The Exorcist III (originally titled the Exorcist III: Legion) came thirteen years after the Heretic. It may have seemed like a pointless act to revisit the long dormant franchise. But the screenwriter of the first film (and author of the book upon which it was based) William Peter Blatty believed he had something to say.
Picking up seventeen years later, the film simply ignore the second film. Maybe it happened…but it has no bearing here. Lt Kinderman is older and wearier. His work has devastated hope within him.
When a young boy is murdered in a fashion related to a case from about the same time as the first film, he becomes convinced dark works of the Gemini killer have resumed. However, the one problem there is that the Gemini Killer has been dead for about 17 years. In spite of his lack of belief in any supernatural force for good, he starts to become desperate for answers, including talking to a mysterious patient that looks a lot like the late Father Karras.
Where as the second film veered off into insanity, Blatty seems far more determined to explore the questions of how can there be a good God in the face of all our depravity. Kinderman has looked at the face of man and found it wanting. He sees only the ugliness…the unworthiness. And this is what makes the film so compelling.
The sincerity that was the undercurrent of the first film is back. And for much of the film, Blatty is content to avoid the sensational, saving it for a dramatic confrontation with the Gemini Killer and the host of demons inhabiting the body of Father Karras.
George C. Scott takes over the role of Kinderman from the late Lee Cobb. He brings a wonderful gruff and tired feel. Brad Dourif brings his skills as a character actor portraying the face of the Gemini Killer. It is terrifically confident and angry. The Gemini Killer and the demons housed with him mock faith, they see his mission as a dark and unholy one to spread despair through violence and carnage.
My one criticism is the final resolution. In some ways it is reflective of the first film, but at the same time it chooses murder over sacrifice. It undermines the whole idea of Kinderman accepting a larger world. The film does not give many other options, and you can argue the spiritual forces of good intervene so that Kinderman can act…but still, I kind of wish Blatty would have chosen a different option.
The Exorcist III is a powerful watch and a definite gem.