By Ron Scalzo
K ids scare easy. The first time you watch or witness something that shocks or repulses you – that horrifies you – you’re usually a child. By the time you’re a jaded teenager, things that seemed spooky and fascinating often become mundane. It’s the law. You either develop a nerdy appreciation for those things or you reject them altogether.
Of the dozen movies recounted in this series, only one gave me a good jolt after the age of twelve. It was a box office flop, an unnecessary sequel, and a follow-up to a film already featured amongst these A Dozen Movies… – William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III.
From kid to teenager, my film-watching companions matured from my parents to my school friends. Around age 8, I notoriously had a sleepover at a grade school friend’s house in the Seagate section of Brooklyn – we watched Streets of Fire and Halloween 3, and my mother (previously referred to here as ‘The Gestapo’), upon discovering this, was none too happy. Maybe she was upset that my first exposure to the Halloween series had absolutely nothing to do with Michael Myers, but more likely she was just pissed that my friend’s mother allowed us to watch ‘R’ rated movies nine years before the MPAA said it was okay. I never slept over that kid’s house again, but the Silver Shamrock theme was stuck in my head for the next three decades.
But even The Gestapo has to eventually loosen the reins, and by the time I was in Junior High, my friends and I were often at someone’s parents’ house watching movies, talking about girls, and busting each other’s balls on a regular basis (nothing’s changed, really…).
We all bonded over our shared passion for certain movies, The Exorcist being one. One of my friends, Scott, had ‘Exorcist Tourette’s’ and would often blurt out select lines of filth from the exorcism scenes while we waited for the bus after school. So we were all sorta-kinda interested in seeing The Exorcist III. We were all in our mid-teens when it was released on video in 1991 and watched it in the dark at my friend Jason’s parents’ apartment in Bensonhurst, a shoebox-size pad with eerie clocks all over the living room wall that made horror movie watching (and telling the time) that much more effective.
With the lights turned out on a hot summer night, the TV turned up loudly in the small apartment, the film did its work, a suspenseful tale loosely tied to the first Exorcist and – wisely – completely ignoring the events in the crucified Exorcist II: The Heretic. In III, there’s a serial killer on the loose and somehow creepy old people are involved (by 1990, serial killers and creepy old people had become cottage industries in the horror biz). There’s a savage beheading or three and a twisted dream sequence featuring Patrick Ewing and Fabio (!) as angels. Staple creep-o Brad Dourif plays the killer. For horror nerds, the film had a lot going for it.
Little of this mattered to me once I spotted the name of Jason Miller in the opening credits. I wondered how Miller could be involved since we last see his character, Father Damian Karras, tumbling to his death down a famous flight of Georgetown stairs in the original Exorcist. Miller’s appearance turns out a sham – a contrived storyline involving the demon from the original movie possessing Karras with the dead killer’s soul this time around as revenge for how poorly things turned out for the devil in the first film. (Did you get all that?…um…yeah) As it happened, studio jerks threw another 40 million dollars at Blatty so he could film an FX-laden exorcism sequence at the end of the film just so they could stamp the word “Exorcist” on the film (the film was originally called Legion, based on Blatty’s book of the same name).
Blatty won an Oscar for the original film’s screenplay and notoriously butted heads with director William Friedkin over that movie’s content. Nearly two decades later, he’s now behind the camera (for what would be only the second – and last – time in his life) and his sometimes heavy handed directing allows star George C. Scott to chew the scenery as Detective Kinderman (a secondary character played by the late, great Lee J. Cobb in The Exorcist). Scott is very intense in the role, and in a second-rate horror flick, his ham-fisted star power is a welcome presence. Otherwise, Blatty loads up on the wind effects and desecrated religious statues, and there are a handful of very spooky sequences involving the murder of a priest and then a nurse.
As for what scared us all, it was the latter sequence – it occurs about 80 minutes into the film and very much at random, making it that much more jarring – and it made us all jump out of our seats at once.
A nurse is doing her nightly rounds at the hospital where Kinderman’s priest friend (Father Dyer from the original film, another flimsy connection) has recently been murdered by the killer. The scene is shot from a long distance, and is deliberately paced with no music and barely any dialogue. A red herring security guard shows up for a few seconds to make us all feel safe, reads one page of a book he brought along, then quickly exits. Blatty lulls us to sleep as the nurse checks one last room, exits towards the hall and – WHAMMO – is immediately pursued by a hooded figure in a sheet holding a tremendous pair of metal shears pointed at the back of her neck. The camera zooms in, violins shriek and the scene quickly cuts to a beheaded statue of Christ to imply that the shears did their job, and also giving all of us in the room enough time to go change our underwear.
I remember returning home late that night and walking out every room backwards just in case Billy Shears was passing thru Brooklyn on his way back to the nuthouse. Thanks to that one 90-second sequence, this was a movie that, for a little while, at least, made me literally watch my neck.
In retrospect, The Exorcist III reminds me of the superior Seven – and kinda feels like that film’s old drunken uncle – it’s not nearly as good-looking, it has a lot of regrets (it bombed at the box office and was a victim of ‘studio tinkering’), and it’s too obsessed with the past (the loose tie-ins to the first film are more annoying than satisfying). There’s a lot of implied violence, religious symbolism, and the villain favors ritual killing and dismembering heads. This one just doesn’t deliver the heads to the investigating detectives in a box.
-Art by Rick Parker
READ PART 1 (PSYCHO)
READ PART 2 (ALIEN)
READ PART 3 (JAWS)
READ PART 4 (PINOCCHIO)
READ PART 5 (CREEPSHOW)
READ PART 6 (THE EXORCIST)
READ PART 7 (TOURIST TRAP)
READ PART 8 (SLEEPING BEAUTY)
READ PART 9 (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON)
NEXT MONTH: Steven Spielberg betrays us all.