William Peter Blatty
George C. Scott - Lieutenant William F. Kinderman
Ed Flanders - Father Joseph Dyer
Jason Miller - Patient X / Damien Karras
Scott Wilson - Dr. Temple
Brad Dourif - James Venamun / The "Gemini Killer"
Genre - Horror/Mystery/Crime/Demons/Possession/Serial Killers
Running Time - 110 Minutes
Set fifteen years after the original film, THE EXORCIST III centers around the philosophical Lieutenant William F. Kinderman who is investigating a baffling series of murders around Georgetown that all contain the hallmarks of The Gemini, a deceased serial killer. It eventually leads him to a catatonic patient in a psychiatric hospital who has recently started to speak, claiming he is the The Gemini and detailing the murders, but bears a striking resemblance to Father Damien Karras.
With THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER coming to theaters in a couple of weeks, I’ve been revisiting THE EXORCIST franchise to get hyped up for a sequel/reboot that will probably won’t live to even the lowest expectations. The first film from 1973 still holds up exceptionally as a horror classic. THE HERETIC: EXORCIST II from 1977 would be appreciated as some sort of camp and so-bad-it’s-good movie if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s meant to be the sequel to an absolute masterpiece. Talk about a massive disappointment, although there are some out there who appreciate it for the trash that it is.
Despite the horror genre waning in popularity amongst the mainstream during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hollywood decided it was time to step back into the world of THE EXORCIST. In 1990, THE EXORCIST III was released to some decent success both critically and even financially. Based on William Peter Blatty’s sequel novel Legion, Blatty himself decided to adapt his novel into a screenplay. He also decided to direct the film himself to make sure his story was given the respect it deserved and be a truly serious sequel to the original unlike THE HERETIC.
Even in 2023, THE EXORCIST III is still the only other film in the series [besides the first] to be given massive praise for its tone, approach to the narrative, and even the overall production. Despite the studio wanting Blatty’s ending to be more akin to the ending of the original EXORCIST [which he was against, creating the need of a Legion Cut that’s closer to the novel’s conclusion], THE EXORCIST III is still a super solid flick that ought to get more love and attention than it actually does.
While there is still demonic activity and supernatural occurrences one would expect out of an EXORCIST movie, THE EXORCIST III is more in line with a crime procedural at times - sort of like SE7EN, FALLEN or even COPYCAT would do years later. The main narrative revolves around “The Gemini Killer”, a serial killer who is known to cut certain fingers or drain a victim’s blood as a trademark, along with desecrating religious statues by beheading them, painting them in blackface or adding sexual connotations that would disturb most people. The problem about all this is that it’s believed “The Gemini Killer” had been already found and executed for his crimes. And while at first this new series of murders seem like a copycat, this new killer is doing things the old “Gemini Killer” would do that only the police know about [the real modus operandi and trademarks were kept from the public].
The detective investigating this is Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, a supporting character from the original EXORCIST who was investigating all the murders and strange activity happening around the McNeil household at the time. Along with his friend Father Dyer, another supporting character from the first film, they’re wondering if this may be the real "Gemini Killer" doing all these heinous things. It gets stranger as all clues lead them to a psychiatric hospital where Father Karras seems to be the main suspect - which shouldn’t be possible since Father Dyer found him dead on those infamous McNeil steps after he took in the demon that had possessed Regan and sacrificed himself by leaping out of a window to his supposed death. So when confronting Father Karras in his hospital room, he sometimes appears as himself and then as someone named James Venamun, who claims to be the real “Gemini Killer”. So what’s going on?
This mystery really raises the creep factor of THE EXORCIST III, as we’re not sure what we’re really seeing or supposed to believe when it comes to “The Gemini Killer”. There’s obviously a possession going on with the same demon [Pazuzu] who had possessed both Regan and Karras. But is this man really Karras, or is he James Venamun? Is he both? Is he neither? Through Lt. Kinderman, who is a skeptic and doesn’t believe in any of the stories about demon possession and a previous exorcism, his slow belief about the supernatural is a great character arc and gets the audience invested to go along the ride with him as he starts to figure out the truth. The story of the storytelling and mystery is strengthened by personnel and patients at the psychiatric hospital, who all behave in strange ways for whatever reason, making you question if these people are all influenced by this evil or are just quirky as heck and are red herrings to throw off one’s scent. Everyone besides Kinderman and Dyer all seem like they’re hiding something from the Lieutenant, putting to question whether this is all really happening or something this evil presence is doing to confuse the detective along with the audience. Unlike the goofiness and overly ambitious script that plagued THE HERETIC, Blatty treats this whole scenario seriously - something that helped the original EXORCIST to achieve the status it did from all audiences [not just horror audiences]. We care about Kinderman and his investigation because he cares and doesn’t let anything strange or personal stop him from finding out the truth.
While the theatrical cut and the Legion Cut are similar in many ways, the real differences are how “The Gemini Killer” is presented and the endings themselves. In the Legion Cut, we don’t even get Father Karras at all, with James Venamun being the only real antagonist. This actually cements the narrative as more realistic, as Venamun is just a “normal” man who may know more things about the serial killings than one ought to. Or maybe he’s possessed after all. Or just plain crazy. There’s something supernatural going on in the theatrical version, but the Legion Cut makes you question it a bit more until the end.
As for the endings, The Legion Cut ends pretty abruptly with a single gunshot to wrap things up. The studio had issues with this because nothing in this version played up to the title of the film. In other words, where was the exorcism? So despite Blatty being against it, he took up the challenge to build up a more fantastical ending involving an underused priest, supernatural effects and a battle between good versus evil that connected itself back to THE EXORCIST. I know a lot of people prefer the simpler ending of the Legion Cut, but I feel the theatrical ending kicks things up a few notches and feels more satisfying to me as a whole. Kinderman finally believes in demonic possession, Father Karras gets redeemed a bit, and it truly feels the evil is gone for the time being. I can appreciate a more subtle approach for the original plan, but an EXORCIST movie should have some sort of exorcism in it. Both versions are worth your time, but I feel the theatrical version is a bit more exciting to watch due to the ending.
William Peter Blatty is a great novelist, but he also makes for a very good director as well. His second and last directorial film [the first being the awesome 1980’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION], Blatty is more subtle in his visual approach than William Friedkin or even John Boorman. Blatty’s style is more comparable to a 90s thriller - slow [but not dull], muted colors, and adding weird things in the background that make you focus on the entire shot rather than what is just happening in the foreground. I mean, there are people crawling on ceilings, morphing into multiple people and even that classic moment involving a nurse and a large pair of shears. And despite his arguments against filming it, I think the theatrical ending is shot pretty well for the most part. Honestly, THE EXORCIST III is more of an actor’s showcase where the characters are more important than the visuals. But Blatty does a good job and manages to direct a sequel that feels more connected to the first one than THE HERETIC ever did.
The cast is very solid. George C. Scott is pretty great as Lt. Kinderman, playing a gruff skeptic who finally starts to believe he’s way over-his-head with a situation he has no idea how to deal with until the end. I love how quiet his performance is at the start of the film, but turns a bit more hammy and over-the-top towards the end. It’s wonderful. Ed Flanders is also great as Father Dyer, bringing in some humor to a serious movie. His chemistry with Scott is awesome and you truly believe these two have been friends for decades. Scott Wilson is solid as Dr. Temple. Jason Miller is very good as the returning Father Karras, struggling with what happened to him at the end of the first film. But Brad Dourif is the main reason to watch THE EXORCIST III, as he steals every scene as “The Gemini Killer” James Venamun. Dourif is just captivating and commanding through his subtle body language, maniacal facial expressions and the strong reciting of his dialogue. He’s given more to say and do in The Legion Cut, being the best part of that version as well. Just a fantastic performance in a great sequel.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE EXORCIST III is probably one of the more underrated great horror sequels ever made. Subtly strong direction by William Peter Blatty, a captivating mystery mixed with some memorable scares and visuals, and fantastic performances - especially by George C. Scott, Jason Miller and especially Brad Dourif. While it’s not a masterpiece like the 1973 original, this 1990 sequel is definitely a massive improvement over 1977’s THE HERETIC: EXORCIST II in every single way, making this the first real sequel [in my opinion] of the franchise. While I prefer the Theatrical Cut due to its final act, The Legion Cut is no slouch and offers something to those wanting a more grounded resolution. Either way, this is a mandatory viewing for any fan of this franchise.
(9 out of 10)