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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 31.31%
Average: 2.02%
Pretty Bad: 8.08%
Total Crap: 5.05%

4 reviews, 75 user ratings

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Exorcist III, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Some books just shouldn't be movies."
2 stars

There are two major things wrong with "The Exorcist III" and the way it was marketed (there's a third, which I'll get to at the end):

(a) William Peter Blatty's 1983 book Legion should never have been made into a movie. Blatty adapted it himself, so the blame for that falls on him. Legion is a beautiful read, but it's essentially a philosophical police procedural with supernatural elements. Not the stuff of cinema.

(b) Having made a movie of Legion, Warner Brothers should never have called it an Exorcist movie. In the novel, the only holdovers from the original Exorcist book and film were rambling Jewish detective William Kinderman (played in the 1973 film by Lee J. Cobb, and played here by George C. Scott), witty Catholic priest Father Joseph Dyer (played in the original by an actual Jesuit priest, and played here by the late, great Ed Flanders), and the undead Father Karras (Jason Miller). But the studio wanted more of, y'know, an Exorcist flick, so Blatty had to go back and reshoot scenes to include another exorcist, Father Morning (phoned in by Nicol Williamson).

The changes didn't help; Exorcist III was largely ignored by audiences and sneered at by critics -- though it has built a cult audience on video in the years since, and has gained a shinier reputation among web critics, some of whom go so far as to insist that it's better than the original film. I'll call it a noble failure -- not nearly as brutally effective as The Exorcist, and not as enthrallingly mind-bending as Blatty's only other directorial effort, 1980's The Ninth Configuration.

I'd read Legion countless times in the seven years before the movie came out -- it's that kind of book -- so a lot of the changes Blatty made in the film rubbed me the wrong way. (This from someone who usually bellows "The book is the book, the movie is the movie" whenever some geek whines about minuscule changes made to a movie version of something.) Kinderman's relationship with his sergeant sidekick Atkins (Grand L. Bush) makes up much of the book's warming core -- the men are deeply fond of each other, Kinderman perhaps seeing Atkins as the son he never had. In the movie, we see virtually nothing of their quirky rapport. An entire fascinating character -- the neurologist Amfortas, who experiments with talking to the dead via audiotapes -- is discarded, though, bafflingly, the script includes a couple of allusions to the practice (which Blatty reportedly believes in), in a Kinderman dream sequence wherein angels attempt to communicate with the living. (Samuel L. Jackson gets one line -- dubbed over by someone else -- as a blind angel who complains "The living are deaf.")

Stripped to its basics, the story is about Kinderman's pursuit of the Gemini Killer, who died in the electric chair fifteen years ago but now appears to be killing again. Blatty used this as a jumping-off point for a grand philosophical theory of the very meaning and origin of human existence (I won't spoil it, except to say that the title Legion takes on a deeper significance). The movie mostly loses all the Deep Thought, though we get an occasional, pointless-seeming exchange about Pain or Evil. It seems pointless now because there's no follow-through (maybe there was before Blatty was told to go back to the editing room).

Damien Karras, it turns out, is the unwilling host body for the spirit of the Gemini Killer (played in his true manifestation by Brad Dourif, in a chained-down spewing-psycho performance that scooped Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter by six months). Kinderman's trail leads him to various elderly mental patients, which in turn leads to an admittedly exciting (if overblown in comparison with the novel) sequence in which Kinderman races to get home before an old nutcase (Viveca Lindfors), posing as a nurse and carrying gigantic bone shears in her bag, can liberate his daughter's head from her body.

It's too bad that Blatty was so hamstrung by the demands of delivering "an Exorcist sequel" (Paul Schrader faced similar trials with his Exorcist movie -- he was replaced by Renny Harlin), because he remains a superb director. The problem with Exorcist III -- other than the obvious eleventh-hour finale, which feels ridiculously abrupt and borders on the unintentionally hilarious ("Now, Bill! Shoot me now!") -- isn't in the way it's crafted. Blatty sets up one by-now-legendary seat-jumper involving the murder of a nurse: I've never seen it done that way before (or since, really), and the moment etches itself into the pantheon of great horror scenes. In general, Blatty maintains an eerie, oppressive tone without stooping to linger over carnage (the more hideous crimes are merely talked about, the corpses chastely cloaked in sheets). As he showed in The Ninth Configuration, Blatty is masterful with sound, and he and editor Todd Ramsay borrow William Friedkin's technique in the original of clipping a scene just before you expect it to end. The film keeps you off balance; it's strikingly well-made, for a movie that shouldn't have been made.

Which brings us to the film's third major problem: George C. Scott. Casting him as the rumpled, benevolent ruminator Kinderman is like casting a Rottweiler as a beagle. Scott begins each scene keyed up too high, and he's simply too angry and animated to ring any bells as the man so memorably embodied by the late Lee J. Cobb. Everyone else in the large cast -- and Blatty certainly corralled an interesting ensemble, ranging from Patrick Ewing to Zohra Lampert to Scott Wilson to frickin' Fabio -- gets interesting bits of business and is allowed to be human. But Scott is inhuman; he's not remotely credible as a frail old man questioning our purpose in life. His big, splenetic speech near the end -- which a lot of people love, but I hate -- is not the Kinderman I know from the books; Kinderman would never lapse into saying "I believe in slime and stink, and every crawling, putrid thing, every possible ugliness and corruption!" -- give me a break. Did Blatty really write this?

In the end, the only thing that can restore order is Kinderman's trusty pistol. Scott is all too plausible spouting off about "slime and stink" and then plugging the unholy with lead; that's what finally kills his characterization and the movie.

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originally posted: 10/11/06 09:50:38
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User Comments

10/07/18 Johntechwriter My primary enjoyment in the film is its smart and funny writing. 4 stars
2/21/17 morris campbell not nearly good as the original 3 stars
4/01/16 Wakko One of my favourite movies of all time. 5 stars
8/26/15 Saif What an underrated film! One of the best sequels. 4 stars
11/22/08 Shaun Wallner Scary Film! 5 stars
9/02/08 Kim Better than the first! 5 stars
7/18/08 we are legion, for we are many... Brad Dourif is absolutley brilliant. Dialogue was haunting. My favorite horror hands down 5 stars
9/04/07 tank1229 One of the best holy shit moments ever 5 stars
7/15/07 Naomi Sxhwartz Great 4 stars
3/17/07 Anthony C The Best Horror Movie ive seen yet! Very Scary,A Awesome Story. 5 stars
3/09/07 Sugarfoot I actually liked this better than the first, although i'm a huge George C. Scott fan. 5 stars
12/13/06 mig Really great film, way under-rated. 5 stars
10/22/06 Neil Great movie, though ending dipped somewhat 4 stars
10/12/06 Bob Very Scary 4 stars
10/12/06 MP Bartley Unexpectedly eerie. Also contains one of THE most frightening jump scenes ever. 4 stars
10/11/06 David Pollastrini a bit slow in places but still good 4 stars
7/12/06 ian afford scott & dourif excellent,nearly poo'd my pants at hospital scene !! 5 stars
3/19/06 mr. mike "heretic" was more entertaining 3 stars
11/03/05 M One scene will haunt me forever! 4 stars
9/26/05 Omar Excellent 5 stars
3/26/05 Roderick Fitzgerald Great performances, dialogue, atmosphere, and direction. A magnificent sequel! Brilliant! 5 stars
11/01/04 ODH Very underrated horror flick, a worthy sequel to the original horror classic 4 stars
9/21/04 Brian Eason Much better than the original Exorcist, which was dull and not scary at all. 5 stars
9/03/04 David Fowler Near perfect version, by Blatty, of his own novel. Scott is brilliant! 5 stars
8/24/04 sdfr it was a good movie. lots ppl hated it, i dunno why.. 4 stars
8/13/04 tank1229 good lord this movie scared the s**t out of me 5 stars
7/17/04 Nix Turn up the sound. Evil is lurking. 5 stars
7/02/04 anthony delmar Very Creep and Intense 5 stars
4/11/04 American Slasher Goddess Worthy third entry to the classic original. 4 stars
2/18/04 Brian An absolutely gripping piece of horror that scares not with blood and guts but pacing 5 stars
1/29/04 Matt Angner A Quality Sequel to The Exorcist 4 stars
12/27/03 J Not scary, but worth watchin'! ** 1/2 out 4 5 stars
12/16/03 Mr. Hyde When I think about it...I look over my shoulder... 5 stars
11/27/03 John well written and extremly scary you'll jump out of your seat in THE SCENE 5 stars
11/04/03 Lars Kelsen Well-crafted second sequel helmed by the original shocker's creator. 4 stars
10/25/03 Sammy I started watching this movie..... it is accually pretty good!!! 5 stars
10/14/03 Ian too slow 2 stars
7/20/03 PJ Makes Exorcist II look like Police academy 7 5 stars
6/09/03 Bobby Galeana Jr. Too boring? Too boring? What the hell is wrong with you? 5 stars
4/09/03 Ross Bernard Not close to as disturbing or scary as first, but that one scene in the hall freaked me out 4 stars
7/20/02 ! Alot better than shit part 2, u can just see Blatty directed it.. 4 stars
2/14/02 Brian Yes, it's scary, but more importantly it's spooky. The difference is "atmosphere". 5 stars
1/17/02 David A. Best Exorcist movie. It was a supernatural crime drama, inspired by the Zodiac Killer in CA 4 stars
11/12/01 jawsboy pretty creepy flick, hurt somewhat by some dumb scenes. the hospital scene really caught me 4 stars
10/30/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) The freakiest of the 3. 4 stars
9/22/01 Pop will eat itself wonderfull 5 stars
8/13/01 Adam Great movie, needs to be looked at as a great horror movie! 4 stars
8/12/01 Andrew Carden The Worst Of All 3. Too Boring. 1 stars
8/08/01 Me Amazing film making 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk Goddamn, if this isn't one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. Dourif is phenomenal. 5 stars
7/20/01 wizzman Incredible film! Exorcist III is what horror is and what it should be. 5 stars
6/01/01 Gary gets the job done... 4 stars
5/18/01 Alexander Absolutely BORING, TEDIOUS & STUPID. Why bother. 1 stars
4/28/01 The Jedi Droid The scariest fucking movie I have ever seen..... 5 stars
4/25/01 Gary Bradley Superb and very frightening 5 stars
3/19/01 Roxanna Bellarishna I have not seen it but it will be the best film that I have ever seen. 5 stars
1/13/01 Christopher Revilla's mother sucks cocks in hell! FUCKING AWESOME! 5 stars
1/03/01 SeBiShOr2k A must be seen which could teach people what life really is... 5 stars
11/29/00 Cristopher Revilla this film should've been called "tribute to George C. Scott", a total fucking waste of time 1 stars
11/18/00 Gary Bradley Agreed. Not only better than the original, but a superlative horror film on all counts. 5 stars
11/01/00 Buffalo A bit slow, but Jesus (statue), that one scene was one of the scariest I've ever seen! 4 stars
10/13/00 Terrie Smith Hell of a lot better than the second film; Scott & Dourif make it worthwhile. 4 stars
9/18/00 Patient X Awesome!A marvelous sequel! 5 stars
6/08/00 Aaron Boring, but i've seen worse. I actually liked part II. 2 stars
4/30/00 Matt I'm gonna give it a bad rating just to screw with the ratings! 1 stars
1/20/00 Jedi15 Better. MUCH better. After the shitty Exorcist II, it had to get better. And it DID. Great! 5 stars
12/29/99 Christian Some faults, but EXCELLENT. 5 stars
8/27/99 sparky Not as good as the original, but does have some truly great scares! 4 stars
8/24/99 Sometimes what a film DOESN'T show is scarier. 4 stars
8/23/99 Warrick Smith Brad Dourif is brilliant, George C. Scott alternately witty and intense. better each view. 5 stars
8/16/99 Bob ( Horrifying; well-acted; a fantastic film 5 stars
7/04/99 Steve Farrell Criminally underrated and ignored. 4 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Pants. 1 stars
5/24/99 Allie excellent suspense 5 stars
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  17-Aug-1990 (R)
  DVD: 10-Oct-2006

  23-Nov-1990 (15)

  14-Feb-1991 (M)

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