It’s been more than 42 years since the first Exorcist movie, and more than 25 years since the third sequel – adapted and directed by William Peter Blatty from his 1983 novel Legion – was released.
After the disastrous second sequel – Exorcist 2: The Heretic – a movie best forgotten – it took 17 years for the third sequel to come out.
I remember watching the first Exorcist as a kid, and the movie scared the bejeezus out of me – ah! good times. After failing to find such an experience from any of the newer horror movies, I decided to revisit the Exorcist franchise recently.
I enthusiastically moved through the first Exorcist movie since I already knew where to hit the play button for the horror scenes – a big mistake. Unfortunately, my impatience to sit through the whole movie without fast forwarding to the “juicy parts” resulted in the haunting effect being lost in translation. One of the side effects of living in an era of instant gratification. Scare me shitless and do it now!
Traumatized by the thought that I might have just become desensitized from watching so many horror movies, I thought of giving it another shot but this time I decided to watch an Exorcist sequel – none of which I had seen at that point. Luckily, I watched the trailer for the second sequel and immediately skipped to the next one.
The trailer of the third sequel caught my attention and instantly I knew this was going to be good. I wasn’t disappointed.
Since I hadn’t seen Exorcist 3 before, I could patiently sit through the movie as it created this atmosphere of slow suspense and dread. I loved this slow pace. If I was to measure Exorcist 3 on an imaginary horror-plot-ECG monitor, it would start with a straight line and then slowly show signs of life, gradually increase and then spike up to the extreme before falling back down to a straight line, and then repeat until the end.
Now, I’m not saying this is something unique to Exorcist 3. Starting slow and gradually building pace is how most horror movies work. However, the buildup in Exorcist 3 even at its slow pace was engrossing. If I had to compare it to the horror movies of today, I’d say Exorcist 3 had a much slower pace. In my opinion, in newer horror movies, the slow pace for buildup has become much shorter in duration. People can’t wait to see that monster or ghoul to come on screen.
However, Exorcist 3’s ability to hold one’s attention even during such a slow pace is a mark of a well-directed movie and an engrossing plot. Also, the movie moves up and down in pace throughout. It slows down to a lull, but just before you’re about to lose your attention, it then starts building up again to an eventual climax consistently.
Exorcist 3 is well-known to be an under-appreciated movie, as the majority of horror fans will vouch for it as a cult classic that failed to garner mass appeal. And, anyone who has seen the movie will list the hospital hallway scene as the most epic horror scenes ever. Period.
What I loved about the scene was how intelligently it was made. I have heard comments from others who have seen the movie calling this scene a “WTF was that?” moment. And I have to agree.
Why do I call it an intelligently made scene? Because it isn’t so obvious, and there’s a good amount of the dreadful wait and watch effect. The nurse in the scene has two watch guards moving about nearby. Everything is quiet. You know something is going to happen, there’s even a fake start. However, the climax doesn’t happen until the guards quietly move away and the nurse is completely alone.
The point is it isn’t so obvious in the scene. There’s no dialogue in between. Nobody is saying, “hey, let’s split up… you go that way, I’ll go this way…” There’s no over-the-top effort being made to seclude the victim. It’s just silence. And then that sudden haunting background effect and shocking visual. A very seamless transition. It’s not even a cliche jump scare, but I bet it will haunt you at nights.
I love the use of silence in the scene and in the overall movie. It creates a dreaded dramatic effect that a lot of horror movies don’t use today. Many horror movies today try to pack a lot of things in every inch of celluloid. An occassional scene where the characters go about doing some mundane chore in silence before something dramatic happens adds to the scare effect and gives the audience some time to appreciate the dread.
The other two scenes in the movie which were easily shriek-worthy, at least to me, were:
The patient crawling on the ceiling and giving a sinister smile looking down.
And the possessed patient arriving at Lieutenant Kinderman’s home and nearly slicing his daughter’s head off with large shears.
There was another scene that brought me to the edge of my seat for just a moment before I realized it was only a fake start. Kinderman is sitting late at night reading about the mention of Legion in a book when his daughter groggily walks into the kitchen and stares blankly inside the fridge and then heads towards Kinderman. For a moment, she seemed to me like she was possessed… or at least a zombie.
Besides the scare scenes, what I liked was the depiction of souls sitting in a waiting room of sorts with angels tending to them. Then, a dead kid, assumedly decapitated by the Gemini Killer, approaches Kinderman and the lieutenant says, “I’m so sorry you were murdered, Thomas. I miss you…” in the most casual way that makes you unsure whether to laugh or be scared.
The actors have done a brilliant job. Brad Dourif as the Gemini Killer’s spirit performs the role exceptionally well. I especially loved the way he explains in gory detail how he decapitated Kinderman’s friend Father Dyer in the hospital by first extracting the blood.
So, what is there to not like in this classic horror movie? Well, for me at least, it was the ending. The priest coming into the mental ward and trying to exorcise a possessed Damien Karras seemed a little overboard and random. I know the movie is about exorcism but the priest was never shown in proper light. There was no character buildup for him. He just seemed to exist in a scene or two in random. How in the world did he even find Damien?
The final climax scene – the fight between good and evil – should have been a lot different. The whole long winding “I believe in this and that” dialogue threw me off completely. I mean Damien on a crucifix arising out of a hole from the ground? Bleh…
Later on, I did some reading about the making of the movie and found out why the ending sucked so badly. The priest was never part of the original script and the ending was changed because the original plot didn’t have an exorcism and that didn’t go down well with the producers. Way to go and ruin it for us money boys!
On a related note, there was a fan edit of the movie, called Legion, in 2011. The edited movie removed all the additional elements and recreated the story arc of the director’s cut without any of the original footage that went missing.
Anyways, to rate my overall experience with the movie, I would say Exorcist 3 was simply incredible despite the amendments made to it. The ending and the randomly appearing priestly apparition do create bumps in an otherwise smooth plot, but if you can look past these small points, this is a movie worth a watch, especially if you like a good scare like me.