Disregard the production controversies behind The Exorcist III. This movie still shines as an example of superior horror storytelling.
The Exorcist III Synopsis
Sixteen years after the events of The Exorcist, Lieutenant William F. Kinderman is tasked to investigate a new series of gruesome murders, the style of which resembles that of the Gemini, a serial killer executed seventeen years ago. After his friend Father Dyer is slain, Kinderman investigates a psychiatric patient and is shocked by the patient’s resemblance to Father Damien Karras. This leads Kinderman to suspect that the possession incident from sixteen years ago has yet to end. The evil defeated back then is now viciously seeking vengeance.
* This review focuses on the original cinematic release of The Exorcist III. Not the 2016 Scream Factory Collector’s Edition.
The Exorcist III has a very ugly controversy behind it. One that’s immediately noticeable to anyone watching the movie.
In a classic example of artistic freedom versus commercial dictation, producers weren’t thrilled by director William Peter Blatty’s original script and insisted on him adding an end exorcism scene. Blatty, without surprise, was reluctant but eventually gave in and scripted in a confrontation.
Thanks to this abrupt addition, the cinema cut of The Exorcist III was left with a distinctively schizophrenic feel. There’s Blatty’s creepier and subdued original for most parts. And then there’s the sudden get-out-of-him-you-beast portion dominating the end. A climactic confrontation that feels so odd and gaudy.
In my case, I strongly prefer Blatty’s original bits, and that’s not me being “arty.” His style is evidence of the power of narration, with his mastery of his craft also clearly demonstrated by artful injections of genuine psychological terror at exactly the right moments. The most superb examples of this being that infamous wide-angle corridor scene. And the “priest” scene.
Having said this, I should highlight that the exorcism scene wasn’t that awful to me too. It’s like, this was still filmed by the same man and if one considers a pea-soup spewing Linda Blair to be iconic, what’s so wrong with this updated exorcism?
The only problem, if you ask me, was how the exorcism felt incongruous overall. It was sudden. It screamed reshoot. Perhaps Blatty was silently protesting, but that scene could have been done a little less hysterically.
Might I add too that though I prefer the quieter direction, the enforced ending is probably the better way to end The Exorcist III. Blatty’s original novel, Legion, was a thoughtful dissertation on the nature of evil, one that ended with a disquieting anti-climax.
While I’m sure the talents of cinema could still weave a great ending using that, I believe most audiences then and now would still prefer something a little more visceral and conclusive. It’s like, do you seriously want to watch a horror movie in which the monster peacefully goes adios by itself? In that sense, Blatty’s original tale is perhaps rather ill-suited for the big screen to begin with. His conflict with his producers was sadly inevitable.
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