The Exorcist III

The Exorcist III (1990)
Warner Home Video
Cast: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

I love it when underrated films make their way onto DVD. It’s even better when the film is one that you thought would NEVER see the light of day on DVD. I consider "The Exorcist III" to be the most underrated film of the Nineties, and Warner Home Video has just released it on DVD. (I have no clue as to how they got the rights from 20th Century Fox, but God bless them for it.) Now, I just have to convince Columbia/TriStar to release the most underrated film of the Eighties, Chuck Russell’s "The Blob."

During its theatrical run, audiences and critics alike were baffled by William Peter Blatty’s "The Exorcist III", but the film has a cult following, and now it can finally be viewed in a new <$PS,widescreen> transfer.

"The Exorcist III" is based on the novel "Legion" by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the novel "The Exorcist", and is a true sequel to the first film, ignoring the events of "The Exorcist II: The Heretic." However, "The Exorcist III" takes the story in a totally different direction and tries very hard to distance itself from "The Exorcist." Incidentally, this is certainly the reason why so many people hated it. Most weren’t able to make heads-or-tails of the film. For proof, just read the back of the DVD box. The description there makes no sense at all and tells you nothing about the movie, showing that the marketers at Warner didn’t get the movie.

George C. Scott stars as police Lieutenant William Kinderman, a role helmed by Lee J. Cobb in "The Exorcist." Kinderman was friends with Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), the priest who died saving Regan in "The Exorcist."

Kinderman is investigating a series of bizarre murders, which all appear to have been committed by the same killer. The murderer beheads his victims, and all of the victims have some sort of connection to the Catholic church. Kinderman is friends with Father Dyer (played by Ed Flanders; Reverend William O’Malley played Dyer in "The Exorcist"), a priest who also knew Father Karras. As Kinderman tries to solve the crimes, he turns to Father Dyer for help in sorting out the religious connection.

The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place as the murders seem to center on a hospital, and in particular, the psychiatric ward. There is a patient in isolation who bares an uncanny resemblance to Father Karras. And why are all of the elderly, catatonic patients suddenly becoming active? The story all comes together with a very unique revenge plot, with Kinderman fighting the ultimate evil in order to save the soul of an innocent man.

As I stated before, "The Exorcist III" is not "The Exorcist." While "The Exorcist" was all about visceral shocks, haunted house scares, and projectile vomiting, "The Exorcist III" is all about mood. Mood, mood, and more mood on top of that. Director/writer William Peter Blatty foregoes any onscreen violence in exchange for a film that plays on your nerves and puts the viewer on edge. Of course, there’s always the danger of some viewers becoming bored (trust me, I usually hate slow movies), but if you stick with "The Exorcist III", there’s a payoff.

As someone who has never been a huge fan of "The Exorcist" (I’ve always thought that it was a little hokey), I didn’t expect much from "The Exorcist III." What I found was a film that isn’t afraid to take chances. For one thing, the film is dialogue driven. You don’t see that very often in modern horror films. Most of the dialogue, especially that of Kinderman, is lifted straight from the novel.

"The Exorcist III" can be compared to "Rosemary’s Baby" in the way that entire scenes are lifted straight from the book and placed on the screen intact. The dialogue is deep, philosophical, and at times, confusing. The conversations between Kinderman and Dyer are especially unique and are, at times, very funny. Note the scene where Kinderman talks about the carp in his bathtub. It is through this dialogue that the film’s fairly complex plot is unraveled.

Probably the most noticeable aspect of "The Exorcist III" is Blatty’s style, as it relates to pacing, editing, and shooting. There are some gorgeous shots in the film, my favorite being the three helicopters flying over the church in Georgetown. Blatty has given the film a very odd pace, letting scenes go on for a long time and then smash-cutting on a line of shocking dialogue to the next scene. The best scene in the film involves a shot of a corridor in the hospital. The camera sits at one end of the hallway and we see a nurse and some policeman walking around. The shot goes on for a long time. It reaches the point of suspense, and then, when nothing happens, the viewer begins to wonder what is going on, and that’s when Blatty hits you with the shock. There are elements like this throughout the film. Blatty lets the film take its time and tells its story. And while this style may drive some people crazy, or make the film hard to follow for others, I found it to be very bold and refreshing. In this age of MTV style editing, it’s great to see a film that deliberately makes you wait.

Aside from some minor things, the only real flaw with "The Exorcist III" is the ending. As the story goes, when 20th Century Fox saw the finished film, they were shocked at the lack of violence, but even more so, the lack of an exorcism in the film. So, Blatty had to go back and shoot some new footage that dealt with an onscreen conflict between a priest and the evil. This footage has a totally different feel from the rest of the film, especially with its gore, and really shakes up Blatty’s deliberate pacing. The ending comes very suddenly and the viewer can’t help but feel cheated. I would love to see Blatty’s original ending (if it still exists).

One thing that people did talk about in concern to "The Exorcist III" was George C. Scott’s performance. Most felt that he was overacting or looked out of place in the film. He was even nominated for a Razzie Award. But, I feel that his emotional performance fits the quirky feel of the film. While he gives some impassioned speeches, he also does a great deal of subtle acting with his facial features. One of the fun things about "The Exorcist III" is spotting all of the cameos. In the film, you will see; former Georgetown coach John Thompson, Larry King, C. Everett Koop, Samuel L. Jackson (with an obviously dubbed voice!), Fabio (!), and NBA star Patrick Ewing as the angel of death.

The Warner Home Video DVD of "The Exorcist III" offers the film for the first time in its <$PS,widescreen> format. (The previous laserdisc release from Fox was full-frame.) The film is presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The picture is clear and as the film was shot very darkly, the blacks look very nice, offering a great deal of depth and contrast. In the scenes in which Kinderman talks to Patient X, you feel as if you could step into the darkness that separates them. There are some minor defects on the source print and some grain is visible at times. The framing of the film appears to be accurate, as there is no warping of the picture.

The newly remastered <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack is somewhat of a disappointment. While the dialogue is always clear and audible, and the volume is well balanced, there is little surround sound action. The only time that the rear speakers show any activity is when the ominous growling (which represents the evil in the film) occurs and with some of the music. It’s obvious that someone put a lot of work into the sound design of the film (pay attention to how Patient X’s voice changes in pitch and tone), and it’s sad that the audio mix on the DVD didn’t fully represent this.

The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer. This is actually the theatrical teaser and it presents the original title of the film, "The Exorcist III: Legion."

I’m sure that there are still plenty of people out there who hate "The Exorcist III" and can’t understand why it was released on DVD. Rest assured, the film has its defenders (obviously) and hopefully it can find a new audience to appreciate it with this new release. There is no question that this is the best that the film has ever looked. I just thank Warner Home Video for giving me the opportunity to possess this film.