Shut-In Cinema: The Exorcist III

We’re stuck inside, might as well make the best of it! As often as possible (and as often as I can stand without a break) I’ll try to shine a light on a film available to stream on sites like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Disney+. You’ve got the time so after your morning exercise, your meal-prep, and the hour you spend talking to your pets about your relationship…consider some of these films and try something new! This week we look at an underrated sequel: The Exorcist III by William Peter Blatty!

There’s something satisfying about the success of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, released in 1973 to high acclaim and controversy. It went on to, for a while, be one of the most successful films of all time. It spawned not only two sequels but competing prequels, a weird circumstance that saw Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader facing off in less than a year to tell an origin story for the demon Pazuzu and his nemesis, Father Lankester Merrin. Decades later we still squirm in our seats when we watch the original film while hoping with each new exorcism movie that it’s not just another bad ripoff. I don’t necessarily believe in these things but I have to admit that I’ve always found the concept of exorcism fascinating, at several points in my life interviewing priests and pastors and victims while also trying to find out if I could be allowed to view one. I love the idea of this whole thing.

So now we have to talk about a travesty. Sure, The Exorcist II: The Heretic is a dumpster-fire. I had little hope for the third installment when I got to that point, but I urge you to get beyond that because this thing is a banger. Released in 1990 and directed by the author of the original novel, the film was knocked around by critics and audiences alike at that point in time. It has, however, found an audience within the last decade (that sexy Scream Factory release helped a lot). I first saw it in 2007, alone in a dark basement on a break from school and gloriously reveling in the fact that I could finally rent rated R movies without having to beg my mother. I loved it from the start and I can’t get enough of it.

It’s so very different from the original film! George C. Scott stars as William Kinderman, a police detective from the original film, and follows him as he investigates a series of murders that resemble those of a killer put to death 15 years prior. There’s also some supernatural stuff and a semi-workable connection to the first film. And you know what? It works. There’s a noir atmosphere to the whole thing up until there isn’t, but it’s incredibly fun to follow Kinderman as he investigates and struggles to determine if he’s going insane or if there’s something weird happening. 

And can we talk about THAT scene? The Exorcist III contains one of the only good jump scares in film, and that says a lot about its construction and the vision of the man behind it. Blatty leaves us bored and nervous the entire scene. Set in a mental hospital, he pans the camera between two angles that show a nurse and a security guard doing…nothing. They’re just there. We even get a pseudo-scare that serves as a disappointing fakeout. The actual moment is so sudden, so nonchalant, and so intensely frightening that I shot out of my chair the first time I saw it (come to think of it, I did the same thing when I revisited the film a few days ago). It’s a gloriously constructed moment with a musical sting that doesn’t feel extra.

And let’s talk about that score! Barry De Vorzon was a composer who mostly handled comedy, and only at a mediocre level. We don’t always talk about comedic scores, but they’re actually quite difficult to make into anything special. The Exorcist III serves as his final professional score (the dude’s 85, give him a break) and it’s such an odd animal. Small stings, baseline police drama music, and horror flourishes all co-exist in the same bizarre ecosystem that is this genre mashup of a film. De Vorzon was at all times as thrilling as he was underwhelming, and the experience is better for it. 

Look, I know this isn’t going to hit that perfect sweet spot like the original film did. You aren’t going to have a transcendent moment (except for THAT scene), it’s not going to be the scariest time, and you’ll probably finish it and think it was just fine. I urge you to try it out though; give a chance to the movie that doesn’t always succeed on every level, but the one that really puts itself out there and tries to be something new and interesting. Blatty had a vision and he couldn’t get anyone else on his side, but the man had an idea and he brought it to life. It’s grim, ugly, mean, kind of funny at times, and fascinating throughout. 

The Exorcist III is streaming on Amazon Prime Video with a subscription.

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