I am often asked about what horror films I’ve seen that are good and scary. There are a few that have been spooky enough to give me chills and there’s the one or two films I always recommend when someone wants to sit in and get frightened by a film, but in reality, as an adult who is now seriously desensitised to most of the material in a common-or-garden horror film, it is rare for me to see a film that I’d call honestly scary. This was not always the case. When younger I was frightened by all sorts of films from actual horror like Poltergeist to (allegedly) comedies like Ghostbusters; there are loads of films that have scenes that put the shits up me rightly. But there has always been one film lurking in the shadows that, when I first saw it aged about 14 or so, terrified me.
Continuing the story fifteen years after the events in The Exorcist and wisely ignoring that The Exorcist 2 ever happened, The Exorcist 3 (1990) returns to Georgetown in Washington DC where a string of unusual murders take place, each with a religious aspect. The first victim is a young boy who’s been drugged, crucified, decapitated, and had his head replaced with one from a statue. The lead investigator on the case is Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott, who we saw recently in another horror film), the same copper who investigated the death of the film director in the first film and who had befriended Fr. Karras before his untimely end.
The anniversary of the death of Fr. Karras is always a sad time for Kinderman as well as for a friend of his, Fr. Dyer, who also knew Karras well. The two lads always go to the cinema to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” on the anniversary in order to cheer each other up. Whatever cheer Kinderman has is quickly gone though as another religious murder occurs, this time a priest in a confessional, and things go from bad to worse when the crime lab reports that there are a different set of fingerprints at the second crime scene from those found at the first, indicating more than one killer.
Kinderman notices details from each murder that are the same as the MO of a serial killer known as the Gemini who died fifteen years previously. Details of the Gemini’s killings had never been fully revealed to the press in order to make it easier to tell nutters who claimed to be the murderer apart from the real thing, so the chances of a copycat being at work are slim.
Fr. Dyer is admitted to hospital for “tests” and quickly becomes victim number three with another of the Gemini’s calling cards left at the scene. Kinderman talks to the head of the psychiatric ward who informs him of one of the long-term patients who is kept in secure isolation. Admitted to the hospital fifteen years before suffering from severe amnesia he slipped into a catatonic state and stayed that way until he recently became violent and started making outrageous claims. Kinderman pays a visit to the looney in cell 11 and is shocked by how, every now and then, in a certain light, the man who’s now claiming to be the Gemini killer looks just like the long-dead Fr. Karras…
If there’s something you treasure from when you were younger like a film or TV show then please, please, do not watch it again as an adult because very few things will live up to our memories of them. When sitting down to watch Exorcist 3 for the first time since 1991 I felt more than a little trepidation as it had so effectively frightened me when I was a kid. I was looking forward to the parts that had worked their magic so well all those years ago. And I was crushed by my disappointment, because Exorcist 3 is rubbish!!!!!
Allow me to explain. When I was 14, I and a group of other young lads were staying over at a friends house and, as is the custom, a series of action and horror films were watched while pizza was consumed. The last film of about four or five that night was The Exorcist 3 and I was the only one left awake to watch it, alone in the dark if you will. Exorcist 3 is infamous in horror circles for one scene, the scene in the hospital where… actually, never mind, here’s the video:
This bit comes out of nowhere and scared the fucking bejeezus out of me (aged 14, in the dark, alone, 3 or 4 in the morning, just to put that in context). There was no crying or wailing, no shouting or pleading for help, no running into another room, in fact I didn’t even stop the movie. I didn’t fucking sleep either! The scene where the figure in white chases after the nurse in Exorcist 3 was, until last night, the most frightening scene in a film I had ever seen. But, probably because of the terrror, I had remembered it slightly differently, so in my mind it was a headless statue that chased the nurse, which is much more scary then a gobshite in a sheet chasing after a nurse. So now, the power of Exorcist 3 is destroyed and so is my love of the film, which it didn’t really deserve in the end.
The first two sequels to The Exorcist have a bit of a twisted history to them with the list of people wanting to be associated with them far shorter then the list of people who ran a mile when asked if they were interested. Exorcist 2 is an utter disaster, cobbled together from bits of footage left over from the first film it makes no sense and had to be ignored by everyone after it came out. Exorcist 3 had a better chance, in that the original director was brought back as was the author of the original book, William Peter Blatty. However, things fell apart pretty quickly when the director did a runner leaving Blatty to do everything. Once he’d filmed his “masterpiece” the studio got their hooks into it and tacked on a new ending so as to justify calling it an Exorcist movie (Blatty had rather annoyingly left out an actual exorcism in his version).
So, once again the resulting film was a bit of a mess filled with unusual dream sequences that don’t explain anything but only confuse instead. The director Robert Roderiegez once said that if you need to pad out a film that’s too short then just add in a few dream sequences and that certainly seems to have happened here. As well as dream sequences, there’s a fair bit of retconning going on in Exorcist 3 and the backstory has been changed to accommodate things like how Kinderman and Karras were supposedly really close which is not something you saw in the original Exorcist.
Exorcist 3 is definitely better then the second film but it still treats people who have seen the first one very badly. I’m glad I knew the version of this film that played in my head for twenty years as it was an incredibly frightening film, it’s such a shame that the real thing is so poor.
Two Thumbs Firmly Down for The Exorcist 3.