SYNOPSIS: Wisely, mostly ignoring the shameful events of EXORCIST II, Part III finds original Exorcist scribe William Peter Blatty taking over directorial duties. Fifteen years after the death of Damien Karras, Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) meet to commiserate with a day at the movies. Shortly, a spate of brutal killings occupy Kinderman's attention, as they share attributes with the famous Gemini murders. His investigations lead him to an asylum which houses a distinctly Karras-like patient.
This is one dense, thick movie. Not only are the plot and dialogue pretty intricate, but Blatty clearly constructs the visuals with deliberate care. We get extremely memorable and striking images, fully stuffed with recurring symbols. Parts of this are super-pretty.
Plus it's cool to see visual consistency with the original EXORCIST, whether we're talking about lighting choices...
...or recurring motifs like clocks and staircases.
The budding relationship between Dyer and Kinderman was one of the bright spots at the end of THE EXORCIST, so it's nice to see some screen time here devoted to their quips and philosophical interactions.
These scenes also bring some welcome levity to what is essentially a morose meditation on the problem of evil. Not that EX III ever slides into GHOULIES III territory, but the light stuff gives us a little sugar before we swallow the bitter pills of the second half.
The acting is uniformly solid. This film needed good actors to handle its complex, labyrinthine dialogue and its needs were met. George C. Scott is always interesting to watch—I suppose he's mostly "known" for PATTON at this point, but he had an impressive range as an actor. Kinderman's an interesting character, kind of a very sharp and jovial skeptic, and Scott does a fine job at taking over the character. Brad Dourif as the Gemini Killer also delivers a quality performance full of tough-to-deliver lines.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
After researching a little bit, my suspicions about the Father Morning character being a last-minute addition were basically confirmed. His scenes don't really gel with the rest of the film and get especially incongruous during the way-out-of-character gorefest of the final fifteen minutes. I did like the aesthetic choices and artificiality of those scenes, with their wandering spotlights, but (yeah) the flesh ripping really doesn't match the dry, understated tone of the rest of the film.
I really like Jason Miller as an actor, but the film doesn't really devote enough time to the unpossessed Damien Karras to nail the drama of its central conflict. His supplanting by demons or redemption should be a bigger deal! Instead, it gets deflated a bit, partially by the mood-killing Morning scenes and partially because the final Kinderman-Karras/Patient X showdown seems a little too clipped.
It would be interesting to see a reconstructed version of the film that Blatty wanted to make, with the studio monkeying removed (similar to the restored NIGHTBREED that everyone has fallen for). Even with the alterations, though, EXORCIST III is a way worthier sequel than EXORCIST II and develops its own unique charms while retaining a fair amount of what we loved in the first EXORCIST.