Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Exorcist III (1990)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Audiences will recognize the director of this film, William Peter Blatty, as the author of the original Exorcist. Apparently he thought directing didn’t look so hard and hopped behind the wheel in an effort that shows promise, but is ultimately weighed down by a shameless need to inform clueless theater-goers. George C. Scott plays Lt. Kinderman, who’s investigating the reemergence of serial murderer known as "the Gemini Killer." The story is set in Georgetown and takes place 15 years after the original film's events. In a brilliant stratagem (which they stole from me), they pretend that the previous sequel (The Exorcist II: The Heretic) never existed, and carry on their merry storytelling way. The star, George C. Scott looks a little too weary to carry this film. He’s aging and tired throughout the picture, and that makes it hard to watch. Scott is an undeniably great actor, but here he looks like he's a few years past retirement and a little out of place. Sort of like his management team set the whole thing up as a "comeback role," and Scott wandered onto the set of this film on the first day of shooting and shrugged his shoulders in an "I give up" mannerism from the get-go. Father Karras returns as a near catatonic mental ward patient. I won’t get into the details of why he’s still alive (mostly because I can’t remember), but I guess the devil moved in just as Karras’s soul lost its lease. Could the new Gemini killer be the possessed Karras, or the original killer back from the dead? Is it a copycat killer, or is the devil subcontracting through various street urchins and mental patient lackeys?

The bodies of the killer’s victims turn up in several religiously-themed, funny (not “ha ha” funny) positions. The hospital is the main set piece and does offer some genuinely spooky moments. There’s also that same old mental ward we’ve seen a thousand times, wherein the psychopaths and mentally damaged share residence as they wander around free of structure or surveillance. Do these wards really exist? There’s a truly memorable scene where it’s done in a single shot that goes on for several minutes. The camera remains at the end of a long and vacant hospital hallway, where a nurse pokes around after strange noises. This extended scene’s climax features the killer lunging out of a doorway at the nurse with a pair of giant amputation scissors. The killer is draped head-to-toe in hospital sheets, and it’s all witnessed from the end of the hallway. It seems like a simple scene, but the mood and filming technique make it feel as though you’re witnessing an actual murder. Of course, there’s the contractually obligated exorcism scene at the end, and it looks like Satan’s plans are foiled once and for all. This film makes the mistake of using pages and pages of mind-numbing exposition as to what the devil’s plans are. They even go into the rules of body transference and what’s needed to operate a body, and so forth. The original Gemini killer got the electric chair several years ago, but not before the devil left HIS body and entered Karras’s, but not before Karras’s brain began to deteriorate, and now the devil needs yet another new body -- Bo-ring! The devil’s plans and powers will always come across as silly and innocuous when you get into the details of them. However, I will say that the film does offer some truly spooky visuals and effectively scary shock effects. The actors and the script both seem tired and played-out. The Gemini killer/devil/whatever gets way too much screen time, and so does the star/stand-in, George C. Scott. I would definitely recommend this film over The Exorcist II: The Heretic, but I would also recommend a root canal over The Exorcist II: The Heretic. Blatty shows potential as a director here, but sadly exorcised his knack for tension as a writer before filming. The power of Christ may compel you... this film will not.

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