In 1977, Hollywood, flush with the 1973 success of The Exorcist, filmed a sequel entitled Exorcist II: The Heretic and unleashed it upon an unsuspecting public.
“What in the actual fuck am I watching,” the public said.
“Um,” said Hollywood. “The latest addition to the wildly successful Exorcist franchise?”
“Is that a locust-cam? Seriously?” said the public.
“Yes, it is a locust-cam. Our bad,” said Hollywood, slouching sulkily off toward Bethlehem. The movie flopped with a resounding crash, and there the matter rested for thirteen years.
In 1990, William Peter Blatty wrested his franchise back out of the hands of the people responsible for E2, probably bitch-slapped them with it, and started over, wisely choosing to pretend that E2 had never happened. And I wish that movie hadn’t left such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, because The Exorcist III is an underappreciated gem of a movie, creepy and gothic, with at least a couple of moments capable of scarring you for life without a drop of blood being shed onscreen.
Though, don’t get me wrong, there’s blood too. Creatively.
I thought about capping the scene with the nurse, but then I didn’t. If you’ve seen the movie, that part probably scarred you for life the first time around. If you haven’t, I want you to be scarred right along with the rest of us. I’m generous like that.
For E3, Blatty wisely chose to jettison Regan MacNeil, who was a bit of a one-trick pony anyway, in favor of bringing back Detective Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). Kinderman is facing a rash of religion-themed murders that bear all the hallmarks of having been committed by the fifteen-years-dead Gemini Killer – except that fingerprint evidence indicates the murders were all committed by different people. His investigations lead him to the disturbed ward of the local hospital; where he finds, among other surprises, that the Gemini killer (in the person of the incomparable Brad Dourif, handling some five solid minutes of bad-guy exposition with such flair that you never want him to stop talking about killing people) is, while indisputably dead, not as gone as one might hope.
Half the joy of this movie is that, like the original, the creepiness builds not just from blood-splashed confessional booths but from such small things. Kinderman speaks the name of God and the clock stops. Someone whispers his name as he walks through the disturbed ward. An empty street in the middle of the night has people running across it every couple of minutes for no apparent reason. Things that are done and then left alone to be unnerving all by themselves, not overemphasized by music stings or dramatic reactions. It’s a very different experience from loud and rambunctious slasher movies, so immersive that it closes over your head like water.
The movie’s not flawless. (Father Morning, wtf? I love him, but wtf, where did he even come from? I’m pretty sure he’s a replicant. Also, water dripping into a sink is not ominous, it’s just annoying.) But there are places where it could have been flawed and wasn’t. Even pinned cruciform against the wall by the power of Satan Or Whoever, for instance, Kinderman stubbornly refuses to have a heartwarming reconciliation with God. And what the movie gets right, it gets so right that you’re in awe.
So what’s the verdict? Four stars. I almost gave it five, putting it up there with the seminal horror movie of my childhood, Halloween; that’s how great this movie is. It only lost a star for the deus ex machina quality of the ending, which is strangely unsatisfying until the last minute or so of the climactic scene. Watch it, own it, just don’t blame me when you develop a phobia of birdlike little old ladies.
Also, check out the exhaustive and hilarious writeup of Exorcist II on Jabootu.net. They’re braver than I am, that’s for damn sure.