Published on August 17th, 1990 | by Padraic Coffey


The Exorcist III (1990)

Though known the world over for penning celebrated horror novel The Exorcist, which he subsequently adapted into an Oscar-winning screenplay, William Peter Blatty had worked predominantly within the comedy genre prior to that life-changing work. Frequent collaborations with Blake Edwards, such as Inspector Clouseau vehicle A Shot in the Dark, earned Blatty his keep till a change of direction was needed to accommodate the darker tone of the 1970s. Thus, a tale of violent demonic possession was produced. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist tops lists of the scariest films ever made with almost the same regularity as Citizen Kane on critics’ lists of the greatest films ever made, though Blatty had always wished to lighten its relentlessly grim tone with some minor comic relief, courtesy of characters such as Columbo-esque detective Bill Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb).

Blatty was somewhat vindicated when, in 2000, The Exorcist was re-released as ‘The Version You’ve Never Seen’, effectively Blatty’s cut, which reinstated a final scene between Kinderman and Father Dyer (Father William O’Malley) light-heartedly discussing cinema, undercutting the tension which had come before. Not all approved of these additions – critic Roger Ebert described Kinderman and Dyer’s scene as “catastrophic” – but they are consistent with the tone of The Exorcist III, for which Blatty adopted the mantle of director as well as screenwriter, in 1990. The Exorcist III focuses chiefly on Kinderman (now played by George C. Scott) and Dyer (now played by Ed Flanders), and features much extended comic dialogue amid the prerequisite jump-from-your-seat moments and surreal imagery. Blatty lost final cut to the studio, but The Exorcist III still retains his authorship, and he has far from distanced himself from the finished product.

The plot of The Exorcist III is as much a detective story as it a horror. Dyer and Kinderman, having remained friends years after the events of The Exorcist, relate details from a series of gruesome murders in Georgetown, Washington DC. Ostensibly unrelated, Kinderman’s instinct informs him that a supernatural influence might be responsible for the killings. When Dyer meets his own grisly end, Kinderman’s determination to unravel the mystery strengthens further. In truth, the plot of The Exorcist III is not the most coherent. Responsibility for this may not fall at Blatty’s door; the film was originally titled Legion, after the novel on which it was based, and renamed at the insistence of Morgan Creek Productions. Morgan Creek also demanded the insertion of an exorcism sequence, to correspond with the film’s two predecessors.

Blatty had resisted The Exorcist III as a title, largely because of the enormous critical failure of John Boorman’s The Exorcist II: The Heretic, a film with which neither Blatty nor Friedkin had any involvement. No references to Boorman’s film are made, though Friedkin’s original is evoked in the use of Mike Oldfield’s spine-chilling Tubular Bells, and the presence of Jason Miller (somewhat) reprising his role as Father Karras, another addition at the behest of the studio. While it falls short of The Exorcist, Blatty’s film is an improvement on Boorman’s The Heretic, itself the subject of recuts to appease disapproving test screenings. The Exorcist III was not the last in the series; two prequels, The Beginning and Dominion, directed by Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader respectively, followed in the early 2000s. There were also many unrelated but clearly indebted horror films, such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Last Exorcism.


About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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