Exorcist III (1990)

JULY 27, 2008


After the stink of Exorcist II, I was hardly excited for another go round with Pazuzu, Karras, and Regan. But I knew about a certain top notch scare scene in Exorcist III, and most folks tell me it’s the only worthwhile sequel, so I went in with an open mind. And while it’s hardly as good as the original, it IS indeed a much more respectable followup, and its problems, for the most part, aren’t sequel-related.

The one exception is William Peter Blatty’s insistence on following plot points that are only present in his original book, instead of the movie. So it’s a bit puzzling to watch a movie called Exorcist III that hinges on something that never happened in the movie Exorcist I. Apparently, in that book, Karras and Kinderman were best friends, whereas in the movie they met once and sort of disliked each other. But now Karras is dead, and Kinderman (now played by George C Scott) is all torn up about it, going so far as to say that he loved him. So it kind of makes Kinderman look pathetic, like one of those folks you meet once through a mutual friend or something and suddenly they think they are your best pal and put you on their top 8 on Myspace. And since the movie deals with the death of Father Dyer, I wonder why he just couldn’t ignore Karras entirely and have Dyer’s death be what upsets him. At least that would sort of go in line with the alternate ending of the first film, and we actually see them as good friends in the early parts of this film anyway.

I have zero problems with it ignoring the second film, however. I’m sure Regan and co. are just fine elsewhere.

Otherwise, it is indeed a worthy continuation for the most part. The nice thing about the original is that it had a lot of characters left alive at the end, and all of them are worthy of their own movie (I’m actually kind of bummed that Dyer got offed so quickly, and also that Father O’Malley didn’t return to play the role – both of them deserve their own shot in the limelight). A detective mystery (of sorts) with the overtones of the Devil and all the themes of the first film is a damn good idea, if you ask me. And the aforementioned scare? Even though I knew it was coming (anyone who has seen the movie knows which one I mean) it still made me jump, and I can’t imagine how much of a jolt I would get had I been totally in the dark about it. There are some other freaky sequences as well, a nice improvement over the last film, which didn’t even seem to be attempting anything one would consider a “scare” scene.

Scott is pretty good as Kinderman. Like in The Changeling, his acting consists mainly of looking baffled or annoyed by everything around him, and saying things that don’t make a lot of sense (“I was signaling beings on Mars, sometime they answer.” – huh?), but he fills in for Lee Cobb quite nicely. He also gets angry at the drop of a hat; you never know when a seemingly innocuous line will be given a Patton-esque angry shout. And Brad Dourif is, as usual, a delight as a crazy killer guy. There’s also a great bit where he ends a scene by saying “Child’s play”, and then they cut to a little redhaired mop. I am sure it wasn’t intentional, but horror nerds like me love that type of shit.

Unfortunately, Dourif’s role is played by Jason Miller half the time. It’s a bit confusing, but I think it’s supposed to just be Kinderman’s imagination that he sees Karras instead of the Dourif character when the demon is pretending to be him? There are no extras to help explain this, but according to the IMDb, the movie was originally shot without Karras at all, and then Blatty went back and reshot part of Dourif’s role with Miller (as Karras). OK, Bill, whatever.

And that’s part of the main problem with the film – it’s just needlessly baffling a lot of the time. There are many dream sequences that are stuffed with symbolism that never really seems integral to anything, plus the schizo Dourif/Miller stuff, aforementioned odd dialogue from Scott, etc. The plot is compelling and fairly original, but they keep diffusing its strength with all this other nonsense that never really pays off. The book sounds like it makes a lot more sense (and also has other suspects for the Gemini Killer, something the movie barely even seems to care about after a while), so maybe I’ll check it out. I own it, might as well read it someday I guess.

One definite highlight of this film is all of the random bit roles and cameos. I don’t know how a movie that features Samuel L Jackson, Patrick Ewing, and fucking Fabio in a single scene can be altogether bad. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death’s Zohra Lampert also shows up as Kinderman’s wife (and is just as awkward as ever, though she’s largely absent for the bulk of the film). Kinderman’s partner is Grand L. Bush, who you all know as the non-Robert Davi Agent Johnson from Die Hard. And Kevin Corrigan plays the oldest altar boy in screen history, already displaying his traditional Italian “neighborhood guy” mannerisms. Scott Wilson also pops up, but his role is so damned inconsequential I can’t even begin to bother trying to describe his character.

Not a single person has ever told me anything good about part IV (either version), but I’m sure I’ll get to those eventually. But it’s kind of a shame, all the other major horror franchises has a sequel that truly lives up to the original. This one comes close at times, but in the end its merely decent, and I think if II never happened it would be considered a major letdown (rather than a “return to form” by default).

What say you?


  1. I've always had a soft spot for this flick. At one point, John Carpenter was going to direct, but felt that an Exorcist movie should have an exorcism (there wasn't one in the book, and the studio forced one on Blatty for the film).

    Anyways... I digress. The film makes a lot more sense if you read the Exorcist and Legion. Both are great reads.

  2. If you get a chance (of course, you have a lot of movies on the menu already) check out Blatty's film "The Ninth Configuration" which is tonally similar to this and also stars the St. Elesewhere doctor. It's a great, wacky, uncategorizable movie, full of the dark wit that made Exorcist III a treat for me.

    BTW a lot of the confusing stuff (but not all of it) such as the Jason Miller scenes were added at "studio request" to make this more obviously an "Exorcist" movie. To my mind, it's actually more of a sequel to The Ninth Configuration.


  3. God, I saw this in the theater! All I remember is the "surgical shears/decap" scene, shot from the down the hall in the hospital... creepy. It's based on Blatty's 1984(?) novel "Legion." I really need to see it again; been so long it might as well be for the first time.

  4. Nice review! THE EXORCIST III is one of my favorite horror flicks of all time (and yes, I do like it just as much as the original, or at least almost as much). I think it's a wonderfully unnerving, disturbing film, and have always felt that the weird goings-on and bizarre dialogue add to the sense of "wrongness". From the very beginning of the movie, there's just something "off" about it, something that sets you on edge . . . .

    I love it. And it might be the only film I actually can't watch alone late at night. It's that effective for me.

    And yes, you should read the book, Brian! Great stuff.


  5. Saw this opening night and the creepiness never goes away. Just reading your review and the comments gave me goosebumps in discussion of "the scene". I think it is the length of the shot that makes it worse. If you watch it again, you should time it, it has to come in at like 5 minutes, easy. I had not seen the original before I saw this so I think it made it easier. I think they call it revisionist history right? Everyone knows the original story, but without getting any details until part 3, it makes more believable(?).This also came out around the time of Jacobs Ladder, and I had a lot harder time swallowing the confusing imagery in that film than this one. I need to watch this one again.

  6. Glad to see this film has it's fans as I really rate it. I went to see it with a pal on the off chance and during the 'scene', we both considered leaving - and I like being scared! Wasn't that keen on the little old lady crawling on the ceiling either. The film treats you like an adult which I think only adds to the experience.

    Note to self. Must reread the book.

  7. I really enjoy this third movie of the exorcist. No doubt that the "zoom" sequence in the hospital is one of the most effective shot I've ever seen!

    Great movie and great site! I love it!

  8. The book really does help decifer the karras gemini sharing the same body. The man in the cell (brad d.) Possesed karras body at the time of his death. So the body in the asylum is actually karras but he is possesed by the gemini killer. Love the book and a very good movie!


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