Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: If the existence of The Purge: Anarchy has you feeling down on horror sequels, here are five great ones to raise your spirits.
The Exorcist III (1990)
Had William Peter Blatty gotten his way, The Exorcist III would not have been called The Exorcist III. The writer-director preferred Legion, the title of his own 1983 book—an official sequel to The Exorcist novel which he adapted into this second sequel to The Exorcist movie. Slapping Exorcist on the poster, he argued, would just remind audiences of the widely detested Exorcist II: The Heretic, which he had no involvement in. Furthermore, his original cut of the film didn’t even feature an exorcist! But Morgan Creek insisted on the brand name, a choice that may have contributed to the weak box-office and reviews that accused the picture of being just another tired horror retread. Studio execs also insisted on a new ending, one that would feature an exorcist, not to mention a bunch of elaborate special effects.
Against his will, Blatty added the sound-and-fury finale, and it’s easily the weakest aspect of his movie. But that’s mainly because everything that comes before it is so hauntingly understated. As much a moody detective story as an occult horror film, The Exorcist III shifts focus to a bit player from the first movie/novel, Lt. William Kinderman. Played by a typically intense George C. Scott—taking over for the late Lee J. Cobb, who played the part in William Friedkin’s original—Kinderman is a Georgetown gumshoe investigating a series of grisly murders, all of which resemble the handiwork of a Zodiac-like serial killer he sent to the electric chair years earlier. Scott tackles the role with volatile conviction, providing both a strain of dry humor and a tempest of feeling—most notably during a scene in which he bellows for silence, briefly sobs into his hand, and then delivers the movie’s biggest block of expository dialogue.
The Exorcist III has one truly spectacular scare, a bravura long take that ratchets up tension across several agonizing minutes before delivering a nerve-jangling jolt. Mostly, however, the film relies on the power of suggestion, smartly gambling that it can’t compete with the horrors its audience can imagine. Very little of the violence occurs on-screen. Instead, Blatty lets his characters describe it—gifting Scott an anguished speech about a butchered child, and allowing a never-creepier Brad Dourif to savor every unsavory detail of a graphic monologue. Equally chilling is the early slaying of a priest in his confession booth: The director cuts from the terrified visage of the victim, listening to some admission of murderous guilt, to the unnerving aftermath—a sobbing woman, a creeping pool of spilled blood, two children staring blankly as the police take statements. Dread this thick stays with you, long after the shock of projectile vomit and masturbation by crucifix has worn off.
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Availability: The Exorcist III is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.