31 Days of Halloween — Day 28: The Exorcist III (1990) — by Dr. Shock

The Exorcist III (1990)

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

“Georgetown, 1990. A college rowing team practices in the early morning hours, while miles away, an unseen force breaks through the front door of a church, causing such havoc that the eyes on a Jesus statue, which is hanging from a crucifix, open up wide. Then there’s the dream sequence, in which an unnamed narrator walks a darkened street, then falls down a long flight of stairs. Suddenly, we switch to an ocean view, with several search helicopters flying overhead, a scene enhanced by the inclusion of the now-familiar tune, Tubular Bells.

These are a few of the images that dance across the screen during the opening credits of writer / director William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III, and what amazed me was that in less than five minutes, this 1990 film was already more intriguing than the entirety of Exorcist II: The Heretic!

It’s been 15 years since the exorcism that claimed the life of Father Karras (Jason Miller), and two of his good friends, Police Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), haven’t come to terms with his death. To make matters worse, a killer is on the loose, one who seems to be copying the murders of the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), who was executed for his crimes a decade and a half earlier.

With no eyewitnesses to the latest killing (a young African American boy is found beheaded) and no real evidence to go on, Kinderman and his associates are baffled, to say the least.

Over the course of several days, more people are murdered (including a person very close to Lt. Kinderman), and while investigating the latest killing at a nearby hospital, Kinderman has a conversation with Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson), the head of the facility’s psychiatric unit, who, along with giving the police their first real lead in the case, reveals something quite astonishing: a patient currently being held in solitary confinement, who is prone to fits of rage, was first found wandering the beach 15 years ago, with no memory of who he was or how he got there.

Not only does this mysterious patient bear a striking resemblance to the late Father Karras, but he also claims that the spirit of the Gemini Killer lives within him, and that he is responsible for the string of recent murders.

Lt. Kinderman, whose faith abandoned him years earlier, finds his story impossible to believe, but a meeting with the patient in question quickly changes his mind.

Like most of the world, William Peter Blatty, who penned the screenplay for The Exorcist, was not a fan of Exorcist II: The Heretic (talking years later of how he turned down an early offer to work on a follow-up to The Exorcist, Blatty conceded, “I wish I’d done it now. Then at least we would have never had The Heretic”).

So, to set things right, he published a new novel in 1983 titled Legion, which continued the story set forth in The Exorcist, while ignoring everything that happened in its ill-advised 1977 sequel.

Seven years later, Blatty himself brought it to the screen as The Exorcist III, and even though it doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness that The Exorcist currently rests upon, The Exorcist III does, at times, match the dark tone and ominous mood of the original while also featuring moments of genuine horror.

The Exorcist III has a few things going for it, starting with its crisp, often believable dialogue (some of the early exchanges between Kinderman and Father Dyer, where they discuss everything from a carp in a bathtub to the mysteries of life and death, are positively engrossing).

In addition, the film’s story (though admittedly far-fetched) is well-told, and the performances of its leads are top-notch. No stranger to horror, thanks to his turn in 1980’s The Changeling, George C. Scott is tremendous as the grizzled Kinderman, whose doubts about the supernatural are soon answered, while Jason Miller is downright diabolical as the allegedly possessed priest.

Yet, for me, the most memorable performance in The Exorcist III is delivered by Brad Dourif, who plays the personification of the Gemini Killer that lives within Father Karras. An actor of immense ability, Dourif can break your heart (as he did in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and scare the hell out of you (his take on the killer doll in Child’s Play helped make that movie, as well as the entire series, what it is).

Delivering lines that will chill you to the bone (“A decapitated head can continue to see for approximately twenty seconds”, he tells Kinderman during one of their talks, “So when I have one that’s gawking, I always hold it up so that it can see its body. It’s a little extra I throw in for no added charge”). In every scene he appears in, Brad Dourif is as fascinating as he is horrifying.

Then, of course, there’s the film’s famous jump-scare, and let me tell you, it’s a doozy! For me personally, there have been a handful of cinematic jump scares that truly shocked the hell out of me: The jailhouse scene in 1979’s Salem’s Lot; the ending moments of Friday the 13th; the “blood test” in John Carpenter’s The Thing; and the final scene of 1976’s Carrie are but a few. More than just making my list, the moment in question in The Exorcist III ranks toward the top of it! Not to worry: I have no intention of describing it, or telling you where and when it occurs. Those who’ve seen the film already know, and those who haven’t shouldn’t be robbed of the experience.

A smart, often intense horror flick, The Exorcist III is an impressively strong sequel, and at some point during a future Halloween season, I recommend watching The Exorcist and The Exorcist III back-to-back in a single sitting. They make for a terrifying one-two punch.

As for Exorcist II: The Heretic, save it for April, which is National Humor Month, because compared to the original and Part III, that movie is an absolute joke.”

—Dr. Shock

Links for Dr. Shock:
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Dr. Shock also appears on this horror podcast: Land of the Creeps

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9 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 28: The Exorcist III (1990) — by Dr. Shock

  1. What’s intriguing to me about “The Exorcist III” is that it is arguably an actual example of a horror film that genuinely served as the inspiration for real-life depravity.

    The Florida serial killer who inspired Kevin Williamson to write “Scream” — Danny Rolling (aka “The Gainesville Ripper”) — is said to have been inspired by “The Exorcist III,” which released in 1990, just one week before the first Gainesville murder. There are several obvious parallels, including victim decapitation.

    I learned this information, thanks to Wolfman Josh, who edited together an excellent, 10-minute excerpt from “True Crime Story – The Real Story of The Gainesville Ripper,” which we included at the very end of HMP Ep. 068.

    One last note from Jay of the Dead:
    Rolling, The Gainesville Ripper, was executed by lethal injection on Oct. 25, 2006. And you may remember from a couple of days ago, October 25 is the launch anniversary of Horror Movie Podcast.

  2. The following movie was watched solely due to how often Jay of the Dead praised and brought it up on various podcasts.

    (Contains spoilers)

    Day 28 – Inside (2007)

    “Enjoy your last peaceful night.” Those are the final words that Sarah hears from her doctor as she heads back to her empty home for Christmas Eve as she prepares to give birth the following day. That line and the fact that this film takes place on Christmas stands out for being such a contrast to the realities of the movie. It’s all about that bait-and-switch. Early on, Sarah has fantasies so that you’re not even sure what you’re seeing is actually happening or it’s just something in her mind. After La femme makes her first appearance at Sarah’s house and leaves, again, it’s done to show you the opposite of what’s actually going to happen. La femme only left so that she can come back. All of this is what stood out to me most about Inside. It’s a movie whose entire design is to fool you into a false sense of security. Regardless of whatever happens, it can’t get any worse. Yet it does. Everything builds up so that the final few minutes contains the craziest action in the entire scene.

    Just like in Visions, it’s easy to feel sympathy or fear for a pregnant woman. Inside does it even better as Sarah has already gone through the tragedy of her husband’s death just a few months earlier. She’s the last person that should be subjected to the horrors that she was on that Christmas Eve. Unlike Visions, Inside isn’t afraid to go so much farther in exploring the greatest fears. In Visions, the attack only happened at the very end. Here, it happens in the middle of the movie and more abuse happens to Sarah the longer she’s left alive. Yet, all of the abuse that she’s been subjected to for the first hour is NOTHING compared to what will happen to her in the final five minutes. It’s absolutely sickening, but it’s also nice to see a film that isn’t given the Hollywood polish of being too clean.

    The gore of Inside is one of the best elements of the movie. We get to see close ups of the deaths, most of which are done practically. By the end of the movie, there is a ton of blood all around. I don’t know how much blood was used in the movie, but it had to have been a huge amount. It’s not just a lot of blood during the death scenes either. Multiple scenes have fantastic effects of squirting blood. I loved those scenes and if there’s one thing horror needs to utilize more, it’s blood that squirts all over. Perhaps this shows I’m a sociopath or something, but any time there was a crazy death scene with a ton of blood, I burst out in laughter. Is there a “Proper” way to react to such scenes? Any time I’m laughing, it’s a sign that I’m loving the kills enough that I’m having a blast. I’d compare it to laughing whenever someone gets kicked in the balls. Sometimes that’s all you can do. Inside is worth watching for it’s special effects alone.

    As extreme and crazy as Inside is, I don’t believe it ever crossed the line into being too uncomfortable to watch. In comparison, I had a difficult time watching the 2008 French film, Martyrs. The violence against Anna for the entire second half of the movie wasn’t fun and was just depressing to watch. The key for Inside working is that there’s breaks in between the violence and the most graphic scenes do not last too long. That final scene is so graphic, but it only lasts a few seconds before the camera cuts as a way of saying, “Okay, you got the idea, let’s move on…” It’s a tough challenge to walk that line between being obscenely graphic and too uncomfortably graphic to keep watching. Yet, Inside did it.

    The scariest scenes had nothing to do with the gore. For me, the scariest parts is whenever La femme is watching Sarah without being detected. The highlight of all of these type of scenes is when a Halloween-like effect is used to show La femme in the background before the darkness envelops her and we no longer see her standing behind Sarah. Yet, we know she’s there. I have a fear of being watched in my sleep. That fear is part of why I loved the original Paranormal Activity. Again, La femme did just that while Sarah slept without realizing how close she was to danger. The very basic concept for this film is terrifying as well because similar events have actually happened. Inside might be a fictional movie, but La femme is a character that exists in the real world.

    One element that I was frustrated with is that I was loving everything about the movie up until ten minutes left in the film. At that point, a cop, previously believed to be dead, attacks Sarah before being killed off for good by La femme. I don’t care if there’s a logical explanation for that scene, I hate it. The cop even gets mistaken for becoming a zombie if the scene didn’t suck enough. It doesn’t add anything to the story and there’s only ways to turn the tables and allow La femme to regain the advantage. Truthfully, that’s my only gripe with the movie. If someone were to edit that scene out, you would have a superior cut of Inside.

    Overall, Inside is an incredible horror. It’s a movie I’ve been holding back from watching for several years due to how graphic I assumed the movie would be. I expected far more torturing to the extent that it was like watching a snuff film. That’s not what Inside is though. It’s a quiet little Christmas movie where one woman keeps having to endure the craziness of a vengeful nut job. There’s several rather creative shots as we see Sarah’s baby inside of the womb. Those came as a total surprise and I loved them. The blood and death scenes are fantastic. The freaky screeching of the soundtrack adds to the nerves. Watching this just hours after Visions, it makes me realize how ineffective Visions actually was. I felt a greater amount of emotions with Inside. We even get a brief scene where Sarah becomes a total badass, refusing to be a victim any longer. No longer was I scared for Sarah’s well being, I wanted to see her slaughter that bitch. Not every movie is going to make you feel that sort of raw emotion. If you haven’t seen Inside, go out of your way to watch it even if it does have that incredibly stupid. One of the best foreign horror movies of the 2000’s.

    I’d give it a 9.5.

  3. Thank you so much for this inclusion in your ’31 Days of Halloween’. Really happy that you didn’t just have The Heretic in there (as interesting as it is to have movies of varying degrees of popularity/praise) as it would be a shame to leave things so sour.

    As I mentioned in the comments section following The Heretic review I’m a big fan of this movie. Whilst it is never going to match the heights of the first film (my favourite horror flick) in terms of being the complete package (in my opinion) there in much to admire. Casting, dialogue and tone really stand out here as well as some memorable shocks. It does partner well with The Exorcist when you compare the tone of both.

    Excellent review Dr Shock! Thanks again.

    Ali H (British, HMP fan)

  4. Can’t thank you enough for all these reviews — they have absolutely made my Halloween season this year. Amazing how excellent and consistent you are in your writing Josh — really top notch.

    I took you up on this one and was really impressed, mostly by the “little” things (though you would probably say that is what makes or breaks a movie). The sound editing and the clicking of heels in hallways. The variation on voices and delivery when Brad Dourif is talking. The incredible fixed/long shot in the hallway with the nurse and the build-up to the attack. George C. Scott walking around and lifting up sheets but not showing anything, or giving away what exactly what he was looking for. I really enjoyed NOT being beaten over the head with music and jump cuts.

    One last thing though, as with my comment on the first Nightmare movie — what is up with the POSTERS??? The first Nightmare had the ridiculous “cats on a cable car” poster in the sleep lab. In this movie the chain-smoking doctor, stuck right in the middle of his diplomas in his office, has a classic “hot blonde” poster that looks like it came from some teenager’s bedroom wall. I’m starting to think that posters in horror movies are some kind of inside joke.


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