It's Halloween and for many of us that aren't still young enough to be out scoring copious amounts of free candy, it's the perfect time to curl up with a good horror flick. There are, of course, the classics such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and an all-timer like The Exorcist. But I'm here to argue that The Exorcist III is the perfect Halloween movie and one horror-lovers, both casual and crazed, should throw on this year.
There is no denying that The Exorcist isn't just one of the greatest horror movies ever made; it's one of the greatest movies ever made period. End of discussion. It's the rare gem, much like Silence of the Lambs or last year's Get Out, that transcends the genre. But to that point, many of us have seen The Exorcist plenty of times and is readily available most of the time. The Exorcist III, on the other hand, is something that not nearly as many people have seen and offers something totally different. It's an underrated gem that deserves love and attention.
I'm certainly not the first one to heap praise some 28 years later on the sequel, but having just watched it again recently as part of my own Halloween 2018 horror movie binge, it made me think that it's worth gushing about for you fine folks. I hadn't watched it in years and recently discovered that it's streaming on Amazon Prime. So, I threw it on and, to my delight, this movie not only holds up, but it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most under-appreciated horror sequels I've ever come across.
Possibly over-inflated personal opinions aside, let's go over some criteria for the perfect Halloween movie. Scary? Check. Preferably connected to a beloved franchise? Check. Features at least one icon of the horror genre? Check. Fun to watch with a group of friends? Check. Something a little off the beaten path that maybe wouldn't make its way into one's regular viewing? Check. And lastly, but simply, is it good? Check.
The Exorcist III, for those who may not know, serves as more of a direct sequel to the original and was actually directed by author and The Exorcist screenwriter William Peter Blatty, based on his novel Legion. While the theatrically released movie doesn't match his original vision, as the studio ordered reshoots and insisted the climax make use of an exorcism scene, this movie ignores the rightfully maligned Exorcist II: The Heretic and feels like it actually earns the namesake of the original 1973 classic.
The movie centers on Police Lieutenant Kinderman (played by the legendary George C. Scott) who begins to see a connection between a current murder investigation and the Gemini killer (Brad Dourif) who was executed 15 years before. Or so everyone thought. Kinderman's investigation brings him to a hospitalized mental patient (Jason Miller) claiming to be the dead serial killer, but who happens to look a great deal like a priest who died during a certain infamous exorcism. The bodies continue to pile up and the murders get more grizzly and bizarre in nature, leading this cop to try and draw connections between the two men who are, or at least were, thought to be dead.
The problem many horror sequels have is that they simply try to do the same thing over again. The Exorcist III, aside from the fact that it also climaxes with an intense exorcism sequence, is a totally different kind of movie. It's a gritty murder mystery with a supernatural twist. That adds layers to the horror at hand. It's markedly different from the original in that way and succeeds at doing both things quite well. Granted, the murder mystery element works much better, as that's what Blatty focused on before the reshoots, but the demonic stuff at play here is nothing to scoff at.
As for the horror icons bit, this movie has that covered. Not only does Jason Miller reprise his role from the original movie, but it's Brad Dourif who steals the show as the Gemini Killer. Dourif has been the voice of Chucky in the Child's Play movies ever since it began. Here, he gets a chance to shine in the flesh. Even those who may not totally buy what this movie is trying to sell can surely appreciate the layers of Dourif's chilling performance. It's (almost) the best thing this movie has going for it. Dourif is confined to a cell and a straitjacket but even with those handicaps, he is unnerving and unsettlingly believable as an inventive and monstrous killer. It's enough to make one a little irritated that Dourif doesn't get meaty roles in mainstream movies more often.
Anyone familiar with The Exorcist III likely knows exactly why I say Brad Dourif is only almost the best thing about it. Jump scares are a staple of the horror genre and, at times, are annoyingly overused. But when executed correctly, they're pure gold and, without exception or exaggeration, this movie features quite possibly the best jump scare in horror history. Those who haven't seen it may want to revisit this paragraph after viewing the movie. For those who have, they know precisely the moment I speak of. Even if this sequel were a disaster in every other respect (which it's not) the movie would be worth it for that one, hair-raising, stuck-to-your-brain, audible-scream-worthy shot of that nun handling those giant sheers charging at that unsuspecting nurse, ready to take her head clean off her shoulders. This quick but unbelievably effective moment comes at the end of roughly a five-minute shot that mostly takes place facing straight down a hallway that is full of misdirects. Anyone who says they saw this coming the first time around is a bold-faced liar. It's the kind of moment that makes horror lovers willing to suffer through lots of bad because, every so often, we're treated to a moment this good.
I can't sit here and rightfully say that The Exorcist III is objectively as good as the original. But I can say, on a personal level, that I'll probably wind up rewatching this movie more times throughout the rest of my movie-loving life, for whatever that may be worth. So this year, maybe consider paying a little attention to a slightly overlooked sequel that has everything one could want in a Halloween movie. Those with a Prime membership can head on over to Amazon and stream it for free.