Welcome back to the boneyard. Last week, THE UNSEEN HORROR took a look at a pair of underrated remakes. So today, we look at another aspect of horror– the sequel. Specifically, the second follow up to the classic THE EXORCIST– THE EXORCIST III.

THE EXORCIST III
Again, people? Really? Image courtesy of oxblogger.blogspot.com

Before I’m torn apart by an angry mob once more (I just found my spleen, for God’s sake!), let me remind you this series is about underrated horror, so these are actually good sequels. This particular one happens to be tied to arguably the greatest horror film of all time. So put down your torches, pick up your crosses, and let’s take a look at THE EXORCIST III.

The Plot

THE EXORCIST III picks up seventeen years after the first film (ignoring the story of the much-lambasted EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC). The film centers around Lieutenant William Kinderman, a minor character from the first film. Kinderman encounters a string of murders that resemble the work of a serial killer known as the Gemini. The case was closed seventeen years ago, but Kinderman investigates.

He finds a man at a local mental ward has awakened from catatonia and claims to be the Gemini. However, this man looks like Kinderman’s friend Damian Karras, the priest who sacrificed himself in the original EXORCIST. Kinderman learns there is more than one soul inside Karras. The doubting cop must now find a way to end the killings and free his friend’s soul.

The Legacy

THE EXORCIST is one of horror’s absolute best, so a sequel sounds nearly impossible to make. The first attempt failed, in no small part because it’s director was not a fan of the original film. EXORCIST III avoids that fate in a unique way. William Peter Blatty, the author of the EXORCIST novel, took the reins himself for this film. Blatty based the story on his novel LEGION.

As a result, EXORCIST III mixes demonic possession with a detective story. It’s a different approach that works quite well. The film takes the basic idea of possession from the first film but adds enough new elements to make it seem fresh. The most important of which is Kinderman, played by the legendary George C. Scott.

EXORCIST III
Image courtesy Morgan Creek Entertainment.

Scott is every bit the gruff, no-nonsense character you would expect. However, he gives EXORCIST III a unique touch as he has little belief in the supernatural. The idea of a doubter trying to save a possessed man is fascinating to watch. Kinderman goes up every solution he can find, yet he has increasingly less and less evidence as the bodies pile up. It goes even further since Kinderman has a personal connection with Karras and wants to believe he can help him. It’s similar stakes to the first film but done in a fresh way. That approach is EXORCIST III’s strength; Blatty had no interest in redoing the original film. Even the exorcism scene was added in by the studio.

From Hell, It Came

Kinderman is a strong protagonist, but he’s only as good as his adversary. Thankfully, he has an excellent one in the Gemini Killer, played by Brad Douriff. Fans may know Douriff as the voice of Chucky from CHILD’S PLAY, but he is just as terrifying in real life. Douriff plays the Gemini with serious intensity, moving between black humor and threats as he and Kinderman play cat and mouse. Douriff builds scares while simply sitting, and Blatty uses great camera work to frame his performance.

Again, this effect is reminiscent of the original film but adds new layers. The Gemini claims to be possessing Karras’s body, but it’s never clear until the end if it’s true, or just a trick for the audience. That makes the question of possession even more important for Kinderman, especially when the Gemini begins to threaten him and his family.

All of these elements work thanks to the strong direction of Blatty. EXORCIST III was only his second film, but he handles the material expertly. The mood builds slowly, switching from police work to possession over time. As more and more supernatural creeps in, Kinderman’s journey becomes more and more a mirror for ourselves. We believe more and more that the supernatural is coming. It’s an important step for a movie like this, but Blatty does get some immediate moments with arguably the best jump scare ever.

Allow THE EXORCIST III To Take You

THE EXORCIST III isn’t as good a film as THE EXORCIST. However, it stands on its own merits. The strong acting of Scott and Douriff carry the film, while Blatty uses his skill to give them the framework they need. The mood is built over time, while still adding moments to terrify the viewer. It’s simply a great supernatural mystery story and stands as the second-best EXORCIST film. So if you want more of the chills from the original, but with a new story, then give EXORCIST III a try. And come back soon, as we dig our next sequel out of the snowy ground…

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