, but wisely doesn’t. He’s playing Kinderman as more tired and world weary than anything.
As a director Blatty only made two film – his previous one, The Ninth Configuration (1980) is even better than this (if my memory is accurate – it has been a while since I saw it, so a revisit is necessary). That’s a shame, because he was a fine director. Sure, the writer part of him overtakes the film for long stretches – the early talking scenes between Kinderman and Dyer, and the later ones between Kinderman and the killer – but he’s also able to stage some incredible scenes. A scare where Kinderman walks through the hospital, and we can see someone crawling on the roof above him would normally be the visual highlight of a film like this. In this case, it isn’t, because of a masterful long take looking down a hospital corridor, where Blatty takes his time allowing everything to play out, resulting in a masterful, scary moment.
What Blatty didn’t want to do is repeat what Friedkin did in the original film – why try and outdo a film that many consider to be the greatest horror film ever made? Instead, Blatty wanted to do something different, and when he gets his way, The Exoricst III is its own beast – a fine film in its own right, and not just because of the original. The studio demanded too much change from Blatty, so the result is a compromise – but a fascinating one.

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