|Exorcist 3, The|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 December 1999|
Don't expect any of the ghoulish horrors of "The Exorcist" or the bizarre metaphysics of "Exorcist II" in "The Exorcist III," because they're not here. Instead, you get a well-written, badly-structured and confusing talkfest about good and evil. Evidently, the same demon is still around, possessing a strange patient (Jason Miller and Brad Dourif) who's been locked up in a hospital for 15 years -- ever since Father Damian Karras (Miller) tumbled down those stairs at the climax of "The Exorcist." The patient has has long, long talks with Detective Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott) about good and evil, and about what he likes to do to people.
But these chats mostly come at the end of "The Exorcist III." At the beginning, Kinderman -- played by Lee J. Cobb in the first film -- has come to the sick realization that somehow, the Gemini Killer, executed 15 years ago, has returned. But this time, all the victims, including a boy and two priests, have some connection with the exorcism that Kinderman investigated 15 years before.
It's very, very important to the movie that Kinderman is an athiest. (Wasn't he Jewish in "The Exorcist"?) The only way Kinderman can finally stop these literally demonic murders is somehow to gain faith at the last minute; Blatty seems to want to convert the audience as well, but his movie isn't persuasive on any level, especially theologically.
Kinderman is led to the violent ward of a hospital and to a shocking realization. That now-talkative patient, silent for 15 years, is none other than Father Karras -- or is Kinderman just seeing the patient as Karras? This is never made clear, though Karras really is involved somehow. The demon evidently snatched the Gemini Killer's spirit at the moment of death and melded it with that of Father Karras; it's taken 15 years of work (what kind?) for the demon to repair this ruined brain. Now, helped by the demon, the Gemini Killer is striking again -- without leaving the cell.
At times, "Patient X" is Jason Miller; at other times -- when he's talking Kinderman's ears off -- he's Brad Dourif, who's frightening, funny and eerie. In the Bible, Kinderman finds that quotation in which a possessed man told Jesus his name was "Legion," which I suppose explains why this imprisoned patient has several personalities at once. But why does Kinderman see him as Miller and Dourif? Whose body is this? Karras and the Gemini Killer are both buried elsewhere.
Before he wrote The Exorcist, Blatty was primarily a humorist (his Which Way to Mecca, Jack? is wonderful), and he is here, again. Kindly but no-nonsense priest Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), chats with his superior, the University President (Lee Richardson) about "It's a Wonderful Life," the movie he's going to with his friend Kinderman. The President scoffs. "Don't you have a favorite movie?" Dyer asks. The President nods. "'The Fly,'" he answers dryly. Elsewhere, Kinderman complains that one of his detectives is just a little dim. He says that in the sergeants exam, when asked "What are rabies and what would you do about it?" the sergeant answered "Rabies are Jewish priests, and I would do everything in my power to help them." Later, Kinderman tells Dyer about the carp in his bathtub; Scott's delivery is great.
In fact, against increasing odds, he's terrific throughout the movie. He was one of our great heavy-breathing actors -- a Scott sigh speaks pages -- but was too little used in his last ten years or so. Here, he almost manages to hold his own against the escalating portentousness of Blatty's direction. Almost but not quite.
Again and again, doors slowly open on a puzzling, frightening or even neutral scene. Loud, carefully-spaced footsteps echo on the soundtrack. We see people from overly dramatic angles, from below, or above. Much of the fine work of cinematographer Gerry Fisher is undercut by Blatty's insistance on being DRAMATIC! over and again. Sometimes it works; there's a memorably eerie shot of a white-clad killer with a huge pair of shears swiftly approaching a victim, and another of an old lady scuttling around on the ceiling -- but why she's up there isn't explained.
The final confrontation between Kinderman and the Demon/Killer/Karras just does not work. It's too grand and too muddled. This is, after all, a horror movie, whatever else it happens to be, and to work on an audience, they either have to have a good explanation, or the lack of one has to be intriguing. Here, it's as if Blatty didn't know what's happening; the audience sure didn't.
The DVD is standard-issue except in terms of sound, which is excellent, and this is a film in which sound is exceptionally important. There are whispers and sighs, drips and footsteps, creaking doors and screaming demons. The movie itself doesn't work, but the sound effects alone might make this a worthy purchase for those who would rather part with their left leg than their home theater sound system.