Hear Us Out

Hear Us Out: The Exorcist III Is a Horror Classic In Its Own Right

It may not have any rotating heads or projectile vomit, but William Peter Blatty's follow-up to the groundbreaking original has fantastic performances and one of the greatest jump scares in all of cinema.

by | August 17, 2020 | Comments

Jason Miller in The Exorcist III

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

There are few horror sequels that live up to their predecessors, and even fewer third installments that manage to prove their worth. Of the latter, there is one that stands tall and surpasses expectations, despite the fact that the movie that spawned it is widely considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time, not to mention one of the few that was ever nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

We’re talking, of course, about The Exorcist III, written and directed by William Peter Blatty (author of the original Exorcist novel and screenplay) and set 17 years after the end of the first film, completely ignoring everything that happened in the famously panned Exorcist II: The Heretic. In contrast to that critical and commercial failure, The Exorcist III successfully pays respect to its originator without drowning in nostalgia and features legendary actors at the top of their game, all while delivering a top notch mystery and quite possibly the best jump scare in horror history.

To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary, grab your crucifix and comically oversized scissors and hear us out while we explain why The Exorcist III deserves to be held up as a horror classic, just like the original.


IT FEATURES POWERHOUSE PERFORMANCES FROM A LEGENDARY CAST

Ed Flanders and George C. Scott in Exorcist III

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

At the center of The Exorcist III is a series of grisly murders eerily similar to the those of a serial killer who died 15 years prior to the events of the film. It’s a surprisingly intimate and grounded plot, considering the franchise’s previous reliance on supernatural phenomena. Our main entry point into this story is Lieutenant William Kinderman, a minor character from the first Exorcist, here played by George C. Scott. Right out of the gate, The Exorcist III places a bigger focus on characters and realistic dialogue than typical horror film conventions.

Scott’s Kinderman spends just as much time thinking about and working on the murders as he does bantering with his good friend, Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). William Peter Blatty’s dialogue feels lived-in and, enhanced by Flanders’ calm and warm delivery and Scott’s perfectly sarcastic, curmudgeonly line readings, makes viewers feel as if they’re eavesdropping on real conversations between old friends. Even as the film’s plot grows increasingly dark and spiritual, the actors make the story feel like part of daily life, as if it all actually happened.


THE VILLAIN IS HANNIBAL-ESQUE

Brad Dourif and George C. Scott in The Exorcist III

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even when The Exorcist III introduces its villain, who may or may not be the re-animated corpse of a priest possessed by the aforementioned serial killer, the film keeps it grounded by focusing on what’s been said and how it’s said, rather than what actually happens. Brad Dourif conjures up a masterful performance as the so-called Gemini Killer, menacing his way through vile, gnarly monologues a year before Anthony Hopkins enraptured audiences with the same methods in The Silence of the Lambs.

Indeed, the short but crucial time Dourif spends on screen is reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter’s presence in Silence, but Dourif separates his performance from Hopkins by playing more into the violence his character represents. He is nearly lyrical in his voice, transforming from casual and even funny to homicidal in mere seconds. The director’s cut of the film goes even further, offering not one but two uniquely different yet equally enthralling performances by Dourif. While he alternates with Jason Miller, who reprises the Father Karras role from the first Exorcist here, in his scenes from the theatrical cut, really playing into the violence that lurks within Gemini, the director’s cut presents a much more restrained performance that keeps the audience guessing whether they’re seeing an actual serial killer or a mere madman who’s been psychologically affected by a near-death experience.


IT EXPLORES RELIGION AND MORALITY IN AN INCREASINGLY SECULAR WORLD

Ed Flanders in Exorcist III

(Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

If the first Exorcist was a film about reconnecting with religion in the face of adversity, then The Exorcist III is all about turning one’s back on spirituality, about the way madness becomes an invitation to evil. Indeed, Kinderman spends as much time talking to his friend Dyer about the movies he loves as he does questioning the existence of a loving, Christian God in the face of suffering, disease, and murder.

The film is constantly looking at characters who have experienced severe trauma and who have gone through crises of faith during the events of the first Exorcist, and explores the Catholic guilt they’re struggling with. Kinderman often wonders if he’s done enough — enough to save Father Karras 15 years ago, enough to stop the killings he’s investigating, enough to protect his family and friends.

For most of its runtime, The Exorcist III remains somewhat ambiguous as to whether there’s anything supernatural going on. The director’s cut in particular leaves the question of the Gemini Killer’s identity a secret, and it completely redefines the film’s ending, depending on how you view it. Is this an act of the devil, or simply human evil? To that end, the film’s ending becomes not about embracing religion again, but about a man who — in the face of utter defeat — decides not to wait for a higher power to come down and help him, but to take back control, even if it costs him everything. Evil exists, the movie argues, but it’s up to us to keep that evil at bay, because there may just not be an equal force of good to counteract it.


IT FEATURES ONE OF THE BEST JUMP SCARES EVER PUT ON FILM

In a surprising move for a 1990s horror film, The Exorcist III features relatively little gore, and it still manages to be utterly terrifying. The film takes more of a David Fincher-styled approach to horror, using noir tropes and filmmaking sensibilities to manipulate the audience’s imagination and build and maintain tension. The characters in the film discuss every graphic detail of the murder scenes, but we never really see them. In one monologue, the Gemini Killer explains that the human head can still process what it sees for 20 seconds after it’s been decapitated, and he uses that time to show his victims their own lifeless bodies. It’s both horrific and effective, without spilling a drop of blood on screen.

And yet, none of this compares to the single scene that has arguably become more well known than the film itself — the hospital jump scare. Most of the film’s legacy lies with this single scene, which is widely considered one of the best jump scares in history, and for good reason. Throughout the film, Blatty keeps his filmmaking restrained, with few camera movements. He lingers on seemingly inconsequential backgrounds, emphasizing the emptiness surrounding the characters, as he does in this scene, keeping the camera trained on a nondescript hospital hallway. Blatty raises the tension through stillness rather than with sound, making the audience wait just long enough before finally breaking the silence and releasing the tension with a shocking jump scare that works no matter how many times you see it. It’s the same approach that The Conjuring films have employed, only done decades earlier, and it remains one of the most effective scares ever produced.

There are many reasons why The Exorcist is still considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, and there are valid reasons why The Exorcist III doesn’t reach the same heights. But there is no denying the sheer ambition in William Peter Blatty’s film, and the choices he made managed to turn an intimate, small-scale story into a horror classic in its own right.


Where You Can Watch It Now

FandangoNOW (rent/own), Amazon Prime (streaming), iTunes (rent/own), Peacock (free with ads), tubi (free with ads), Vudu (rent/own)


The Exorcist III was released on August 17, 1990.

#1

The Exorcist III (1990)
59%

#1
Adjusted Score: 58966%
Critics Consensus: The Exorcist III is a talky, literary sequel with some scary moments that rival anything from the original.
Synopsis: Police Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) notices similarities between his current murder investigation and the methods used by the "Gemini"... [More]
Directed By: William Peter Blatty

Thumbnail image by Warner Bros. Pictures

Tag Cloud

medical drama Comic-Con@Home 2021 cats Sundance TV Spectrum Originals thriller mob FX on Hulu Nickelodeon PlayStation WGN DC Universe kaiju Tags: Comedy The Purge razzies Sony Pictures child's play Pride Month Brie Larson japan 007 Classic Film sopranos The Walt Disney Company superman Masterpiece Lifetime Christmas movies Teen 93rd Oscars TCA Awards Funimation Reality Competition universal monsters joker television DirecTV rt labs supernatural Hulu Comedy Central summer preview South by Southwest Film Festival Baby Yoda adaptation Anna Paquin witnail IFC streaming movies Captain marvel 45 miniseries Character Guide technology leaderboard teaser political drama dexter a nightmare on elm street ratings Indigenous vs. Pet Sematary Hear Us Out SDCC cancelled TV shows die hard tv talk Toys AMC basketball Quiz 2020 New York Comic Con PaleyFest singing competition Animation disaster marvel comics sequel FOX Focus Features Holidays dreamworks TCA Winter 2020 festivals Bravo movies Podcast Western book adaptation Paramount Network Food Network TV renewals comic books Emmys Peacock video scary PBS Disney Channel critics Chernobyl legend spanish language TCA 2017 feel good ESPN Black Mirror monster movies boxoffice broadcast Logo scary movies CW Seed Sundance Now TLC football Disney+ Disney Plus twilight trophy batman Showtime festival mutant reboot Song of Ice and Fire Ellie Kemper comedies Photos stoner Premiere Dates chucky dogs comic book movie Mudbound franchise YouTube art house french The CW BET Awards boxing Family black comedy directors golden globe awards superhero Amazon live event Disney 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards live action documentary police drama christmas movies CMT Neflix Creative Arts Emmys 2017 popular TNT Box Office Freeform zombie telelvision Pacific Islander Musical crossover Academy Awards El Rey justice league indiana jones Calendar comiccon Drama 2015 lord of the rings sitcom Music Year in Review social media animated Lionsgate Instagram Live Marvel Studios aapi FX HFPA richard e. Grant Marvel Television Summer vampires game show rom-coms genre book high school Cosplay new york binge BBC America renewed TV shows X-Men war finale Infographic cults blockbuster canceled TV shows Election Biopics Tubi Crackle BAFTA asian-american Rom-Com scene in color film series Acorn TV streaming Legendary Amazon Prime Pop TV Superheroes nfl emmy awards venice harry potter scene in color series halloween tv 2018 BET Martial Arts Cartoon Network Lucasfilm Apple TV Plus trailers Emmy Nominations sag awards Superheroe adventure cancelled TV series DGA E3 best discovery Universal VOD 79th Golden Globes Awards scorecard spain Fox News black Prime Video Comedy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina NBC summer TV preview nature golden globes Best Picture Turner spy thriller Trivia Walt Disney Pictures children's TV films game of thrones prank See It Skip It politics slasher gangster hollywood Holiday Apple The Academy 2016 Mary poppins RT21 Binge Guide mission: impossible name the review Opinion Geeked Week American Society of Cinematographers new star wars movies Heroines hist based on movie Nominations target Valentine's Day crime thriller spider-man ghosts Paramount 24 frames satire criterion space quibi Rocky Pixar Tomatazos marvel cinematic universe NYCC Best Actor Hallmark Christmas movies interviews rotten movies we love Crunchyroll true crime rotten Disney streaming service Stephen King hispanic heritage month Trailer Adult Swim MCU parents werewolf LGBTQ historical drama Elton John TIFF obi wan 4/20 latino Pop HBO Go Esquire DC streaming service NBA video on demand biography Shudder 72 Emmy Awards Christmas australia Avengers Cannes Amazon Prime Video Universal Pictures revenge ABC Signature ABC Family green book Nat Geo Film blaxploitation fast and furious screen actors guild Dark Horse Comics james bond MGM zero dark thirty Women's History Month HBO Max Paramount Plus movie stand-up comedy target scene in color Rock USA Network Netflix zombies Red Carpet Endgame Britbox international Winter TV period drama japanese Mindy Kaling Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cars Star Wars Comics on TV Interview Wes Anderson Countdown Spring TV Syfy heist movie Super Bowl MSNBC dceu dark Tarantino Sony screenings doctor who Grammys Pirates Disney Plus sports Oscar archives VICE SXSW 2022 robots FXX 73rd Emmy Awards nbcuniversal Star Trek Fantasy AMC Plus Tokyo Olympics Epix GIFs know your critic worst natural history new zealand stop motion hispanic Marathons The Witch Video Games women suspense all-time IFC Films Watching Series Netflix Christmas movies Set visit CBS All Access BBC One Television Critics Association news CNN worst movies LGBT President saw classics reviews romance indie kong italian remakes foreign SundanceTV crime drama Reality spinoff anime composers Film Festival unscripted obituary Fargo E! Travel Channel Hallmark slashers Spike Star Wars Celebration independent A&E 99% spanish blockbusters godzilla cops deadpool cinemax ViacomCBS TruTV First Look Columbia Pictures GLAAD free movies Paramount Pictures TBS Fall TV ID National Geographic documentaries 20th Century Fox Schedule concert Rocketman toy story BBC Arrowverse 90s 21st Century Fox theme song Ghostbusters Oscars dc sequels elevated horror talk show Exclusive Video TCA king kong dragons 94th Oscars CBS YouTube Red A24 facebook Native Best Director Starz Winners science fiction The Walking Dead cancelled television laika Sundance Country Action comic book movies IMDb TV mockumentary Ovation crime travel Horror Amazon Studios king arthur 1990s WarnerMedia Shondaland ITV series The Arrangement Apple TV+ docudrama Certified Fresh comics Hollywood Foreign Press Association Awards Tour Comic Book First Reviews breaking bad romantic comedy DC Comics Warner Bros. YA dramedy diversity psychological thriller Mary Poppins Returns rt labs critics edition Fox Searchlight Kids & Family pirates of the caribbean mcc Broadway Best Actress wonder woman south america Polls and Games transformers scene in color serial killer 71st Emmy Awards Black History Month ABC Musicals TV One rt archives Sneak Peek Writers Guild of America fresh MTV Best and Worst summer TV History award winner Alien cartoon Tumblr TV movies jurassic park Vudu Awards TCM critic resources biopic strong female leads GoT anthology Turner Classic Movies VH1 SXSW RT History psycho casting TV Discovery Channel 2021 aliens spider-verse Image Comics royal family TV Land docuseries adenture posters action-comedy USA Mary Tyler Moore halloween HBO streamig what to watch OWN Marvel Trophy Talk 2019 Lifetime comic debate Television Academy Mystery canceled YouTube Premium OneApp APB cooking Thanksgiving toronto young adult versus San Diego Comic-Con Extras jamie lee curtis Sci-Fi olympics hidden camera kids cancelled