William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist shocked audiences seventeen years before The Exorcist III was released. Then The Exorcist II: The Heretic took the steam out of that great film as a lousy follow-up. The Exorcist III had to come back with a hard-hitting film; Blatty wrote and directed the third film with the intent of the original in mind – a slightly comedic but overwhelmingly dark look at religion and the ways that demons can infiltrate human life, not just in the supernatural sense but in the evil of men as well.
Thankfully this sequel brings back much of the tone from the original film. Blatty has a style of writing that is able to hit both comedic highs and menacing lows, and The Exorcist III does just that. The opening of the film, despite its gruesome subject matter about a recent killing that mimics the old Gemini killer in MO, has some standout scenes of dialogue thanks to Blatty’s writing and George C. Scott as Kinderman. The film works off of its characters to the extreme, almost to the point where many might give up on the film without progressing into its bleak territories. That would be a shame.
Blatty does make extended use of dialogue, especially through the opening minutes of the film, but that’s because he’s building off of a plot that the viewer doesn’t really know about. The Exorcist III also needs the viewer to legitimately care about its characters; if they don’t, then there’s really no point in having them root for the characters when they are tempted by the devil. The movie does a great job of setting up friendships between Kinderman and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), only to have that link be severed by a terrible killing later on in the film.
The final moments of The Exorcist III don’t capture the same sense of atmosphere as the middle half, especially a very moody scene where a nurse is stalked by the demonic body-shifting entity. The finale is too action-packed for an otherwise laid-back film; Blatty sort of unloads in the last minutes, leaving some plot lines unfinished.
Not everything works in the film, but the experiments that succeed make this a worthy successor to the original Exorcist. In this sequel, Blatty shifts the idea of exorcism considerably; this isn’t about a single possessed person, but a larger plot to bring evil into the world. It makes sense that this wider scope requires a different method of filmmaking. For those who can make it through the slow progression of The Exorcist III, they’ll find a largely entertaining and complex plot about the supernatural and how easily evil can remain in the world.