It's remarkable that 15+ years after the original- and 13 years after the horrendous sequel- Exorcist III burst onto screens and turned out to be a serious, well-made frightening film. Though the film is far from perfect (and it certainly has its detractors), writer/director William Peter Blatty crafted a film (based on his novel Legion) that stands well enough on its own but also answers the nagging question left behind by The Exorcist: what's the point of possessing someone if all they're gonna do is sit around in bed and get gross?
George C Scott stars as Lt Bill Kinderman, the kindly fella who investigated all the weird happenings at the McNeil house fifteen years ago. The Gemini Killer, a vicious serial killer executed...yes...fifteen years ago (omigod what a coinkydink), seems to be back and...err, viciouser than ever. There's been a rash of church-related killings- a young boy in the outreach program is found decapitated and crucified, a priest is murdered in a confessional- and it seems the common element in all of the deaths is Father Karras (Jason Miller), the priest who assisted in Regan's exorcism and who died at the bottom of that long flight of steps in Georgetown.
As Kinderman puts the pieces together, the killings begin to hit closer and closer to home: Kinderman's long-time friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), who also knew the McNeils, encounters the killer during a hospital stay, and eventually even Kinderman's family is in danger. Is the Gemini Killer really still alive? Who is Patient X, the man who bears a striking resemblance to the long-dead Father Karras?
Exorcist III is a slow (but never boring), cerebral film that unfolds like a murder mystery, but there are ample scares to satisfy horror fans: there are creepy voices, bleeding statues, old women who crawl around on the ceiling (seriously disturbing, y'all), and of course, the infamous nurse scene: a nearly wordless 5-minute sequence that's a brilliant exercise in tension. The audience knows that something is gonna happen, but what and when? It's the one scene people remember most after seeing this film, and it's the one that had everyone screaming and jumping when I saw it in the theatre.
There's not nearly as much 'razzle dazzle' here as there is in the original Exorcist- it's much more subtle than that. That's not to say nothing happens in the film- but when it does, Blatty tends to keep things dark and mysterious. The performances keep you riveted, particularly those of George C Scott (c'mon, man, it's George C Scott!) and Brad Dourif (James Venamun). It's a pleasure to watch Kinderman and Dyer interact- two friends who are unsentimental but deeply attached to one another. There's also a bevy of familiar faces in smaller roles: Zohra Lampert (Let's Scare Jessica to Death), Viveca Lindfors (Creepshow), Samuel L Jackson, and in the role of "Was that...what the eff is he doing in an Exorcist film?", Patrick Ewing.
Folks seem to be pretty divided on Exorcist III- either it's a great, scary sequel or it's a big fat mess. Can't we call it both? Then we're all right, and everyone is pretty. Especially me!