Warner Bros. // 1990 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // December 5th, 2003
From the creator of the original Exorcist, the horror is Legion!
Set 15 years after the events of the first film, The Exorcist III centers around Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott). Kinderman is still trying to come to terms with the death of Father Karras (Jason Miller) when he is called to a mysterious case: people have been dying gruesome deaths. All bear the mark of the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), a notorious serial killer. Only one problem: the Gemini Killer is dead, having been executed 15 years ago.
After a discussion with Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson), head of the psychiatric ward, Kinderman discovers that a mysterious man was found wandering the beach the very same night of the original exorcism. And the man happens to have a startling resemblance to Father Karras. But he is possessed by the soul of the Gemini Killer...
Blatty made no secret of his dislike for Exorcist II: The Heretic. He disliked it so much that in 1983, he wrote the true sequel, titled Legion. After struggling for years to obtain financing for a film version, an independent production company named Morgan Creek came through with the money. Opening in the summer of 1990, audiences were disappointed with the end product.
I think the reason audiences were let down by Blatty's film was because it is quite a different film than the 1973 classic. William Friedkin's film was more shocking and startling. Blatty's film is more intellectual and deliberate in its pacing. That doesn't mean The Exorcist III is a bad film. In fact, it's a real treat.
Blatty's gift is to create an airtight story, surround it with memorable, often quotable dialogue and maintain a basic reality to the proceedings. This film, third in his "Trilogy of Faith," contains all those ingredients and then some. This is Blatty's second directorial effort, the first being the brilliant The Ninth Configuration. There are some legitimate scares in this film and Blatty earns each and every one of them.
My only complaint regards the ending. According to Laurent Bourzeau's book The Cutting Room Floor, the ending was recut after a confusing preview. It is very abrupt and we are left wondering what happened at the end. The original novel had a more definitive ending and I can't help but wonder if the studio got cold feet.
Just as he did in that film, Blatty pieced together a first rate cast. George C. Scott takes over the role Lee J. Cobb originated in the original. He plays Kinderman very differently, worn out by time, rather terse and gruff. That was a good acting decision, as I'm pretty sure the character would be changed with a 15-year guilt trip. Jason Miller reprises his role of Karras and is extremely effective in his few scenes. Scott Wilson is solid as usual as the doctor; his performances are so natural that people forget what a good actor he really is. Ed Flanders turns in good work as Father Dyer. Brad Dourif steals the film with a performance that should have earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He is chilling and unforgettable as the Gemini Killer. Your arm hairs will be standing by the time his screen time ends.
Blatty's direction is excellent. As I stated before, this is his second film and he shows a confidence others often lack when making their second trip behind the camera. He keeps his actors on an even keel; overacting would ruin the mood and feel of this film. Blatty shows good mastery of basic camerawork and he creates some effective compositions with his images. In other words, he did his homework, folks.
Warner released the film in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is anamorphically enhanced and they did really fine work here. Blatty and his cinematographer Gerry Fisher drenched the film in darkness and shadows. This could have been a festering ground for grain but they took great care in the transfer to avoid this classic pitfall of DVD. Colors are appropriately muted and look good. Few film artifacts other than the occasional reel mark and speck are present. Good work, Warner!
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround stereo mix is excellent. Just as in the previous film, a lot of experimentation with sound effects and music cues went into the soundtrack. A simple mono mix wouldn't have been as effective. If you have only seen the film on VHS, you will be stunned with the high quality of this sound mix.
The lone extra is a theatrical trailer (anamorphically enhanced). Interesting note: The film is titled The Exorcist III: Legion; apparently this was prepared long before the final cut.
With the holiday season approaching, many stores have priced this disc to sell for $10 or under. With that in mind, I can easily recommend this as a blind buy. Just keep in mind that this is a very different film than the original and you will enjoy spinning The Exorcist III for years to come.
Next defendant please!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer