So this is a new section I’ve wanted to do for a while. You’ve already seen me do reviews of currently (or at least recentishly) released movies and shows, but now I want to do some of films and TV shows that have been out for more than ten or so years. I call it “Retro Reviews”. Basically, if it qualifies to be in the National Film Registry (ten years old), it qualifies as retro. (I guess that means Supernatural qualifies)
For my first entry, I’d like to take a look at the 1990 film The Exorcist III, directed and written by the original author and screenwriter for the original book/film William Peter Blatty who also wrote the book this was based on, ‘Legion’, a stand alone sequel to the ‘Exorcist’ book. I should also mention that he sadly passed away earlier this year.
Now, a quick confession: I have not seen the original Exorcist film. I know a lot about it due to pop culture osmosis, and also because this film gives away the ending, but I probably will never see it. Supernatural Horror is not my genre. It’s one of two horror genres that terrify me the most, the other being Slashers, and I don’t get enough sleep as is. Therefore, I don’t watch them. “But Aine!” You cry “You’ve reviewed Crimson Peak and now you’re looking at the THIRD Exorcist movie. They’re both Supernatural Horror.” One, Crimson Peak is more of a Gothic Horror which supersedes my rule and thus does not qualify for me as Supernatural Horror and Two, while this is a Supernatural Horror at points, overall it’s more of a Psychological Horror which I love. “But what about The Devil’s Carnival?” Horror Musical. Moving on. I have also not read either of the books, but I just got the first one on audiobook from my local library and am about halfway through it. Insert shameless ‘Go Visit Your Local Library’ plug here.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE EXORCIST I AND III.
For those who need a refresher of the first film, fifteen years prior to the start of this movie, a girl named Regan MacNeil was possessed by a demon and two priests were brought in to get rid of it. The eldest was killed, but the younger one, Damien Karras, played by Jason Miller, begged the demon to take him instead of Regan. Once it did, Karras flung himself outside and down a very long flight of stairs, killing both him and the demon. Or so we all thought. If you’ve seen the FOX show, which I didn’t realise was a sequel until after the first season ended, you know it didn’t work….I haven’t seen that either.
Thankfully, this is one of those films where you don’t have to have seen the first one in order to understand this film. They explain everything you need in the movie. Also, ignore the second one. This one does.
As stated before, it’s been fifteen years since Karras’s death and his old friend Lieutenant William Kinderman (for those confused about their relationship, it was in the books, which this one is following more, but not the film), who was a minor character in the first film, is still morning him. Here, as his original actor passed in the seventies, he’s played by the great George C. Scott. At the end of the first film, he had begun a friendship with Father Joseph Dyer, another minor character who was friends with Karras and who’s actor was also replaced, this time by Ed Flanders, and they’ve remained friends, going to the movies every year on the anniversary of Karras’s death to cheer themselves up. Fifteen years to the day of Karras’s death, a boy Kinderman knew is found murdered and all evidence points to a long dead serial killer known as The Gemini Killer, based off the real life Zodiac Killer who had written to the San Francisco Chronicle before he vanished, saying he had found the original film “the best satirical comedy” he’d ever seen. A priest found dead in a confession booth reveals that two identical murders were committed by two different people, impossible as the police had never revealed the Killer’s true MO to the press. After Father Dyer is murdered in a hospital, Kinderman finds a man in cell 11 of the disturbed ward who knows more than he should.
The man turns out to be a revived Damien Karras, again played by Jason Miller, still possessed by the demon, but also by the Gemini Killer, played by Brad Dourif. The demon, angry that it had been foiled in the last film, hatched a plan for revenge and placed the soul of the recently killed Gemini Killer into Karras’s body though they had to wait fifteen years to fix the damage the fall had done to his brain. Once restored, the Gemini Killer could continue killing by possessing mentally weak patients in the hospital to do his work and the demon could torture Karras by having him witness himself committing such brutal murders. They want Kinderman to reveal to the press who’s behind the killings, and thus reveal that Karras is alive and is a murderer, or suffer the consequences. After his family is put in danger, Kinderman calls in a priest, Father Morning, to get rid of the demon and hopefully the Gemini Killer along with him. When that doesn’t work, Kinderman tries to shoot him. The demon fights back both times, but in the end Father Morning pleads to Karras to fight and he briefly succeeds, begging Kinderman to kill him while he’s still in control of himself. He does and Karras is finally put to rest, the demon and the Gemini Killer vanquished once and for all. Hence why every other subsequent film was a prequel and why the TV show ignores this movie.
Brad Dourif is the highlight of this movie. Every scene he’s in is just dripping with menace and evil, not helped by the fact that a good chunk of the time he’s looking directly into the camera, similar to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, which came out the following year. And you know how I feel about Hannibal Lecter. Dourif’s Gemini Killer is right up there with him. He also does this thing where the pitch of his voice changes constantly, first sounding normal then switching to a very deep tone before switching back. It’s extremely unsettling and is amazing. He also gets some of the best dialogue despite being introduced halfway through the film….kind of.
Let me talk about production for a second. The original cut of the film only had Brad Dourif in the cell with Scott, but after a film test it was decided to bring back Jason Miller from the first film. Miller, who was suffering from alcoholism at the time, had trouble remembering his lines and thus they brought Dourif back in to reshoot some scenes, thus we have a scenario where two people are playing the same character. Miller as Karras AKA How Kinderman sees him and Dourif as the Gemini Killer AKA how the audience sees him (they describe it in the film as “The Eyes of The Faith”) The switch between the two is done masterfully, with Miller usually on screen when their body is sleeping or when the demon is in control while Dourif is on screen for most of their scenes as he’s the active one. It was a clever idea.
George C Scott was nominated for a Razzie for this film, though the competition was much worse than him (Stallone was similarly nominated for Rocky V at the time). Honestly, nothing about his performance is Razzie worthy. He gives an excellent performance. Kinderman is suffering through many different emotions throughout the film, from frustration with his coworkers, to grief as people he knows, including a close friend, die around him plus his continued grief over Karras, fear for his family, anger at the Gemini Killer for what he’s done, particularly to Father Dyer, the man goes through a lot in this film. He is pushed and pushed, but never breaks. His persistence and will are strong throughout and Scott handles it masterfully. Kinderman handles most of the investigation himself considering the personal connection he has to it and doesn’t go to an expert when he doesn’t understand something outside of basic police procedure and speaking briefly with the local head priest where they realise the connection between the victims and the MacNeil possession. That would not happen today. Hell, it didn’t happen in Silence of the Lambs the year after.
Something I noticed about this film is that it’s very slow and not in a bad way. The film’s only a hour and fifty minutes long, short for a film made today, but it feels like a longer movie. This film has very good pacing and build up, using every scene to its advantage to ramp up the tension and suspense, including a particular scene that some call the Greatest Jump Scare Ever. And yes, I can attest to that. I can usually tell when a jump scare is gonna happen and it had me fooled. Kudos. I did not see that coming.
The music is also very subtle and much of the film doesn’t have any at all. The Exorcist theme is played briefly over the title credits, but after that it never appears. A lot of horror movies these day have loud scores to punctuate the scares. This was a nice change of pace and I honestly think it was to the movie’s advantage. This film has a lot of quotable moments, some of which are even funny. A decent chunk come from Dourif, as I said, but also a good amount from Scott. This really isn’t that surprising. While William Peter Blattly is best known today for supernatural horror, mostly due to the success of The Exorcist, at the time he was best known for his comedy screenplays.
My personal favourite line is one from Dourif in his deep voice “Ooh, let’s call it revenge.” I don’t know why. I just love the way he says that line. If I ever write a screenplay, I’m putting in that line somewhere (same tone) as tribute. Though his lines about laughter and smiles are also high on my list.
As I’ve never read the original book, I can’t really say how good an adaptation this is, but considering the original author is not only the screenwriter, but also the director, I think we can say it’s pretty accurate. What I do know they changed for certain is the ending. In the book, and the original cut of the film, the Gemini Killer’s father, an abusive evangelist, dies and the Gemini Killer wills himself to die as shaming his father through his killings was the whole point of his existence. This is, understandably, very anticlimactic, especially since the demon and the Gemini Killer ultimately win in the end. The studio mandated that since this was a sequel to The Exorcist and they had made them change the title from Legion, the title of the book, to The Exorcist III, they needed an exorcism scene to end the film, thus creating the character of Father Morning. He doesn’t get much screen time or character as he was added in at the last minute, but I much prefer the ending in the theatrical cut. It allows the main character, Kinderman, to have an active roll in the finale, allows redemption for Karras as it contains the only brief scene where he’s really in control, and it lets the good guys win. Plus, it’s the only time we see the demon and how much power it has. We even get some gore, something that’s, for the most part, lacking from the rest of the film.
This film is an excellent work of Psychological Horror and I highly recommend it. It’s criminally underrated mainly due to the disaster that was The Exorcist II and the fact that the subgenre, for the most part anyway, changed from Supernatural Horror to Psychological Horror. It can be slow in places and takes its time revealing the bad guy, but it’s worth the wait. Great acting, great suspense, excellent dialogue, and a brilliantly crafted story all combined to make a worthy sequel to what some call the greatest horror film of all time. Check it out.
You can find The Exorcist III on home video through various mediums, but of particular note is the Collector’s Edition that was released last year which included a Director’s Cut of the film. While much of the original footage was lost by the studio, they did manage to cobble together a version from VHS dallies that more closely resembles Blatty’s original vision. From what I’ve heard, it’s not as good as the theatrical cut, but it has some good scenes and it comes with a copy of the theatrical cut on Blu-Ray so get a hold of that one. It’s probably the easiest to find at any rate.
Sorry I took a break from Doctor Who this week, but I’m getting the SDCC Quickie out this weekend and I needed something quickly for today…Sorry about that. Regular Doctor Who schedule restarts next week.