The Exorcist III – USA, 1990 – reviews

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‘Do you dare walk these steps again?’

The Exorcist III is a 1990 American horror film written and directed by William Peter Blatty. It is the second sequel of The Exorcist series and a film adaptation of Blatty’s 1983 novel, Legion.

With an $11 million budget, the tentatively-titled Exorcist: Legion was shot on location in Georgetown for eight weeks in mid-1989. Additional interior filming then took place in DEG Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. Blatty completed principal photography of the film on time, and only slightly over budget.

However, four months later, Morgan Creek informed Blatty that a new ending had to be shot. Blatty said that “James Robinson, the owner of the company, his secretary had insisted to him that this has nothing to do with The Exorcist. There had to be an exorcism.”

20th Century Fox ponied up an additional $4-million in post-production – to film an effects-laden exorcism sequence featuring Nicol Williamson as Father Morning, a character added just for the new climax and Blatty had to make the best of it in the narrative while racing to complete the film. Blatty confirmed that when the possessed Karras speaks in an asexual voice, saying, “I must save my son, the Gemini,” that this in fact is either a returned Pazuzu or, as Blatty put it, “Old Scratch himself” taking control. This ties in to the revelation earlier in the film that the Gemini was sent into Karras’ body as revenge for the Regan MacNeil exorcism.

One shot missing from the re-filmed climax – but which features in the trailer – shows Karras/the Gemini “morphing” through a variety of faces. It was left out of the film because Blatty wasn’t happy with the special effects work.

On the climactic exorcism scene, Blatty later said, “It’s alright, but it’s utterly unnecessary and it changes the character of the piece.” Although at the time, Blatty told the press that he was happy to re-shoot the film’s ending and have the story climax with a frenzy of special effects, the truth is that this compromise was forced on him, against his wishes:

“The original story that I sold [Morgan Creek] (and that I shot) ended with Kinderman blowing away Patient X. There was no exorcism. But it was a Mexican stand-off between me and the studio. I was entitled to one preview, then they could go and do what they wanted with the picture. They gave me a preview but it was the lowest end preview audience I have ever seen in my life. They dragged in zombies from Haiti to watch this film. It was unbelievable. But I decided, better I should do it than anyone else. I foolishly thought: I can do a good exorcism, I’ll turn this pig’s ear into a silk purse. So I did it.”

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Main cast:

George C. Scott (The Changeling; Firestarter), Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson, and Brad Dourif. Nicol Williamson (Venom) appears in exorcism footage that was appended to the story at the insistence of the producers. Zohra Lampert, who plays Kinderman’s wife, is remembered for her lead role in another horror film, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971).

On October 25, 2016, Scream Factory are releasing the film on Blu-ray. The company commented on their website:

“We know that the biggest question you might have is: Will there be a “Director’s Cut” of the film? The answer is yes—but with some caveats. We are working on putting together a version that will be close to Blatty’s original script using a mixture of various film and video tape sources that we have been provided with. This is still a work in progress and we will update you with more details at the time we announce the full list of bonus materials.”

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Plot:

Set fifteen years after the original film and ignoring the events of Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), the film centres around the philosophical Lieutenant William F. Kinderman from the first film, investigating a baffling series of murders in Georgetown that appear to have a satanic motive behind them and furthermore have all the hallmarks of “The Gemini”, a deceased serial killer…

Reviews:

Hands down one of the best horror films that I have ever seen … The Exorcist III both honors and respects the legacy laid down by the first film while looking ahead towards new horizons. Blatty wisely decided to ignore the events of Exorcist II: The Heretic when making this film. So, in a sense, The Exorcist III can be viewed as an official sequel to the original.” Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear

“This may sound like heresy, but The Exorcist III is a better and funnier (intentionally) movie than either of its predecessors … For all of the wildness of his imagination, Mr. Blatty is a comparatively discreet director. He keeps the special effects to a minimum until the end, and the murders are explicitly described rather than seen. Vincent Canby, The New York Times

 

“If Part II sequels are generally disappointing, Part IIIs are often much, much worse. It can seem as if nothing is going on in them except dim murmurings about the original movie — murmurings that mostly remind you of what isn’t being delivered. The Exorcist III is an ash-gray disaster.” Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

“… includes one of the great scary images of the 1990s – the white-robed figure with the huge head-lopping shears suddenly walking into frame in pursuit of an unwitting nurse… Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies

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“For a while it looks like Blatty may just pull off a tour de force in which III emerges as simultaneously a murder mystery, a tale of the supernatural and a struggle between good and evil which yields a spiritual awakening. But Blatty allows the film to slide into a protracted discourse between Dourif and Scott. Even though III is something of a letdown by conventional dramatic standards, it is intellectually stimulating, suggesting effectively that only faith in God can truly combat evil.” Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times 

“The excessively wordy dialogue is interrupted by intervals of brooding malevolence, and by a couple of contrived but startlingly effective shocks. The real terror, however, comes from Dourif’s straight-to-camera serial killer monologues, which breathe eerie life into the script. With the exception of an unnecessary spectacular climax, this is a restrained, haunting chiller which stimulates the adrenalin and intellect alike.” Mark Kermode, Time Out London

The Exorcist III 7

“Blatty manages to create a few interesting visuals, but the scare scenes are few. Virtually all of the violence and much of the important physical action takes place off camera. They’re described, not shown.” Mike Mayo, The Horror Show Guide

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“The longer the movie goes, the more it falls apart—again, not a surprise given the fact that it’s the third act that was messed with most in post-production. The exorcism stuff feels shoehorned in because it was, and though it’s cool to see George C. Scott and Jason Miller (who does good work despite being in poor health at the time) share the screen together, it’s not the story that Blatty seems interested in telling.” Patrick Bromley, Daily Dead

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“Blatty goes for unusual scare tactics.” John Stanley, Creature Features

Cast and characters:

  • George C. Scott as Lt. William F. Kinderman
  • Ed Flanders as Father Dyer
  • Jason Miller as Patient X/Damien Karras
  • Scott Wilson as Dr. Temple
  • Brad Dourif as James Venamun/The “Gemini Killer”
  • Grand L. Bush as Sgt. Atkins
  • Nicol Williamson as Father Morning
  • Nancy Fish as Nurse Allerton
  • Barbara Baxley as Shirley
  • Harry Carey Jr. as Father Kanavan
  • George Dicenzo as Stedman
  • Tyra Ferrell as Nurse Blaine
  • Lois Foraker as Nurse Merrin
  • Don Gordon as Ryan
  • Mary Jackson as Mrs. Clelia
  • Zohra Lampert as Mary Kinderman
  • Ken Lerner as Dr. Freedman
  • Viveca Lindfors as Nurse X
  • Lee Richardson as University President
  • Fabio (uncredited) as Angel
  • Patrick Ewing as Angel of Death
  • C. Everett Koop as himself
  • Larry King as himself
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Blind Dream Man

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