The Exorcist III is a weird movie. It’s a somewhat surreal detective story–one seeped in Exorcist continuity, only without the original cast (mostly) returning. That disconnect from the original, along with its incredibly uneven tone (the opening titles cut between a big action sequence with helicopters and some scary church imagery), actually helps the film.
The film has some infamous post-production tampering; as stands, the film spends its first third as an almost boring character study of George C. Scott’s angry old policeman and his best friend, priest Ed Flanders. Both Scott and Flanders find some really good moments in this opening section of the film. Not actually having been in the original film, their scenes discussing its infamous events play peculiarly. Even though there are spooky, evil goings-on, Flanders and Scott are in this separate world from it. Director Blatty carefully compartmentalizes. To usually good result.
Then the second section of the film is a confined murder mystery at a hospital. Until Scott discovers Brad Dourif locked in a cell–along with someone familiar to fans of the first film–and Exorcist III enters its really strange third act. Gerry Fisher’s photography is a little flat throughout the film–though he does well with the first act location shooting–but the flatness never looks cheap. Even when a sequence is entirely misguided, like when Scott all of a sudden becomes Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead.
The film’s editing, from Peter Lee-Thompson and Todd C. Ramsay, is awesome. It’s never a scary or even gross movie; it might never even be creepy. But Lee-Thompson and Ramsay cut it in such a way to keep the viewer on edge. By the end, when it toggles between a bad action movie and Scott and Dourif doing dueling monologues, there’s absolutely no reason for the narrative to keep one on edge. The big twist–part of that troubled post–is so narratively incomprehensible, it just lends to the movie’s oddness.
Some good supporting performances–Grand L. Bush, Nancy Fish, Lee Richardson–help. Don Gordon and George DiCenzo play Scott’s dimwit police sidekicks and go for stereotypical laughs. Odd. But definitely engaging.
Sadly, Nicol Williamson and Scott Wilson, both in somewhat important supporting roles, aren’t particularly good. Scott never makes the film believable, but he’s still trying, though one can’t help but wonder what kind of swimming pool he had installed with his paycheck. Flanders, however, manages to keep it all on the level. And Dourif’s good.
Problems aside, Blatty and company present a film where Patrick Ewing and Fabio can cameo as angels and it can be done entirely straight-faced. It’s almost like Exorcist III is a parody of the idea of a third Exorcist movie but done earnestly, possibly because Blatty didn’t get it. But it’s why the film’s watchable, even though it’s a complete mess.
Directed by William Peter Blatty; screenplay by Blatty, based on his novel; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Peter Lee-Thompson and Todd C. Ramsay; music by Barry De Vorzon; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Carter DeHaven; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring George C. Scott (Kinderman), Ed Flanders (Father Dyer), Grand L. Bush (Sergeant Atkins), Brad Dourif (The Gemini Killer), Harry Carey Jr. (Father Kanavan), Nicol Williamson (Father Morning), Scott Wilson (Dr. Temple), Nancy Fish (Nurse Allerton), George DiCenzo (Stedman), Don Gordon (Ryan), Zohra Lampert (Mary Kinderman), Lee Richardson (University President) and Jason Miller (Patient X).