I rarely even think about watching most horror movie sequels. Especially not needless sequels when the original film was groundbreaking, horrifying, and a triumph of modern horror filmmaking.
But last week, a post about The Exorcist III flitted through the Why I Love Horror Instagram feed (HA! Stealth promotion!). Some things caught my attention:
• It’s often called an ‘underrated’ sequel. (Uh huh, I’ve heard that before.)
• 2020 is the 30-year anniversary. (Eh, okay, so it’s timely.)
• It was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original Exorcist novel and screenplay. (Well I’ll admit curiosity to see where the creator would go next with the material…)
• The story was inspired by a real-life serial killer. (…I’m listening.)
• Brad Dourif plays the serial killer in it. (GO ON.)
And then the clincher:
• Who stars in The Exorcist III as a hardboiled cynical homicide detective? GEORGE. C. SCOTT.
That was it. I had to see Patton himself screech expletives at the devil. I would’ve paid money to see that. Fortunately, The Exorcist III is available for free on Amazon Prime Video. Even better.
Some intriguing background for horror/true crime/film nerds:
The Exorcist and The Exorcist III have intertwined history with MULTIPLE serial killers.
• An actual murderer / suspected serial killer was an extra in The Exorcist.
•According to Last Podcast on the Left (and I trust those boys’ research), serial killer Dennis Nilsen played the score from The Exorcist while he did things with corpses that you probably don’t want to read about.
• In one of The Zodiac’s letters to The San Francisco Chronicle, he called The Exorcist “the best satirical comedy that I have ever seen.”—which would be a great line if said by George Carlin, but alas it came from a multiple murderer. As a direct result of that letter, William Peter Blatty went on to write Legion in the 1980s, a novel about demonic possession and a serial killer. That novel would become The Exorcist III movie.
• The Exorcist III came out in 1990, the same year that Jeffery Dahmer’s serial murders increased in frequency. Dahmer reportedly incorporated the film into the deep, twisted internal fantasy life that fueled his killings.
Wasn’t that interesting? Wasn’t that dark?
…well with all of this build up… I was surprised to encounter something pretty boring.
Now, I’ll acknowledge: there’s been a lot of back and forth between who’s to blame for problems in The Exorcist III. There were last-minute shoehorned-in scenes and characters, deleted scenes, etc. The film was supposedly ‘purer’ prior to studio intervention at the 11th hour.
Here’s why I don’t care and why I’m not going to cut writer/director Blatty any slack in this review:
•When the film first released, Blatty said that this was a superior and more frightening film than The Exorcist. That’s like your dad promising to buy you a brand new bike but actually giving you one of those scooter boards from elementary school gym class. It’s the result of either lies or delusion.
•Blatty later blamed the film company’s insistence on last minute, bad changes on a producer’s “secretary” and a test audience that was “zombies from Haiti.” I’m not a fan of writer/directors passing the buck on whatever sexist/racist caricatures they choose to blame.
•This was the free version on Amazon Prime Video. And I’m not going digging for whatever Director’s Cut or Collector’s Edition or fan edit is supposedly closest to the ‘purest’ or ‘true’ film version. This is, ultimately, the final product.
Our protagonists for this story are two surviving characters from the original Exorcist. There is Father Dyer, the priest who was good friends with Father Damien Karras and connected him with the MacNeil family. And there is Lieutenant Kinderman, the homicide detective who investigated the first death connected to Reagan’s possession—which you might not remember because it happened offscreen to an obnoxious drunk British guy.
In this follow up story, Dyer and Kinderman have become quite close over the last 15 years. Together they’ve tried to cope with and yet not talk about the trauma from the Reagan MacNeil case. Although the two characters don’t interact in the first movie, it isn’t a stretch for them to have connected in the aftermath.
What’s a stretch is that Dyer and Kinderman appear to be the same age. In order for that to be reality, Kinderman literally could not have aged since 1973. I guess eventually hardened homicide detectives become hardened even against the passage of time.
Here’s the plot up front, because the script delays explaining what is happening until way too far in:
Although everyone thought Father Damien Karras died the night of Reagan MacNeil’s exorcism, he is actually alive and in a mental hospital, possessed by a dead serial killer.
Around the same time that Damien took his fall down the notorious steps, that serial killer was executed. The serial killer’s essence/soul/whatever was tapped by The Dark Forces The Be to possess Damien Karras as revenge for the successful exorcism. The serial killer not only possesses Damien, but is able to possess other people to commit horrible murders.
…how did no one realize that Father Damien didn’t die in 1973? That isn’t explained.
…is the serial killer a ghost, a demon, something else? That isn’t explained.
…why did it take 15 years for this demonically-sponsored serial killer to pick back up his murder game? That is explained badly.
Worse, as Kinderman is investigating all of this, he spends 99% of the movie not believing what is happening. To be fair, he doesn’t witness anything literally supernatural until that last 1% of the movie. But this is a confusing, difficult way to address the plot. Kinderman is trying to solve a mystery with a solution that a) he doesn’t believe in and b) the audience already knows very early on.
[Note to self: how have I, DMV-area horror blogger, not made a short pilgrimage over there? …oh yeah because getting around Georgetown sucks.]
We cut to a creepy sequence later that night. An eerie fog floats over The Steps while the Exorcist theme plays. The fog continues through the Georgetown campus, coming to the campus’s church.
We get a beautiful shot of the church doors bursting open with a tremendous wind and a flurry of shredded roses. The sanctum is gloriously trashed with an invasion of stems, leaves, petals, thorns invade the chapel. But this moment isn’t mentioned or witnessed by anyone, ever. No one is even mildly inconvenienced by this moment of ‘attack’ so… why shoot it in the first place?
We get a POV shot as a presence continues to stalk the streets until it encounters a young black teenager who is wearing (very inappropriately in 2020 context) a ‘Police Boys Club’ t-shirt.
The next morning, three helicopters blast over the Potomac, flying absurdly low. This is exactly what it’s like to live in DC, where you could be interrupted multiple times a day by inexcusably low-flying helicopters. Like living in a Jerry Bruckheimer flick.
The cause of the commotion is a crime scene at the Fletcher’s Cove Boathouse. We see our protagonist Lieutenant Kinderman surveying the scene.
Later, Kinderman discusses the fresh murder with his team. It matches the profile of serial murderer The Gemini Killer, who has been dead for 15 years. HMMMM. Almost like there’s some sort of pattern emerging….
But Kinderman can’t hang around doing stuff like solving horrible murders. He has a date with his friend Father Dyer!
It turns out that the two have this cute kind of relationship that only old men of a certain generation would have. To deal with their shared trauma of Father Damien’s violent death (“death”), they get together on this day every year to cheer each other up. Because you know trauma only matters once a year! Hanging out with your buddy is more emotionally healthy than namby-pampy stuff like therapy.
In their scenes together, Dyer and Kinderman always have a witty sarcastic banter going. A sign that not only are they very good friends, but that the writer is SO CLEVER.
This is a point of annoyance throughout the movie, and it proves why writers shouldn’t direct their own stuff. We have minutes upon minutes of dialogue that sure would be great on stage in a play about anything else. But it’s not in-sync with a movie about demonic possession and gruesome murders.
During the annual trauma buddy date, we get the very expected conversation where the cop is all ‘how dare God allow all this bad stuff’ and the priest is all ‘I just work for the guy’. It’s a dialogue only worth seeing because George C. Scott is in it (this will become a running theme).
Kinderman brings up the morning’s horrific crime scene. Because the best time to bring that up is definitely ‘Our Once A Year Trauma Hang Out Day’. It turns out that Kinderman knew the victim, a black boy named Thomas who was a part of the Police Boys Club (again…seriously?).
Kinderman describes the murder as being ultraviolent, blasphemous, racist, and even nautical (the victim was crucified to a pair of canoe oars). Geez, serial killer, you’re all over the place! Pick a theme and stick to it!
But the description of the murder is all we get out of it. We get no real violence or gore until the very tail end of this movie.
…this is supposed to be the follow up to a movie where just a realistic cerebral angiography scene made audiences faint.
This movie is all about a lot of telling and next to no showing. That’s not a follow-up act. That’s a totally different movie. And that’s fine! But it’s going to fall flat if it’s directly tied to a movie that almost won Best Picture based on the exact opposite premise.
Things take a sharp turn when she confesses committing violent murders. At first, the priest is a rock-solid professional, listening patiently rather than running for his life. When the woman starts laughing maniacally, the priest finally cringes in terror. But it is too late!
A moment later, parishioners hear horrible animalistic screaming. A crowd gathers around the confessional, where blood is pooling out onto the floor. Behind them, the older woman is leaving the church.
…so already the audience knows: that old bag did it. We didn’t need to know that. The priest could have just been taking Confession from a person we never see. That would be far more jarring and mysterious.
And now, there’s no suspense later when Kinderman is wondering if Father Damian—I’m sorry, “the mysterious patient”—is escaping the hospital in killing people. Obviously not. We just saw that that wasn’t the case.
Later, Kinderman examines the fresh crime scene. We see that the confessional is splattered with blood. Someone or something (that old wrinkly bitch in black) burst through the confessional screen to attack the priest.
We are inexplicably transported to at least 1965, where nuns walk around with those winged habits and the nurses are wearing Nurse Ratched-style white dresses and caps. In a film that takes place in 19-fucking-90, no scrubs in sight and this is how they dress these women! It’s honestly insulting.
If that wasn’t annoying enough, hey! It’s banter time! Kinderman has brought Dyer a horrifically ugly plush penguin. Oh ho, those silly old men, only able to tap into their feelings via absurd gestures.
One golden moment is that when a nurse briefly interrupts the banter, we get our first George C. Scott barking snap. What is that? George C. Scott has a way of briefly exploding at people that is a legend to behold.
From here, most of the movie takes place at the hospital. That’s very similar to the original Exorcist. In the first film, there is the sad scene where Damien retrieves his mother from a psychiatric ward. Much of the middle of the first movie is Reagan being subjected to painful clinical tests. In the first Exorcist, healthcare settings have an overarching atmosphere where you instinctively feel uncomfortable.
But in this movie, the hospital is given minimal artistic attention. It’s just where we are because the plot says so.
Dyer and Kinderman’s banter goes on, and I’m sitting here thinking, “What a nice one act play—oh wait, this is a horror movie featuring a serial killer and the fucking devil? Huh, who knew?” Can we please move on???
As Kinderman leaves, he passes by a decapitated Christ statue. …gee, what a coincidence given that the head of a Christ statue was used in Thomas’s murder …
WORST. DETECTIVE. EVER.
Look, I went to Catholic school for 7 years. There is no way the nuns of this hospital wouldn’t notice or immediately act when there’s a vandalized visage of the Son of God. Those ladies would not stand for it.
Also, remember the first Exorcist movie where a statue of the Virgin Mary is vandalized with huge tits and a throbbing cock? Remember how blatant, obscene, blasphemous, and literally colorful it was? No one could miss it, and that was the point. The demon wants to shock and disturb the faithful, and the filmmaker wants to do the same to the audience.
THIS, a white statue that is missing its head, is no more dramatic than ancient (stolen) statues in a museum. It’s is a total nothing burger. That’s not what I ordered! I ordered a something burger! With extra Something Sauce!
Later, Kinderman is being briefed by his team. It’s revealed that the victims did not die of their horrific injuries. They were actually killed by an injection of succinylcholine—a paralytic used in electric shock therapy. This points to a killer with access to a medical setting.
In addition, different sets of fingerprints were found at the crime scenes. Which raises the question: how could the very ‘extra’ MO of these murders be committed by different killers? HMM.
We cut to later that night, where the Kinderman household (him, his wife, their daughter, and the mother-in-law) is sleeping soundly.
Things have been plodding and disappointing thus far.
Ready for things to get stupid? Let’s get stupid.
Kinderman dreams of walking around a huge temple-like building. The place seems to simultaneously function as an over-crowded bus terminal and a hospital ward. Oh, and there are fucking angels in robes with huge feathery wings walking around.
No. Nope. Stop. Cut!
WHAT. This is STUPID.
There’s some guy in an aviator outfit playing chess. There’re ladies in perms playing classical music. There’s some woman whining at the front desk (only a true Karen argues with an angel that she wants to see the manager).
WHAT are we DOING here? If this is heaven, it fucking sucks. Probably doesn’t even have free WiFi—just that BoingBoing bullshit.
Then there’s a cameo which totally dates this movie (poorly). Ready for it? It’s stupid. Here it is:
Fabio is there. THE Fabio. He’s one of the angels.
I was promised demonic possession, I was promised a serial killer, I was promised…the total opposite of this! I wanted precisely NONE of this. This is a total scooter board situation!
Kinderman is approached by the murdered boy, who is quite chipper considering his horrible murder. Somehow entranced by the setting, Kinderman is also chipper. “Oh gee, I’m so sorry you were murdered, Thomas.”
That’s not sarcasm. That’s an actual line. In this movie.
Kinderman then comes upon Father Dyer, who isn’t looking so hot—it looks like he’s been decapitated. Father Dyer is also getting his tarot read by an angel with black wings. That sounds cool. But does it matter? NO. Nothing comes of it. So why have it?
The dream ends. And you know what? It’s a total waste of time. The scene advances nothing. Kinderman doesn’t wake up suddenly believing in the afterlife. He doesn’t seem anymore at peace with Thomas’s murder. And sensing that Father Dyer is in danger is not helpful because as soon as Kinderman awakes, he finds out that Dyer is dead.
In the original Exorcist, the supernatural is so close and yet so mysterious. We get brief flashes of the inhuman form of demons—but everything else is left to question. The afterlife remains ambiguous. The literal side of the angels is absent throughout the entire ordeal. And that’s a pointedly bleak element of the story.
Anyway, Father Dyer was murdered in his hospital bed. And he wasn’t decapitated, so I guess heaven is full of lies.
Kinderman enters the room where his dead friends body lies under a sheet. We get some incredible wordless acting by George C. Scott. It’s frustrating, because this scene doesn’t belong in the same movie as that stupid dream-heaven sequence.
Father Dyer has been completely exsanguinated with incredible precision. His blood was divided equally and neatly into a set of cups left in the room.
…however, as someone who has watched too many episodes of every true crime show, I’m skeptical that the amount shown is the full blood supply of an adult man of the Father’s size and weight.
A little bit of blood was left over for a written message. “It’s a wonderfull life.” (Purposely misspelled.) Chilling, yet funny. I can appreciate that.
Kinderman interviews the nurse who was on shift when Dyer was murdered. She’s pretty darn casual considering one of her patients, a priest, was violently murdered under her nose. All she can offer for clues is that right around the time Father Dyer was murdered, she found Mrs. Clelia, a neurology patient, unconscious in the ward.
Kinderman hits up the neurology ward next, which has many resident patients. The head of neurology, Dr. Temple, gives him a tour. An older woman with an AWFULLY FAMILIAR craggy voice approaches them rambling something and is gently guided away.
Kinderman is introduced to Mrs. Clelia, an addled elderly woman. Mrs. Clelia only wants to talk about her radio, which needs to be fixed. Kinderman proves that he’s not above lying to an old woman with dementia and says he’s the radio repairman. Mrs. Clelia explains that dead people’s voices are coming out of the radio.
…Yeah, I don’t give a fuck if you are George motherfucking C. Scott—that’s an ‘exit stage left’ moment if there ever was one.
The discussion dead end’s there (HA). Kinderman moves on and Dr. Temple continues the tour to the Disturbed Ward. Now we’re talking!
Walking along the cells of the Disturbed Ward, Kinderman hears someone call his name. Kinderman peers into a dark cell and sees a slumped over figure in shadow. The unseen patient (in the script called “Patient X”, which is stupid) quotes from the Bible about death. It’s obviously Father Damien. It’s his silhouette, it’s his voice. But the script says we’re going to stretch out that “mystery” for no good reason.
Next, Kinderman is being yelled at by a hospital admin. How dare Kinderman fill the hospital with police after someone’s murdered inside of it?!
Seriously though, you gotta have balls of steel to yell in George C. Scott’s face for 3 minutes. I assume the admin got hopped up on cocaine to muster the courage.
Kinderman talks about his work on The Gemini Killer case. The Gemini Killer had a secret, specific MO that we never see on screen, so who cares. TWIST: the last 3 murders have included that super-secret MO!
The monologue about The Gemini Killer’s MO is overly long with a lot of details that don’t matter. The exposition feels wasted when it’s just to appease some snotty hospital admin. Once again, the scene is saved by George C. Scott’s delivery.
This monologue includes the detail that The Gemini Killer only killed victims with a name that started with ‘K’. Because his father, Karl, was a pastor and–
OH COME ON.
I love serial killer shit, I do. There’s lots of serial killer trivia out there (see: the start of this article). Yes, serial killers are a quirky and colorful bunch. But this is a bridge too far (or a knife too far, an axe too far, etc.). This ‘K’ thing is stupid.
And before you murderino nerds even get started with me, yes, that scenario MIGHT have happened in The Double Initial Murders. However it’s just as, if not more, likely that it was a total coincidence that the 3 victims had the same first/last initials.
The ‘K’ quirk means that we now must dramatically reveal that Father Joseph Dyer’s middle name was *gasp* KEVIN.
Upon this revelation, we briefly cut to Patient X aka Totally Father Damian. To no one, he simply states: “Kevin.”
Never has a cut so brief and a line so short made me laugh so hard.
Next, Kinderman speaks with the medical examiner in the hospital morgue. The ME explains that the only tool that would match all 3 crime scenes would be a pair of GIANT CHROME SHEARS. These shears couldn’t be used for anything but trying to be an extra fancy torturer/murderer.
The ME claims that they are totally legit, standard corpse cutting scissors. The ME is incorrect. Scissors used in autopsies are usually blunted to reduce likelihood of injury to the examiner.
Why do I know that? Because I am an admitted creep.
More importantly: what the fuck are you using them for, Mr. ME?
The ME also reveals that he just had to order brand new Murder Shears ™. Why? Well because the old ones just walked away somewhere.
…and were you planning on telling anyone ever? Hmm?
This hospital is terrible.
That night, Kinderman goes to the university president. The university president was a fellow priest of Father Dyer’s and Father Damien’s, and probably realizes he knows one-too-many murdered priests. So, time for scotch with a homicide detective.
The university president mentions that oh, you know, maybe it all goes back to “that exorcism.” He says “that exorcism” waaay too casually, like “that sandwich I ate.”
Now that the university president has used the E word, things go a little spooky. There’s a sound of a crying girl in the next room, a phantom wind causes some papers to scatter, a door creaks, lights flicker…
Hey, remember the movie before this when a little girl fucking levitated off of her bed? And she crab-walked down a staircase? Remember that? That was HORRIFYING.
…but sure, flickering lights, oooo, I’m scared…
This is like being served a beautiful rare steak for dinner and getting Dippin’ Dots for dessert.
After the creaks and groans come to nothing (of course), the university president reveals that each of the three recent murder victims had a connection to the Reagan MacNeil case. Father Dyer’s connection we already know. But Father Kanavan gave official permission for Father Damian to investigate the case—weird because his character appears exactly 0 times in that story. And the boy, Thomas? Well you see his mom was the audio analyzer who figured out that the voices coming out of Reagan were speaking English backwards.
See how that explanation stretched a little too much? Like the script wrote itself into a stupid corner and then had to pull characters/plot out of thin air to get back out of it? Why do that?
Notice how we’re pages into this review and I’m not even close to the climax yet. And I’m heavily condensing and even skipping entire scenes. I consider this the shared fault of Blatty and the studio. Because while some things were forced in after the fact, a lot of this is Blatty not being able to direct out his own material. The movie doesn’t need The Gemini Killer to have half a dozen super specific traits, each with their own backstory. The movie doesn’t need all the banter. And NO ONE needed the Fabio angel dream.
Case in point: in a brief, wordless scene we meet Father Morning. He’s been mentioned as a priest who’s previously performed exorcisms. He looks super cool, with pure white hair and a chiseled face. There’s some ‘the devil is fucking with you’ fun, like a shadow falling over the room and more scary wind (is Satan an Airbender?).
Wow, this almost has the makings of an interesting movie! …but we literally don’t have time for THAT, so we move on.
Kinderman is back doing detective-y things. There’s a fingerprint match for Father Dyer’s murder scene. When Kinderman sees the match, he says it’s “impossible.” Why? Because they belong to neurology ward patient Mrs. Clelia! The murderous old bat!
…I have questions. What are this little old lady’s fingerprints doing in the extremely limited digital fingerprint database of 1990? Why is it “impossible” that a confused lady, who was seen on the floor where the murder happened, might wander into the crime scene and touch something?
We see Dr. Temple in his office, which is decked out in mystic imagery of random, conflicting ideologies. It looks more like a serial killer’s lair than a doctor’s office. HMMMMM.
Temple is talking out loud, practicing his explanation about mysterious Patient X before Kinderman arrives to interview him. I can appreciate this surprising and funny revelation that he’s a suspicious weasel.
When Kinderman does come in, Temple puts his ‘I’m definitely not suspicious’ cheat-sheet in an open drawer of his desk so he can sneak peaks at it. Which Kinderman never notices, even though Temple’s doing it mere inches in front of him.
Kinderman takes in the office, full of very not-Catholic imagery in the middle of a Catholic hospital, where there’ve been a spree of blasphemous murders. Surely this is a Giant Fucking Hint. But Kinderman never takes note of it.
WORST. DETECTIVE. Great yeller-at-er, terrible detective. It’s cool though, because this ultimately comes to nothing. Seriously, all of this and it’s a plot footnote.
Kinderman asks about “Patient X” aka It’s Father Damien, Guys, Seriously. Temple says that the patient came in 15 years ago as an amnesiac that quickly went catatonic. But within the last few weeks, the patient has become active and violent. The patient is even claiming to be The Gemini Killer.
With that, Kinderman demands the patient’s file. What a crazy world we lived in before HIPPA. But as it turns out, very little is in the patient’s file (more fun with George C. Scott yelling below).
It’s almost like this hospital where dementia patients roam, priests get killed, and Jesus statues are left beheaded isn’t on the up and up!
Kinderman goes back to his team and asks them to look up the dental records of Father Damien Karras. When asked why, Kinderman nearly collapses with grief. He reveals that a “dear friend” whom he “loved” might not have died 15 years ago and is actually alive in the Disturbed Ward.
…I’m sorry, “dear friend”? A “dear friend” you “loved”?
Let’s go back to the video tape, shall we? *rewind noise* In the Exorcist, Kinderman and Father Damien talk a grand total of twice. Ever. They meet, they meet again, Damien goes out a window.
Either Kinderman falls in love hard and fast (he does seem the type), or once again the script is pulling stuff out of its ass.
Finally, Kinderman goes to see Patient X aka Father Damien For Real. Kinderman asks the patient if he is Damien Karras. The patient only refers to Father Damien in the 3rd person, and names himself as The Gemini Killer.
The Gemini Killer talks of the recent murders, claiming that he usually kills at random. Well, no, you don’t. Apparently you kill people with ‘K’ in their names. That’s the opposite of random. But regardless, the most recent murders are to ‘settle a score.’
The Gemini Killer has a bad habit of interrupting himself with beastly roars. He remarks that he’s getting better at roaring, now that he’s being taught how to do it. What? Seriously? The possession-roaring is on purpose and Satan gives lessons on it? Is it a course on Khan Academy?
A sink slowly drips in the background and I wonder if this was the original inspiration for the script’s pace…
Kinderman counters that The Gemini Killer is dead.
The Gemini Killer rages, screaming “No! I’m Alive!”
At this moment, Father Damien’s form is replaced by The Gemini Killer—as played by Brad Dourif.
I came to see Brad Dourif and George C. Scott face off, mano-a-mano. Let’s get to it!
As I have noted before, Brad Dourif is a talented, accomplished actor (even if most of his career has been spent voicing a murderous doll). Even when he first emerges as this cold blooded, literally hellish serial killer, there are tears in his eyes. As if he is still tortured by the reality of being not quite-dead, not-quite alive.
Kinderman, however, doesn’t see this transformation. He does not ‘believe’ enough to see it.
Which is basically the movie saying “Look, Jason Miller only came back if he didn’t need to show up to set more than twice.” This creates a lot of confusion about what Kinderman sees and knows vs what the audience does. If you get confused reading what follows, I don’t blame you.
The Gemini Killer orders Kinderman to tell the press that he, this patient in the Disturbed Ward, is the real Gemini Killer. If Kinderman refuses, The Gemini Killer will ‘punish’ him.
I don’t know what’s scarier: Brad Dourif threatening to punish someone or someone attempting to threaten George C. Scott.
To try to convince Kinderman, The Gemini Killer describes his recent murders in exact detail. He focusses on the great skill required to exsanguinate Father Dyer. The Gemini Killer gets increasingly excited, nearly giddy as he talks about how to lift someone’s legs to efficiently pump out their blood.
This is pre-Hannibal Lecter, but it’s a comparable performance. It is so chilling. Plus, it’s clear that Dourif is really taking this role by the horns.
The Gemini Killer wraps up his speech with, “Now I call that showmanship Lieutenant.” You are goddamn right!
However, a problem we have with these scenes between The Gemini Killer and Kinderman is that they are very one-sided. The Gemini Killer does his murder monologues, and Kinderman sits there. Kinderman doesn’t offer a lot of arguments against The Gemini Killer’s claims, he doesn’t try to poke holes or even interrogate him. And that’s ultimately not very interesting. Why not have more of an active dialogue? Did they have to pay George C. Scott by the word?
Using his fists and not his words, Kinderman is fully over this little shit’s rant and slaps him across the face.
Remember: from Kinderman’s perspective, he just slapped the snot out of his dear, beloved, brought-back-from-the-dead priest friend. But we don’t see that. The patient keeps Brad Dourif’s face the entire time. We could have seen Kinderman hit Father Damien’s face, and that would’ve been so much more effective.
Kinderman exits the room in a sort of daze. The aloof nurse from earlier announces, horrified, that the patient’s nose is broken.
And so Lieutenant Kinderman is banned from the hospital, reported to his superiors, disciplined and…. Oh? That isn’t what happens? Gee, this movie is more realistic than I expected.
So what happens instead? The nurse takes him back to her office and bandages up his hand, not upset in the slightest about him BREAKING HER MENTALLY ILL PATIENT’S NOSE.
Well that’s great. Just fucking great. What a fantastic hospital.
Aloof Nurse reveals that Patient X—can we just call him Father Damian already? — has been passing out deeply lately. In fact, it’s happened every day of the recent murders. HMM.
Aloof Nurse also notes that she’s heard the patient cry out in different voices. One voice sounds more emotional, kinder. She has heard that voice say, “Save your servant.” and “Kill It.”
OH OKAY. That’s not bizarre at all! …okay maybe not so bizarre for a Disturbed Ward….
We briefly cut to Father Morning. Remember him? No? I’m not surprised! He’s praying in a chapel. Neat.
We see a sequence that is way too goddamn long of the next murder. While the halls are still filled with police officers, a young nurse makes her rounds. As the police slowly file out around her for a shift change, she investigates strange noises coming from a patient’s room.
She discovers that the strange sound was just ice melting in a cup of water. …which I would mock, but I have in fact been there.
There’s a fake-out jump scare where the patient suddenly sits up. The nurse goes back out into the hallway, where the police are casually going back into position.
Whew! Danger passed!
However, noises start up in a different room. As the nurse goes to investigate that, the police officers gradually leave the corridor again, leaving her alone.
Having found nothing, the nurse comes back into the hallway. Suddenly, with a huge burst of music, a cloaked figure in white emerges with the Murder Shears™. In three quick paces, the figure stalks up behind the nurse with the shears open wide!
Some people say this is a chilling sequence, brilliantly set up.
You know what I say?
That absurd white figure with the Murder Shears™ is, at best, brilliant comedy with a good jump scare.
The Gemini Killer’s absurdly long MO does not include dressing up like Zero from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Once again, there’s no blood that follows. Instead of showing the murder, we briefly cut to the decapitated Christ statue which is SOMEHOW still sitting there. Just in case the Murder Shears ™ baring down on the back of the nurse’s neck didn’t clue you in on what was coming next.
We later see the nurse’s sheeted body being removed from the patient room. It’s revealed that the nurse’s organs were removed and replaced with rosaries. Neat. Can I see any of that? No? Well fuck you, movie.
Remember, this series started 2 decades ago with a little girl stabbing herself with a crucifix. Now, in the 90s, I can’t even see a murdered nurse? For shame!
Kinderman attends the crime scene and is quickly called to a new one in Dr. Temple’s office. Remember when I said Dr. Temple would come to nothing? Well he’s died by suicide via a large syringe filled with something. We find out later that he totally believed The Gemini Killer was inhabiting Father Damien’s body and helped with a few minor parts of the murderin’. That’s it, that’s the pay off.
Kinderman returns to Father Damian’s cell and resumes his chat with The Gemini Killer. The Gemini Killer explains that the Dark Forces That Be put him in Father Damien’s body as a tool of revenge. The revenge would be twofold: The Gemini Killer would commit horrible, obscene murders within the body of a priest—a combination so evil that it would challenge peoples’ faith and create a scandal for the Church. At the same time, Father Damien Karras would not be able to die—his own essence would remain trapped and forced to watch as innocent people died be his own hands.
…can you spot the problem? This revenge plan isn’t going to plan. Father Damien’s fingerprints weren’t found at any of the recent crime scenes. Not even the same person’s fingerprints were at the crime scenes. Father Damien hasn’t witnessed and could not be rationally blamed for any of the murders.
SO…what’s the point? And this again is where The Exorcist works and The Exorcist III doesn’t. Why is Reagan MacNeil possessed? There is no reason or point. And that’s scarier. That’s the essence of great evil. …and it’s a lot harder to poke giant holes in.
Meanwhile, Kinderman insists that he does not believe that the man sitting before him is The Gemini Killer. Okay, then why is Kinderman sitting there listening to this talk of dark forces and possession? Does he think that Father Damien is totally nuts and/or a murderer? A master manipulator getting others to murder for him? He offers no alternative explanation, just blunt doubt. That is not interesting.
The Gemini Killer repeats his demand for Kinderman to tell the press who he is and repeats his threat, hinting at going after Kinderman’s family.
As Kinderman leaves, The Gemini Killer actually says the line “It’s child’s play, Lieutenant.”
‘Cause that’s the name of the Chucky movies that Brad Dourif, who plays The Gemini Killer, stars in? GET IT?
Kinderman returns to the common area of the neurology ward, observing the patients. Meanwhile, he is totally oblivious as—right the fuck out of nowhere—Mrs. Clelia crawls on the ceiling above him like a possessed fly.
YES. This is what I want! Stuff that makes my skin crawl!
But you know what would make this scene really effective? If someone SAW it. And Kinderman never does. Worst. Detective.
And there are more questions. Is The Gemini Killer possessing Mrs. Clelia and making her do that for the lols? So his powers include being able to walk up walls now? When did that become a thing?
In The Exorcist, crazy shit happens just to happen. We aren’t given a ton of context that the crazy shit must fit into. But The Exorcist III is nothing BUT context, backstory, and plot that the crazy shit twist itself around in order to fit.
Kinderman stumbles upon a fresh murder scene in the hospital. A nurse has been killed and her uniform stolen. Kinderman realizes that a patient must have stolen the uniform to commit a murder. More so, based on The Gemini Killer’s threat, he believes his family is in danger.
…Kinderman provides no non-supernatural explanation for the connection between The Gemini Killer and the other patients committing the murders, but he’s rolling with it at this point.
Meanwhile, Kinderman’s wife gets a call, supposedly from him. Not-Kinderman tells her that a nurse is coming over the house with a package.
Oh hey, more questions: Is the Gemini Killer imitating Kinderman over the phone? How does he have access to a phone? Do his powers now include parrot-like voice imitation? Can he access phones through demon magic? It’s another brief moment that adds more complication for NO reason.
Kinderman grabs a patrol officer and they race off to his home. MORE questions: Why doesn’t the real Kinderman also call his family to warn them? Why don’t they put out an APB so that the closest patrol officer can get to the house as quickly as possible? Fortunately we already have the answer: because Kinderman is a bad detective.
At least, as a local, I got the treat of watching George C. Scott lose his goddamn mind while being stuck in DC-area traffic, screaming “You song of a bitch!” #TooReal.
We see the not-nurse in a taxi, a bag at her side with the Murder Shears™. Totally casual, just having an afternoon on the town with my big ol’ Murder Sheers™ in my 1950s-era uniform. Nothing nightmare-inducing to see here…
Kinderman finally reaches home and bursts in, gun drawn, and face stricken. …while his wife, daughter, and mother-in-law look over at him like “WTF Dad?!”
But oh no! It turns out the not-nurse has already arrived! But twist! She’s unconscious! Apparently after arriving at the house, she fainted. Which would mean that The Gemini Killer is no longer possessing her but has gone somewhere else. T’was a ruse!
OR was it a ruse within a ruse?!
Because as Kinderman relaxes, the threat seemingly gone, the not-nurse pops back up with the Murder Shears™!
…But how can that fake-out work if Kinderman doesn’t believe that The Gemini Killer is possessing these people? See it’s a fake out that works for the audience because we know what’s going on. Kinderman has remained in denial.
And this is a sequence that shows what this movie could have been. It could have been this awesome cat and mouse game, serial killer vs. detective. The killer could literally be anywhere, anyone. Brad Dourif and George C. Scott would be able to face off in different environments and scenarios. Instead, they have these dull scenes in the cell where Dourif monologues for 5 minutes straight and George C. Scott just sits there.
Oh what could have been… Well, it could have been / would become 1998’s Fallen, which shamelessly ripped off almost this exact plot.
Anyway, Kinderman’s teenage daughter is too engrossed in her fashion magazine to notice the not-nurse crawl across the coffee table with her giant Murder Shears™. Are we finally gonna get a bloody murder on-screen?!
Nope. The daughter’s head does not get popped off like a dandelion, as she is saved by her grandmother. Yes, her elderly grandmother, not her homicide detective dad who raced over here to prevent this EXACT scenario. Wooooooooooorst. Detectiiiiiiiive.
The possessed not-nurse finally starts to show off some demon powers, throwing Kinderman across the room with a roar. The not-nurse starts to strangle Kinderman. The three women are super helpful by just cowering in a corner and screaming hysterically while Kinderman fights for his life. Awesome, thanks script.
Finally, the not-nurse starts to collapse, moaning. We get the sense that The Gemini Killer has been interrupted by something…
Back at the Disturbed Ward, we see that the interruption is Father Morning (remember him?). He has arrived on the scene, ready to kick the devil’s ass.
How did he know to come here? How does he know anything about what’s going on? Guess I’ll add those to the mile-long list of outstanding plot questions.
Inside the cell, we see Father Damien exhibiting all the classic symptoms of Hella Possessed (yep, I just made that pun, deal with it). He has a bloated, corpse-like face and bright yellow eyes. In a craggy, demonic voice, Father Damien invites Father Morning into the cell.
Looks like it’s time for a showdown!
And boy, this scene might have some weight if Father Morning had had any lines yet. Or had anything to do with what’s been going on in the movie. That would’ve been pretty neat. Oh well!
Father Morning begins the Rite of the Exorcism.
Well, wait, I mean… would that even work? Is The Gemini Killer at actual demon status now? Or is he like an advanced ghost…? Is there some extra demon in there that has to be exorcised? Again: this is so complicated because we’ve forced two different movies together.
As the possessed Father Damien roars, the cell’s floor is suddenly on fire and filled with cobras. Okay, that’s a new trick, devil. Serpents of all kinds start to slither up Father Morning’s body. But Father Morning stays with it. The fire and snakes start to recede.
…well that was cool for the brief time it lasted.
Suddenly Father Morning’s book of rites EXPLODES. His vestments are ripped from him.
…well that can’t be good.
He’s thrown up against the ceiling of the cell, which has become searing hot.
That is VERY not good!
Father Morning tries to extricate himself, but the ceiling scalds him and his flesh is ripped off.
Okay, we’re getting some blood and gore in the ninth inning, I can roll with it.
Kinderman has arrived back at the Disturbed Ward. He enters the cell and sees a collapsed Father Damian. The Rites text is scattered around the room. The detective looks up to see the bloody, gory pieces of Father Morning on the ceiling.
Deciding he is thoroughly done with all this fuckery, Kinderman takes out his gun to kill Patient X/Father Damian/The Gemini Killer.
…the man is in a strait jacket, but I’m sure they’ll somehow call this ‘justified’.
But possessed Father Damien throws Kinderman against the wall before he can get a shot off. The temperature of the room chills as we see Kinderman’s breath. It’s a nice little call back to the climax of the original Exorcist. …would’ve been nicer to see that effect sooner than with 10 minutes left of the movie, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.
Kinderman finally does call out to God for help. …God is silent on the matter. Maybe he should have cried out to Fabio?
Kinderman gives a short speech about how he believes in disease, death, torture, pain, murder, cruelty, etc. Essentially, while his faith in the good stuff isn’t strong, he sure as shit believes in evil. It’s an excellent speech, delivered epically by George C. Scott and, to be honest, a little TOO on the nose for 2020.
Taking it up a notch, lightning strikes within the cell and rain starts to pour. A black void opens in the floor of the room. From the void rises a mass of unseen people, arms reaching upward. They lift up the defiled, crucified body of the boy, Thomas.
Father Damien appears on the nautical oar cross in place of the boy.
It’s all somehow too much and yet not enough. The original Exorcist accomplished so much more in terms of horror and personal demons with one little old Greek lady sitting on a bed. Fewer special effects can have a greater effect if you have a clear direction with your storytelling. And clarity in storytelling is not a strength of this movie.
At this vision, Kinderman grits out with pure venom: “Why, GOD?!”
The scene reverts to normal. Because…I guess being all mad at God is enough belief to make the demon simmer down?
In a corner, we see the crumpled, bloody Father Morning (remember him?). He’s still alive! He resumes reciting the exorcism rite. Possessed Father Damien turns on him menacingly.
Father Morning urges Damien to fight.
…and apparently all Father Damien needed after these 15 years was a cheerleader, because there’s a loud sound and white light fills the room.
Really? That’s all it took? Just needed a ‘you can do it!’ from some guy he doesn’t even know? If you say so, movie…
Father Damien reverts to his normal self and begs Kinderman to shoot him.
Hard bastard that he is, Kinderman doesn’t even hesitate before shooting multiple cannonball-sized holes into his ‘dear friend whom he loved.’
And then we cut to Kinderman watching as Father Damien gets buried—again? For the first time? That’s never super clear?
Yep, that’s it. No ending line from Kinderman, no nothing. We plodded steadily along for over 2 hours, and then the movie suddenly halts like it ran out of gas.
The Exorcist III’s ultimate failure is being shoehorned into the Exorcist canon so hard. There isn’t enough battling of satanic forces or comparable visuals/special effects for it to belong in the same series.
While the horror of what happens to Father Damien Karras is deliciously insidious, it would actually matter if his body was used to kill someone. But the character is such a footnote and the actor is onscreen so infrequently, it’s an ill-used plot point.
If this were a standalone movie, it probably would have been a much more memorable and much better received movie.
I’m just saying…maybe some movies deserve to be underrated. Because they did not do a good job.
Have I learned my lesson? Will I stay away from pointless sequels of great, groundbreaking horror films?
Only time will tell!
…… Damn it.
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