Freddy Vs. Jason
Exorcist III (1990). Starring George C. Scott, Brad Dourif,
Jason Miller and Nicol Williamson. Directed and written by William
Peter Blatty, from his novel.
The Exorcist films have had an uneven history at the box office. The first was a huge hit, launching director William Friedkin firmly into the mainstream (helped by having a previous hit, The French Connection). The second film, by John Boorman, is widely regarded as an overblown and underthought laugh-fest. It seemed to put the nail into the franchise' coffin, but some years later the novelist and original screenwriter of the first film, William Peter Blatty, wrote a book called Legion. I haven't read the book, but from the evidence here, it looks as though two things happened when it came time to make the movie: Blatty said he wanted to direct, and Warner Bros said, okay, but let's call it The Exorcist III.
I have no idea of the production history behind this film, but based on what I've got on hand (this DVD) this seems to have satisfied everyone, and the film was made and released as The Exorcist III. I don't recall it hitting the theatres in 1990 and I think made-for-video was a couple of years off in the future, so it must have done something. On the other hand, I picked it up at Wal-Mart for $5, so that Something must not have been a whole lot of Something.
Anyway, the film at hand here is very, very good-looking and, like the original Exorcist, pays a lot of attention to the soundtrack, not just music but ambient noise and weird, deep rumblings. It's also a pretty icky film, though most of that is achieved through characters telling us in what state they found a body, speculations on same, and the killer's description of his methods. It leaves a lot to the imagination, which in my case conjured up quite a bit. Your mileage may vary. What was most striking about this described-rather-than-shown (with a few very graphic exceptions—a priest peeling apart near the end was pretty shocking) was how similar the film Seven also followed this path...though with much greater commercial success.
Anyway, like the first Exorcist, I delayed a long time before I watched this one. Why? Well, I'm pretty easy to creep out, and the first film did that pretty well (though I understood, and knew at the time, that it was almost all done with the presentation of the film, and not the content). And being creeped-out is not terribly enjoyable for me, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, creep-out films tend to rank pretty high on my list of Pretty High Ranking Films, but watching them can be an uncomfortable experience, especially for the first time. Most horror movies follow pretty well-worn paths...which is, in fact, part of their appeal. They're more like a ride at a theme park—you experience the thrills without being really in danger. Creep-Out films don't do this—they want you to be uncomfortable. When they succeed, you're really uncomfortable, and think about this stuff for days. And if the film is good, you come back to it again...you're drawn, almost against your will. (Well, of course, read “I” for “you” and “I'm” for “you're” and “my” for “your” but you get the idea. Just trying to be inclusive!)
In order for me to be comfortable with a Creep-Out film, I have to have watched it at least once, so I know when and where the bad stuff happens. As always, it's helpful to have a map if you want to know where you're going. Otherwise you're too creeped out!
Other Creep-Out films, if you're interested, would include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original), Alien, The Blair Witch Project, The Haunting (the original), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the original) and the previously mentioned Seven. There are others, of course, but right now I'm distracted from thinking of them.
Anyway, we're talking about The Exorcist III. So let's do that.
The first thing that struck me was director Blatty's very good visual sense. So far as I know, he's only directed one other film (The Ninth Configuration, AKA Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane, also from his novel). I saw an interview with Blatty (with excerpts) on Tom Snyder's old show once and thought it was kind of interesting, and I read the book though it didn't stay with me much (other than the black guy who thought he was Superman). In E3, he uses a lot of visual set pieces and quick cuts to set the mood of a disoriented and fractured world. We're introduced to our main character, Leutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott). He has a nice home life (good), but of course has to investigate gruesome murders (bad) and we get the idea that he's pretty cynical about life. And there are a number of gruesome murders in this film, all of people who have names (first, last or middle) beginning with the letter K. Father Karras (Jason Miller, who played Father Karras in the first film, and as you noticed, his last name begins with K) was apparently killed at the end of the first film, but he was brought back to life by “the Devil” (no names, please!) who uses him as a container for the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif).
Now, if you're a big Brad Dourif fan, this is the film for you. He gets to do what he does best, and he's great at it as always. No, he'll never win an Oscar, but damn, he's good.
So, I pretty much recommend that you see this film. Well worth it. Problems with the film? Well, I wouldn't have written this if I wasn't writing this, so...In the film, it does seem if everyone is overly sarcastic. As an example, Doomed Father Dyer (hey, I warned you about spoilers!) greets Leutenant Kinderman (who is late for a screening of Its a Wonderful Life they were to attend together) with “They've elected four Popes while I was waiting for you!” That's the most glaring example, the one that made me say Geez these people are sarcastic. Leutenant Kinderman gets in a lot of jabs too, especially with his subordinates. (Don Gordon plays one of them.) And as befits a film written and directed by a novelist, everyone in it is well-read and quick with literary allusions—we open on one scene with Kinderman lecturing his suborinates about Macbeth.
There are a number of shock scenes (always including False Scares) which will...I guess in the old days, they'd say “which will stay with you!” But here in the technical vastness of the future, we can say, “which you'll want to rewind and watch again!” Some of these are quite haunting. One shot in particular of a white-robed figure following a young nurse was great, very much, “Whoa, what was that? Rewind!”
In the end, I'm happy to say, good triumphs over evil (yes, it's important to me, I'm tired of these downer things which are supposed to be Deep and hold Meaning for Us All), though not without cost and without preventing another sequel. Or prequel, I understand there are two of those in the works....