Ignore the production controversies behind The Exorcist III. This movie still shines as an example of superior horror storytelling.
Sixteen years after the events of The Exorcist, Lieutenant William F. Kinderman investigates a new series of gruesome murders, the style of which resembles that of the Gemini, a serial killer executed seventeen years ago. After his friend Father Dyer is slain, Kinderman visits a psychiatric patient and is shocked by the patient’s resemblance to Father Damien Karras. This leads Kinderman to realise that the possession incident from sixteen years ago has yet to end. The evil defeated back then is now viciously seeking vengeance.
* This review focuses on the original cinematic release of The Exorcist III. Not the 2016 Scream Factory Collector’s Edition.
The Exorcist III has an ugly controversy behind it. In a classic example of artistic freedom versus commercial dictation, producers weren’t thrilled by director William Peter Blatty’s original take and insisted on him adding an end exorcism scene. In fact, I read somewhere that Blatty, who also wrote the original Exorcist story, didn’t even want this movie to carry the Exorcist brand. The end result was The Exorcist III having a distinctive schizophrenic feel. There’s Blatty’s creepier, subdued original for most parts, with the abrupt get-out-of-him-you-beast portion dominating the end.
I strongly preferred Blatty’s original bits. His style is proof of the power of narration, and his mastery is demonstrated by artful injections of moments of genuine psychological terror. The most infamous of these being that superb, wide-angle corridor scene. Having said this, I should highlight that the exorcism scene wasn’t that awful too. This was still done by the same man, and if one considers a pea-soup spewing Linda Blair to be iconic, what’s so wrong with this updated version? The only problem, if you ask me, is how the exorcism felt incongruous overall. It was sudden. It screamed reshoot. Perhaps Blatty was protesting silently, but he could have done that scene a little less hysterically.
Might I add too that though I prefer the quieter direction, the enforced ending is probably the better way to conclude The Exorcist III. Blatty’s original novel, Legion, was a thoughtful dissertation on the nature of evil. One that ended with a disquieting anti-climax. While I’m sure the talents of cinema could still weave a great ending using this, I think most audiences then and now would prefer something a little more visual. I mean, do you seriously want to watch a horror movie in which the monster goes sayonara peacefully by itself? In that sense, Blatty’s original tale is perhaps rather ill-suited for the big screen. The conflict might have been unavoidable.
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