Exorcist III DVD

Hell’s legion on disc

George C. Scott turns in an excellent performance in The Exorcist III  as police Lt. Kinderman, a man who – despite the domestic comforts of his home life – feels the world outside being torn apart by unseen forces. As he grows older, his best friends are dead or dying, his associates are incompetent, and now a killer he thought long dead seems to be operating once again.

Though most everyone had written off the thought of another Exorcist sequel after the first was such a disaster, creator William Peter Blatty nevertheless always held that there was more that could be done with the property and got his chance to do it himself directing this late sequel (based on his novel Legion). Wisely, it discards whatever happened in Exorcist II: The Heretic and builds a new tale using scraps of story elements from the original.

However, in so doing, Blatty had to also discard much of what made the original great. The Exorcist is a blunt instrument, horror in the raw, pulling the deeply buried strings of the public subconscious. Exorcist III , at heart a contrivance, must be propelled by a contrived story, appealing more to the intellect than the instinct.

Kinderman is presented with a maddening puzzle. He’d tracked down the serial murderer known as the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) and witnessed his execution, yet fifteen years later someone is killing again, using precisely the same methods – which had always been kept secret.

There is one difference to these killings, however: the victims are not random. They all have some connection to the death of Kinderman’s friend, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). First the murders target victims around a church, then a busy hospital. Who is the killer? How is he accomplishing the complex murders without being seen? How does the killer know things only the dead should know? And who is the mysterious Patient X in Room 11?

Blatty succeeds when handling the more character-driven scenes, directing an enjoyable police procedural recalling films like Richard Fleischer’s The Boston Strangler.

However, he fails to mix these scenes well with more horrific ones. The film might have done better had the supernatural element been hidden at the beginning, revealing itself only gradually as the only solution to the impossible crimes.

The center of the film is Kinderman’s interviews with Patient X (played both by Miller and Dourif, who displays his gift with mad raving and weeping on cue), but since we already know that the Devil is at work, these scenes don’t have the power of revelation that they should. As it is, the jig is up with the title.

Word is that the studio had certain story requirements for the sequel, one of which is that an exorcism must take place at the climax. Blatty delivers one, as the largely unseen Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) arrives in time for Act 3 to toss prayers and holy water at the possessed Patient X, who reacts with the expected special effects tantrum (which no one in the hospital seems to notice).

It almost seems that Blatty shoehorned this element into his story against his will, instead of building to it. The film comes on strong as a thriller, borrowing bits of style from Dario Argento, with solid, well-written performances from the leads. But  The Exorcist is a phenomenal film that still works largely through shock value. This sequel tries a bit too hard to be a class act, and needs something more extraordinary to avoid disappointment.

Warner Home Video has a spotty record, but so far their DVDs have delivered solid visuals, and this one is no exception. It also has a very good audio track, providing clarity to Blatty’s subtle multi-layered soundtrack. However, they’re lagging behind even much smaller labels when it comes to DVD extras, only providing such expected features as subtitles on their more expensive “Special Editions”.

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