Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Exorcist III (1990)

After studiously sitting out the sequel people don’t like to acknowledge, Police Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) returns to hold bizarre monologues about carp, stare, then stare and stare some more, shout and do everything else you are wont to do when you’re played by George C. Scott. Oh, and he’s onto a rather interesting case, too, for the serial killer known as the Gemini Killer seems to have returned. The problem is that the Gemini Killer’s been dead for fifteen years; however, the victims are found bearing marks only the cops concerned with the case would know about. And as you know, Jim, no cop would ever commit a crime, so there will be know investigation in that direction during the course of the film.

To be fair, that’d be a cold lead anyway, as Kinderman quickly learns when his old friend Father Dyer – remember him? – (Ed Flanders) is the killer’s next victim while having a bit of a lie down in the bizarro world version of a hospital. In the hospital, Kinderman is soon stumbling onto something rather peculiar – a mysterious patient of the “disturbed ward” looks exactly like The Exorcist’s saintly – and decidedly dead - priest Damian Karras (Jason Miller). When he’s not looking like the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) that is. Clearly, the best course for Kinderman is to listen to the Gemini Killer ranting on and on and on and expositing in a very Dourif manner while from time to time the hospital is hit by a jump scare or two, and a murder or three happens. Also on the program: doubting of faith, a random studio-mandated exorcism by Nicol Williamson, and lots of stuff being Catholic probably wouldn’t much help one to understand.

In the last few years, Exorcist writer William Peter Blatty’s second (and until now last) feature, based on his own book “Legion” (which isn’t called “The Exorcist III” for a reason) seems to have had a bit of a critical renaissance as a much overlooked gem. In so far as this means this is a film very well worth watching, I’m rather happy with this fact; if I’m supposed to pretend this is a good one I’ll just have to disagree (probably while snorting disbelievingly). It’s a fascinating film, and probably as close as US studio horror film can get to the often nonsensical glories of Italian horror of the 70s and 80s, but it sure as hell (see what I did there?) doesn’t work as a narrative or as a mood piece. It also has no dramatic pull whatsoever. Or are there really viewers out there who care about what happens to anyone here?

The plot – such as it is – makes little sense outside the obvious basics of it that could be told in half an hour, and the rest of the film’s narrative is filled out/bloated up by scene upon scene of actors making their way through Blatty’s stilted pseudo-intellectual (that is, not as intelligent as it pretends it is beyond quoting better writers than Blatty himself) dialogue, some suggestions of horrible and creepy stuff that usually don’t amount to much beyond a jump scare – and at this point 2005 and later horror cinema has made me practically immune to those apart from provoking annoyance – and Scott and Dourif out-chewing the scenery.

As a director, Blatty tends to the slow and ponderous, preferring long, static, highly composed in a “look, I’m doing art!” way shots broken by fast cuts to other static shots in the same style to just about anything else. Not surprisingly, this approach is not conducive to an emotionally striking film, it does add quite a bit to the film’s odd charm, though. There’s always something to be said for a director (a dilettante as Blatty clearly is in that role) doing things his own way, the rules and logic of filmmaking be damned, and given my love for the Jean Rollins, Jess Francos, Andy Milligans and Lucio Fulcis of this world, I’d be the last to hate Blatty for it. It’s just that the films of the directors I listed often – once you’ve seen enough of their stuff – reach a point where their own logic starts to make sense to me, whereas Blatty’s film stays abstractedly, distantly weird, instead of obsessively personal, and feels rather more interesting than compulsive.

Having said that, I’m still happy I live in a world where a film like The Exorcist 3 exists, and people appreciate it, for while it doesn’t work for me as much as I wish it would, its willingness to go off the reservation as much as it does, to not be the obvious sequel to the Exorcist the studio of course wanted it to be, and to just do its own thing, if an audience will like it or not, is something I can’t help but respect.

Plus, where else can you find George C. Scott holding forth about the horrors of the carp his wife put in the bathtub for what feels like hours (as well as a joke waiting for a punch line)?

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