The Exorcist is known in many circles as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It deserves its reputation. And given that the first follow up effort was a colossal disappointment, it made sense that no one was overly excited when Exorcist III was announced. In some ways, it felt almost doomed from the start. But the truth of the matter is that Exorcist III is an exceptionally made film, and the thing that makes it harder for fans of the original to come around to it is the very thing that makes it great: it’s different.
The first thing that the movie has going for it is that it is directed by William Peter Blatty, author of the original novel as well as its sequel, Legion, on which Exorcist III is based. While there are a few changes to make it more of an outright sequel to the first, it still stands very well on its own.
At the same time, we have a returning cast member in the form of Jason Miller as Damien Karras. Well, sort of. The way of bringing back Karras here is incredibly interesting and unique for an exorcism film, which this was not actually intended to be. There is an element of possession to it, naturally, but the exorcism scene is by far the movie’s weakest.
It stands on its own much better as a detective story. And despite its supernatural nature, that’s exactly what Exorcist III is. Kinderman caught the Gemini Killer, and was credited with bringing down one of the worst serial killers in modern history. But now, every bit of evidence from each new murder scene seems to suggest that the Gemini is back.
What makes the dynamic between Kinderman and the Gemini work so well is how personal it is. This is rare for both an occult detective story and a possession film. Not only is the killer someone that Kinderman feels a certain sense of responsibility for, but he is wearing the body of the detective’s good friend, Damien Karras, who was thought to have been dead for fifteen years. Gemini also orchestrates the death of the detective’s other good friend, whom he made during the events of the original Exorcist, Father Dyer.
Still, one of the most amazing things about Exorcist III and one of the absolutely crucial reasons it needs to be seen is Brad Dourif’s performance as the Gemini Killer. His acting in this is astoundingly good. The structure of his appearances and the amount of screen time he has are both reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, which would be released the next year. I’m not exaggerating when I say Dourif deserved an Oscar nod for his performance here. He makes the most of his limited screen time and his acting is almost lyrical, moving up and down between calm and casual—even a little funny—and a complete raving psychotic.
There were some production problems with Exorcist III that bogged down the film just a little bit. It’s still very good, but if it weren’t for the studio interference then this sequel would probably have been as good or better than the original. Even if The Exorcist is a quintessential classic of the genre, this is of close quality and, yes, could have even topped it.
Nonetheless, The Exorcist III is more than competently put together and beautifully shot. It features what I consider to be the best jump scare in the history of horror movies, one of those rare moments in the genre when even if you know what is going to happen, it will get you every single time. The direction truly is top notch.
Most people who have seen Exorcist III agree that it is of high quality. Opinion isn’t the problem here, it’s the fact that people still aren’t willing to give it a shot. They stand by the opinion that The Exorcist didn’t need a sequel. That is true, but that doesn’t change the fact that Exorcist III is a truly great horror film that deserves to be seen.