This week, Rolling Stone published a thoughtful list of the 20 best horror movie sequels. It made some unconventional choices I enjoyed: It went Halloween II over, say, the crackpot masterpiece Halloween III or the underrated H20, and dared to include a Hellraiser sequel — a often-shunned but fascinating franchise.
Still, I was disappointed at two obvious omissions: Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger meta-film scarefest New Nightmare (which has already been covered at Inverse this month) and the gripping 1990 George C. Scott-helmed frightfest Exorcist III.
The misbegotten 1977 Exorcist II stalled the franchise for more than a decade. Despite a turn from Deliverance and Zardoz mastermind/madman John Boorman as director, and a distinguished cast, the movie was a laughable mess. Its events are set shortly after the action of the first film, with the first film’s star, Regan (Linda Blair), in a psychiatric institution. To its benefit, the 1990 third installment has a more oblique relationship with the first Exorcist, abandoning Regan’s story and following that of a side character ex-cop played by Scott.
If The Exorcist III is campy at times — and a tad amateurish in its realization, with a TV movie-ish quality at times — it still delivers, in spades, the tension, gore, and Satanic tableaus that give the original Friedkin film its power.
The return of Exorcist novelist and screenwriter William Peter Blatty to the franchise is the source of both the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. The horrific scenarios are more potent thanks to his involvement, but perhaps a director with a more experienced eye and sense of pacing would have been a better choice. John Carpenter was in talks to direct the film, which would have made III the greatest film ever, as opposed to just a strong sequel. However, Blatty became increasingly adamant about wanting to take full creative control, despite having only one directorial credit to his name (1980’s adaptation of his novel The Ninth Configuration).
The concept of the movie is like an episode of Hannibal, but with a paranormal element. A series of brutal, baroquely displayed murders follows the patterns of a notorious serial killer from decades past, though that man — the so-called “Gemini Killer” — has been dead for 15 years. On the case are former associates of the first film’s hero Father Karras: former lieutenant William F. Kinderman (Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). Their relationship is one of the greatest parts of the films: They bond together and watch A Wonderful Life to cope with the memories of the evil they have seen in their lives.
But of course, their travails are not quite over. It turns out there’s a man in a psychiatric ward claiming to be the “Gemini Killer” who looks identical to the deceased Karras (Jason Miller), and turns out to be capable of some pretty mean and unexplainable tricks. Meanwhile, bodies are stacking up, including those of people very close to Kinderman. The lieutenant loses it, and his reason is tested as he notices all the similarities between the Gemini murders and the current brutalities. Brad Dourif pops up as a spirit of the Gemini, and there could be no scarier person for the role.
You can bet there’s a big fucking exorcism — one that even opens hell a little bit wider than the one in the first film.
Blatty’s film gets a good amount of its power from its compelling acting. Dourif is one of Hollywood’s finest psychopaths, and Scott gets a welcome and unprecedented amount of screen time here. There are moments in this film where one gets the feeling Blatty put the script aside and just let Scott do his freaky, almost-comically intense thing. If nothing else I’ve said entices you to check out Exorcist III, let it be this classic Scott “carp” monologue, which should be more widely recognized as a classic cinematic moment — up there with Orson Welles’ extemporaneous “cuckoo clock” rant in The Third Man.
If you’re looking to spice up your Halloween movie night, stop your search and go rent Exorcist III.