SPOILER WARNING: The following article gives away some of the most important moments from The Exorcist III, so if you are one of the unfortunate souls who has not seen it yet, proceed with caution as your read on.
One of the most terrifying, influential, and simply best horror movies of all time is about to receive yet another follow-up with David Gordon Green’s latest attempt at a legacy sequel, The Exorcist: Believer. The anticipation for this upcoming horror movie — which hits theaters on October 6 — got me thinking that now would be a good time to finally do what I have seen many fans of the Oscar-winning, 1973 original suggest for years: skip the second installment and check out The Exorcist III.
Written and directed by The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty and based on his 1983 novel, Legion, this 1990 thriller is, perhaps, the most divisive of the franchise — earning a 57% critics rating and 56% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, but still vocally hailed by many as the saving grace of the subsequent sequels and an unfairly overlooked entry to the genre as a whole. This polarization may be why I kept my distance from The Exorcist III for a while, but after recently checking it out myself for the first time, I wish I had given it a chance sooner. Perhaps this summary of my thoughts will compel you to do the same if you have not already.
I Wish More Possession Movies Were Like This
Despite plenty of outstanding gems — like the Evil Dead movies, especially — it is hard to find many movies about demonic possession that are much different in structure from the film that kickstarted the subgenre, The Exorcist. Luckily, The Exorcist III subverts — if not, mostly ignores — its predecessor’s formula by focusing on veteran detective William Kinderman (Oscar winner George C. Scott, succeeding Lee J. Cobb’s role from the original) and his investigation into a string of murders that are impossible to explain. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to not see a single moment of a priest shouting scripture to a pea soup-spewing child strapped to a bed… even if it does go slightly in that direction by the end. More on that later.
I Love The Way It Fuses A Familiar Crime Drama Structure With Supernatural Elements
Making an Exorcist sequel a murder mystery was already enough to exceed my expectations, but the movie only continued to impress me with how complex and hauntingly devastating Kinderman’s case grows with each new, bizarrely brutalized victim and every bewildering piece of evidence comes to light. This was before the paranormal aspects of the story really started to come into play. Yet, when they do — and it becomes apparent that the culprit is a possessive entity using various hosts to commit his crimes — it never cheapens the suspense, but enhances it, thanks to the director.
Dare I Say, I Prefer Blatty's Direction Over Friedkin?
To be clear, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the late William Friedkin and consider his performance helming The Exorcist to be masterful even beyond horror standards (considering he never saw it as a horror movie, anyway). Yet, I believe the way Blatty brings his own novel to the big screen is really something special. His striking visual style creates a chilling atmosphere throughout that never lost my attention, even during long stretches of dialogue.
Damn, Brad Dourif Is Good In This Movie
Of course, the person who delivers those long stretches of dialogue, Academy Award nominee Brad Dourif, deserves quite a bit of the credit. While better known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play movies and the recent TV spin-off, I think it is the actor’s performance as the spirit of the notorious Gemini Killer — whose primary host is the assumed dead Damien Karras (Jason Miller) — that really cements him as an underrated Scream King. Speaking to Kinderman, he delivers these morbid, almost Shakespearean soliloquies with such a genuine fury that it truly must be seen to be believed.
I Did Not Expect That Famous Jump Scare To Get Me Like That
Honestly, one of the reasons why I was initially hesitant to watch The Exorcist III is for the same reason — and please don’t hate me for this — I also haven’t watched Psycho yet: I had already seen the movie’s scariest moment multiple times. Yet, lo and behold, the film’s iconic jump scare — in which a minutes-long static shot is interrupted out of nowhere by the Gemini Killer’s latest, garden shears-wielding host — was as effective as you could imagine and is now one of my all-time favorite example of a horror trope I typically detest. I guess I should give Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic a shot, shouldn’t I?
The Third Act May Be Even More Terrifying
If there is anything in The Exorcist III that is scarier to me, it is the climactic third act — which, admittedly, is the moment when it becomes more of a traditional exorcist movie and, actually, differs from Blatty’s original intentions for the ending, according to Collider. However, as far as studio mandated reshoots and formulaic exorcism depictions go, I’d say this could not have been executed better, with the possessed Karras causing Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) a, literally, skin-peeling death before Kinderman manages to take him out. It is one of the few exorcism scenes to really get under my skin — no pun intended — since the original Exorcist.
I Definitely Understand Why So Many Call It Underrated Now
I am a champion for vastly overlooked horror movies and I would undoubtedly consider The Exorcist III to be an essential example of one having now experienced it myself. With its brilliant performances, engrossing suspense, epic centerpiece jump scare, and clever diversion from tropes that plague other films of its kind, I believe this movie deserves as much attention as its seminal predecessor. Yet, even on its own, I would genuinely call it nothing short of a chilling masterpiece.
I should mention, though, that there is one sequence that did take me out of the story just a bit in which Kinderman dreams he is in Heaven and comes across — no joke — Fabio and former NBA player Patrick Ewing as winged angels. It’s a pretty baffling, nearly comical sight that almost seems like stunt casting, but it was not until later that I learned a young Samuel L. Jackson also makes an appearance in the same scene. Even after all my praises above, if that is what ends ups convincing you to stream The Exorcist III — which you can do with a Shudder subscription, with Freevee through Amazon, on Hulu, and other platforms — all I can say is, "Amen!"