"I take orders from the Octoboss."

The Exorcist III

My experience with THE EXORCIST III is different from the other ones. This one I actually saw in the theater as a teenager. In those days you would just go see the latest chapter in a horror series even if you hadn’t seen the earlier ones. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen part II at the time, and I’m not even sure I’d seen the first one. I definitely wasn’t familiar with it enough to realize that the protagonist, Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott, Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue) was a character from the first one (the homicide detective played by Lee J. Cobb).

I think I saw it a second time on video at some point, but that would’ve been years ago, maybe decades. What I remembered: a creepy part with somebody crawling on a ceiling in the background. Brad Dourif ranting in a cell. Pretty scary. I liked it at the time, but I seem to remember people thinking it was bad. I feel like now it has an overall reputation for being underrated at the very least.

It’s written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of the bestselling novel and Oscar-winning screenplay for THE EXORCIST, based on his own sequel book, Legion. His only previous directing was THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, which was loosely connected to THE EXORCIST through an astronaut character. Some of the cast, the mental hospital setting, and the overall quirkiness of that movie make return visits here, though not the astronaut.

What I didn’t remember at all, that took me off guard in this viewing, is that THE EXORCIST III is really funny! At least for a while. Kinderman is in the midst of a particularly gruesome serial killer investigation, but he’s a wry, witty guy who constantly jokes around with his friends and family. He was nearby in 1973 when Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller, TOY SOLDIERS, LIGHT OF DAY), who he’d sort of befriended during an investigation, fell out a window and down that famous Georgetown stairway (making a triumphant return here, after having to be re-created in part II). He’s best friends with Father Dyer (William O’Malley in the original, now Ed Flanders [SALEM’s LOT]), which is actually following up on the last scene of the extended cut of THE EXORCIST (and, I assume, the book), when Kinderman invites Dyer to go to the movies with him. Here they go to see IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE together on what they say is the 15th anniversary of Karras’ death (I count 17th).

This incarnation of Dyer doesn’t remind me of the original one, but I love him – he’s a really funny dude, and not the only stereotype-busting priest in the movie. In an earlier scene he asks a fellow priest if he has “a favorite picture” and the guy immediately deadpans “THE FLY.” Whether he means the Cronenberg one or not, and whether he’s serious or not, I respect it.

After the movie, Kinderman says, “Now I suppose you have all sorts of rosary biz and the like,” but Dyer says no, he’s “loose as a goose.” Kinderman doesn’t want to go home, and tells a story about his visiting mother-in-law driving him crazy by keeping a live carp in his bath tub to keep it fresh before cooking it later in the week. This is never confirmed to really be going on at the house, but if he’s making a joke it’s a very long, very detailed, very dry one. It’s so good.

At work his sense of humor is kinda like Foghorn Leghorn, exaggerating how annoyed he is with everybody, cracking jokes only for the amusement of himself, and when the others don’t follow what he’s talking about he says, “I was signaling beings on Mars. Maybe they’re listening.” But Father Dyer laughs and plays along with his jokes, even when he says, “Would a God who is good create something like death? Plainly speaking, it’s a lousy idea. It’s not popular, Father. It’s not a winner.” And Dyer can hit right back at him. They have such a good friendship, based in their chemistry as much as their shared trauma.

When Dyer later ends up in the hospital Kinderman shows up with a stuffed puffin he claims to have found on the street, and you see him in the hallway getting into character for a second before he storms in saying “What’s this nonsense?” He hangs out making wiseass comments while Dyer smokes a cigarette and reads Women’s Wear Daily. What I’m saying is, I expected none of this stuff in an EXORCIST sequel. I love it.

Most of this witty banter dissolves away after (SPOILER) Kinderman loses his friend, gets deeper into the investigation, and starts to believe that a dead serial killer has returned from the dead inside the body of another dead friend. But the laughs before all that give so much personality to these cops and priests, who could so easily be generic, and it really drew me into the characters and the story.

More murders happen, with Christian-themed mutilations, and following never-before-revealed details about the m.o. of the infamous Gemini Killer, who also died 15 years ago. (On the same day as Karras?) Fingerprints at the scene indicate they’re done by different killers, and the things they’re doing seem impossible. For example, within one hour between nurse visits Father Dyer has all of his blood removed and placed into a series of tiny vials without any spillage.

The investigation leads Kinderman to a mental hospital where he discovers one Patient X, an amnesiac John Doe found wandering 15 years ago (hmmmm…), who just happens to look exactly like the late Father Karras (and is played, sometimes, by Jason Miller). But as soon as Kinderman walks into his cell to talk to him he looks like the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif two years after CHILD’S PLAY).

In multiple scenes of long conversation they sit in this padded cell and Kinderman mostly listens as the patient raves and taunts, claims not to be Karras, but does claim to be the Gemini Killer, and knows about both his original murders and these new ones. Eventually he starts claiming supernatural help, and his voice becomes distorted and what not. In maybe the movie’s least successful horror bit, he does some animal roars. He also sings in a woman’s voice – that part works for me.

One thing I really like about this movie is that it starts out with very lively scenes shot on location in Washington, DC, giving it a very cinematic feel and a sense of place – for example, showing rowers practicing or carrying their boats in the background in many scenes (before oars are used as a crucifix in one of the murders). Then it switches over to these intimate scenes that are more like a play, with just two characters having long conversations in the isolation cell, talking about things we never see. But because of the earlier scenes it always feels to me like that larger world is still out there, they’re just tucked away in here, almost hiding from it.

The crawling-on-the-ceiling scene I vaguely recalled was not what I expected. I didn’t remember that it was sped up and, to me at this age, pretty comical looking. This is also true of a berserk scene I didn’t remember at all where a possessed patient disguised as a nurse (Viveca Lindfors, SILENT MADNESS) shows up at the Kinderman household with a previously-established mortician tool trying to snip off the head of Kinderman’s daughter Julie (Zohra Lampert, LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH).

I know this movie is often discussed for having one of the best jump scares ever, but I always thought that referred to the ceiling crawl, when it’s actually a different part. It works because it follows a very long static shot of a hospital hallway, with the night staff doing very mundane things. Even if you’re waiting for it it’s hard to sense when it will come or from which direction.

But more than any of the traditional scare moments what I enjoyed this time through was the weirdness of the scene where the head doctor at the mental hospital (Scott Wilson, JUDGE DREDD) is explaining the circumstances of finding Patient X. The camera is panning across an odd assortment of certificates and photos and things on his office walls – some medical, some occult, some boobs – so we don’t at first see that he’s not talking to Kinderman, he’s alone, reading from a paper, practicing a speech. Then Kinderman walks in, says, “You had something to tell me?” The doctor quickly hides the paper, but sneaks glances at it in his drawer while reciting the story to Kinderman. It’s such a great “what in the fuck?” moment, because he just seemed like a stock exposition character, but suddenly we know he’s up to something weird that won’t be explained until later. Also, the conversation has a long, strange pause while we and Kinderman watch him light one cigarette with another and thoroughly stamp out the first one in his very full ash tray. The Lieutenant definitely notices that this guy is a fuckin weirdo, though he surely couldn’t guess the extent of it.

Here’s another weird part. Kinderman has a dream where a train station is full of dying patients and angels. He walks past Fabio with angel wings. NBA legend Patrick Ewing is the Angel of Death. Post-DO-THE-RIGHT-THING Samuel L. Jackson is also glimpsed in the dream as a blind man. There are dark undercurrents to the dream and it’s a portend of Father Dyer’s death, but I think the goofy tone kinda helps get your guard down for later nastiness.

(trivia: I read that the dream sequence was filmed in a former cement factory that was also where they built Dinohattan for SUPER MARIO BROS.: THE MOVIE.)

One part I can’t figure out is when it shows this weird Joker-looking statue. It’s not one of those quasi-subliminal shots, you just see it there. I saw someone online saying it represents a satanic priest, but what does that mean? Isn’t this supposed to be a church? Do they have statues of satanic priests in churches? Also, do satanic priests really enjoy themselves that much? Wow.

I had wanted to watch the director’s cut that’s on the Scream Factory blu-ray, but when I realized it’s reconstructed using VHS dailies I decided against it. Afterwards I did go back through and watch the new parts to see how it worked, and that’s hardly a way to judge it. But with that caveat, I gotta say, I think the theatrical cut is more for me. The director’s cut features a few deleted conversations I liked, including a mention (during lunch after IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) that Kinderman likes ERASERHEAD. But most of the new footage is different takes of Dourif doing mostly the same dialogue, and there is no exorcism sequence in that version at all. That was added during $4 million of reshoots after the studio saw the terrible test screenings scores, which explains why the new exorcist character, Father Morning (Nicol Williamson, SPAWN), has almost no set up. He just shows up at the climax and gets to work on all sorts of rosary biz and the like.

You can see why Morgan Creek might’ve had second thoughts about an EXORCIST III that has no exorcist, no exorcism, and the incident with the fake nurse failing to chop the daughter’s head off at the dinner table as its horror payoff. After that scene Kinderman just goes and shoots the Gemini Killer, the end, everybody please go home. If you expected to see a bunch of cool magic stuff happen and a priest get stuck to the ceiling and then pull himself off and his skin peels off well, you’re barking up the wrong tree, pal, because this is not that kind of–

—oh, whoops. They did make us do that in reshoots. (And it’s fuckin amazing.)

The other major change of the reshoots was bringing back Jason Miller. They originally didn’t have him! In the theatrical cut we see him as the patient briefly and then he turns into Dourif and then back to Miller during the exorcism. It’s weird, but it’s a good weird. In the director’s cut the weirdness is that Kinderman decides this guy is Karras even though Karras died 15 years ago and this guy looks and speaks as the Gemini Killer the whole time. If someone is more familiar with this cut or the book maybe they could explain to me how that works.

I dug up my Fangoria from the time of release, and producer Carter DeHaven does discuss that “Originally, our ending was similar to the book, but Morgan Creek and Fox wanted a big ending, so that’s what they got.” Makeup FX genius Greg Cannom is quoted saying, “I would have liked to have seen more makeup effects like in the first one, but they didn’t want to make that kind of film. This film doesn’t have a lot of effects like the original, except for the changing head at the end.”

Here’s how he describes the head: “It’s a motion-control head that changes between 30 different faces. The head makes the same movement every time, and we change the face part of it, so all the faces appear with lap dissolves as it goes through the motion. It’s similar to the effect in the recent Michael Jackson project, where Michael turned into the robot. Hopefully, it’ll be very smooth, and it’ll also look very strange.”

Well, apparently Blatty didn’t think it looked very smooth, because he ended up not using it. A little snippet of it can be glimpsed near the end of the trailer and I think it looks cool, but maybe it was too EVIL DEAD for them.

I think even in its possibly-Hollywooded-up theatrical version THE EXORCIST III is an audacious sequel, and not just because it’s following up on a movie everybody’s so precious about, while ditching the original template even more than the previous, universally hated sequel did. I’m more impressed that a major horror movie of 1990 is about a guy in his sixties who hangs out with witty film buff priests. George C. Scott was obviously a big name, but in those days, to be the lead of a horror movie? He hadn’t been in a theatrical release in six years, and that was as the bad guy in FIRESTARTER. It’s so novel to see him star in this, and he’s so perfect for it.

We’ve got a few more things to look at, but right here at the point where THE EXORCIST is a trilogy I think it’s a special one. It sort of follows the ALIEN model of getting strong voices for each and letting them do something very different each time. We’ve got the original, the crazy sequel, and then the different type of crazy sequel from the writer of the original. I like how the first sequel follows Regan and Merrin, this one follows Kinderman and Dyer, and makes them so great (thanks to the comedy team of Scott & Flanders) that suddenly I’m paying way more attention to those characters in the first film. Each followup has a different idea of who and what is worth following up on, and how to do it. So far, at least, they don’t care much for repeating how it was done before, and to me this makes it thrilling, even when it’s not working. But also when it is, which for me is most of the time.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 5th, 2023 at 11:19 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “The Exorcist III”

  1. Yup, I love this one. The jump scare never fails with anybody who watches it the first time and it’s indeed often incredibly funny, which means kids these days might bust it for having McU sTyLe dIaLoGue. Sadly it does fall a bit apart in the end, but dammit, even that ending kinda delivers in its own detached way. What we have here, at least for me, is an ALIEN: RESURRECTION situation. It’s not the best of the series, but also not the worst and it’s the most rewatchable IMO.

  2. I haven’t seen this in a long time, but I remember loving it. It had me in the palm of my hand by the time George C. Scott was doing a dramatic monologue about a fish in his bathtub. I really dig the off-kilter vibe of this, from its sense of humor to its scares.

    Brad Dourif should be a national treasure by now. Such a magnetic actor, who has been mostly stuck playing nutjobs and deranged killers for decades. But at least he’s really damn good at it.

  3. I also saw this in the theater as a teen without having seen either of the previous two films because back then, I think I saw pretty much any horror movie that came out. As a Jason/Freddy/Michael fan, I remember thinking this was boring due to the lack of wild kills, but the sight of Patrick Ewing (and Georgetown coach John Thompson!) in the movie always stuck with me.

  4. This one’s my EXORCIST. It’s a movie about smart people, damaged people, who are serious as fuck but still like a good joke, can josh around, enjoy a weird movie, take time to share a wacky anecdote or just riff on some bullshit. It’s got a lived in, hangout quality you don’t expect from a movie like this. It makes the intrusion of supernatural evil into this earthy, humane mileu feel positively profane. You can feel not just the horror but the anger of these characters that this evil is allowed to exist. How dare it? How. DARE. It. So much of the horror is sold through dialogue, through seeing these evil deeds through the eyes of those who have witnessed and been changed by them. And of course that is the point. That is the demon’s only goal: to sully the minds and souls of the innocent with its perversion of good. These are performative acts, meant not just to harm the victim but to traumatize anyone who bears witness to them. This demon is a troll, using humanity’s epathy against it. After HARDCORE, Scott is famously cinema’s greatest witnesser of offscreen depravity, which makes him the perfect casting as a character who’s primary job in the narrative is not so much to fight evil but to witness it, to be brought nearly to his knees by it, and, at great personal cost, to just barely stand up to it. You can see the toll it takes in every line on his face, in every tortured syllable of the words he is both saddened and sickened to be forced to say. He’s seen things that make him doubt that there be any good in this life. Haven’t we all? It seems like the world is infinitely inventive in concocting new horrors to appall us so that we lose hope and let the darkness overtake us.

    That’s why this one’s more up my alley. I can’t really relate to demonic possession, but I can relate to living in a world profaned by horrors that shouldn’t be allowed to exist while the perpetrators just sit there in their own filth and laugh.

  5. I really need an explanation for the silent presence of Patrick Ewing. The fact he was a Georgetown alum kind of makes sense, except by the time they made this movie he was well into his time as a NY Knick. Or am I overthinking it?

    I know a lot of great actors moonlight in the horror genre (George C. Scott, certainly), but if you take those guys out of the equation, is Brad Dourif the greatest horror movie actor of all time? That guy has been great in non genre films but he never left horror behind, and is always a highlight.

  6. GOAT talk. We can blame LL Cool J for GOAT talk (or maybe Ali). In his defense, claiming to be the GOAT is the ultimate LL (or Ali) thing to do and, more generally, the quintessential rapper thing to do: it’s the logical endpoint of the hyperbolic bluster that is essential to hip hop. Be that as it may, I find actual non-ironic GOAT arguments tediuous. Is Nas or Rakim the GOAT? I mean, we know 50 Cent is not the GOAT, and I would say Nas is more of a GOAT than Rakim, but, like, they’re both GOATS. But how can they both be *the* GOAT. For that reason, I prefer hall-of-famer talk. They’re all hall-of-famers. For some of them, we can confidently make pairwise comparisions, but at a certain point, I mean, it’s a tedious argument.

    I hope we can agree that Toni Collette is a horror hall-of-famer. Is she the GOAT vs. Jamie Lee? I mean, no, but who has the energy? They’re both hall-of-famers.

    Brad Dourif is a hall-of-famer. Is he more the GOAT than Christopher Lee? I don’t think so. He *may* not be less the GOAT than Christopher Lee, but I don’t think he’s more.

  7. grimgrinningchris

    October 5th, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    Surprised you didn’t mention Dourif actually saying the words “child’s play” in one of his rant.
    I saw this when it first hit video and wasn’t savvy enough to realize the reference then. But just a couple years later- I caught it and got it. My favorite pre-everything-is-meta, meta horror in-joke next to Heather Langenkamps character on the sitcom Just The Ten Of Us mentioning A Nightmare On Elm Street. That I got the first time (and was such a Freddy fan as to know two of her sisters on the show were both series alum, one is one of girls in the bus in Freddy’s Revenge and the other was the cockroach fitness girl in 4 (?).

    But yeah. This is a top fiver for me. In fact, it might only actually be beat out by Evil Dead 2. I love it more every time I see it (which is far more often than either of the others or the dueling prequels).
    And you already have so many of the reasons why.

    So I’ll just also mention that Ministry’s song, “Scarecrow”, is built around a sample of the soundtrack scene at the jump scare. And it’s great.

  8. This is a terrific film. I have a soft spot for this, The Heretic and Dominion. I am one of those people who find the sequels more interesting than the original.

    The way Dourif works in the director’s cut is that he is playing Karras. He is seen in photographs as Karras, not as the killer. We never see the face of the killer in that cut. Kinderman is only ever seeing his friend saying horrible things and being a murderer and has to make sense of the seeming senseless, in a way that mirrors the people dealing with a possessed girl in the first film. Its a sane character dealing with a familiar face but the soul inside is off. (The changing between faces with Miller and Dourif and Dourif’s face being that of the killer is a reshoot)

    What you lose in the theatrical cut is the horror of the final action. The George C Scott accepts the lightness and darkness of the work and kills Karras, destroying the host for the possessions and the killings, knowing that there is now real proof, that he will be charged with murder. He does his own version of the Karras sacrifice. You don’t get that in the theatrical cut. Its just a lot of fun special effects. So that is why I like the directors cut more, warts and all from the vhs shots.

  9. Okay, I got it. So in the world of LEGION, Karras always looked like Brad Dourif, not Jason Miller.

  10. Just a quick note that if you love the “cool characters interacting with horror situations and occasional WTF” vibe of EX3, then you should really be watching the show EVIL. It’s 3 seasons in and feels so much like this movie, it’s kind of amazing.

  11. Is it accurate to say why most critics shit on this at the time simply because it was a horror sequel with a title that reflected that? TBH if this had been released as LEGION, I could see an Ebert sort give this a 3 star thumbs up review at that time.

  12. With a couple of notable exceptions, it used to be something of a cardinal rule for critics to shit on horror films, which gave them double the ammo when it came to horror remakes and sequels. Back then, you might lose your shirt in the critic community if you have Exorcist 3 a pass

  13. I worked at a movie theater in Boulder back in the day while I was in school. It was a single theater, the last of it’s kind, not a multi-plex. We had this for about two months it felt like. I saw that jump scare scene so many times, it always works. It really makes me want to dissect what makes a good jump scare, because I think so many of these new horror movies try to have cheap jump scares that really are just startling, not scary. Like if someone is hiding around a corner and jumps out and yells “boo!”

  14. The other thing with this film is that it’s coming way after part II, which itself was very poorly received, and it’s coming in an era where horror sequels are getting churned out all over the place and are typically viewed as just cash-ins. At this point in time, horror franchises have more the impression and feel of just milking a cash cow. I mean, when this film comes out, there’s definitely a feeling of “who is asking for a third EXORCIST movie, and why now, and why George C. Scott, of all people?” Here, I think you have a worst of both worlds marketing scenario, where it’s pitched as the second sequel to a movie that supposedly never should’ve had a sequel, and 10 years later, and starring some geezer, and not a teen-pitch T&A-fest. So, there’s a definite “who is this film for, exactly?” sort of energy for its time and place.

    Arguably, 2008 is the year “reboot” becomes a thing and a term of art. I still remember Norton INCREDIBLE HULK being one of the first if not the first of the “reboots” (BATMAN BEGINS was arguably another). Prior to then, you only remake something that is at least 30-50 years-old. The idea that you’d re-cast and re-start a franchise within 10 years of your most recent previous entry was not really a thing prior to this. The “reboot” is like getting back out there dating two months after a divorce or death of a spouse — there was a respectable “have you no decency” refractory/probationary period you were supposed to respect here. The concept of a “reboot” c. late 2000s was basically pushing that envelope on how soon is too soon to re-start a franchise after your latest attempt didn’t work.

    What does this have to do with anything? The idea that you’d do a full-blown EXORCIST reboot around time of this film was not a thing. Your option was to do a straight sequel. From a marketing standpoint, this film seems pretty doomed — too adult for the teen horror crowd and too much of a generic adult contemporary horror drama to work as a horror sequel, too soon (at that time) for a remake, and too late for a “strike while the iron’s hot sequel,” and too much of a “damaged goods” vibe after II was viewed as bad and misguided. Marketing-wise, in its time, this film seems doomed on multiple levels.

  15. George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, and Brad Dourif put on a CLINIC in this movie. Like you said, Vern, the fact that a movie made up largely of monologues and geriatrics talking to each other is regarded as one of the best horror sequels of all time speaks to what hiring competent actors can do for your movie.

  16. On the subject of Miller: I read (though have not personally heard) that on the commentary track, Dourif claims that Blatty had originally intended to get Miller back, but that Miller was by that point so crippled by alcoholism that he just couldn’t really handle the role, which then went to Dourif. When the studio eventually got nervous, they compromised by bringing Miller back but not making him do a lot of dialogue. I’ve never heard anyone else make that claim, but it makes enough sense based on the final product that I’m inclined to give it some credence.

    Worth noting that although the studio obviously pushed him around a lot, I believe that all the reshoots were done by Blatty, and he seems to have been reasonably satisfied with the final product, even if it’s not exactly what he wanted. I’m not a huge fan of the final exorcism but there’s definitely some pretty exotic stuff in there that only Blatty would have thought of, which suggests he was still creatively engaged even if it wasn’t wholly his vision.

    Also, how come none of you guys are talking about the most insane cameo in the movie? Fuck Patrick Ewing and Fabio, how many movies have a cameo from former US Surgeon general C. Everett Koop (glimpsed in the Georgetown bar scene)?

  17. Quick note – The “The Fly” remark is funnier when you realize that the actor, Lee Richardson, starred as the bad guy in the previous years, “The Fly II.”

  18. I’m glad this movie is experiencing a renaissance. I’ve always like it.

    I first saw it in high school during its theatrical run. By that time I already revered the first Exorcist (but had never seen the second, which the world had told me was not with seeing). I really dug this one but the reaction to it at the time seemed muted. I found it to be damn scary and really boosted by George C Scott’s kickass performance.

    I think there is some truth to criticisms that this movie’s connection to Exorcist 1 is a far fetched and weird. Based on Karras’s last scene in part 1, there’s just no way he could have: (a) survived, (b) slipped by his mourning friend and arriving EMTs and (c) somehow not get identified during his 15 years in captivity. Wouldn’t Dyer or somebody report Karras (or his body) missing?

    But even so, I guess I prefer it as being part of the series instead of a totally separate thing. Really good movie.

  19. Jules – To be fair, in the so-called director’s cut, there is a subplot about Karras’ grave being exhumed and SPOILER turned out possessed-Karras killed another guy (the priest overseeing the body’s burial for the church) and that guy’s body was in the coffin.

  20. I had never watched this film until tonight, but EXORCIST talk and me previously hearing this was good were enough to push me over the top (also, it’s on Amazon Prime here in the colonies).

    First thing, and maybe you caught this Vern, but between the exterior shot of the Catholic university (Georgetown?) and the initial shot of Kindred talking to Father Morning in his office, there is a statue of some non-desrcript saint right outside Morning’s office doors, then when Kindred walks out to investigate the weird noises and breezes after the grandfather clock stops, he goes outside Kindred’s office, and the statue isn’t there any more. Then when they cut to the Joker guy, you know it’s the same statue b/c he’s got the same red book, and he’s wearing the same getup, only now he’s got Joker-demon head. Creepy shit!

    This film lives up to the hype! I have little to add, because everything Vern said is on point. Blatty’s direction is masterful, as is Scott’s performance, and there is a lot of good bizarre and/or creepy shit (especially creepy old people shit) and a lot of that weird-ass Italian Renaissance Madonna “Like a Prayer” / REM “Losing My Religion” Catholic-blood-statue-iconography shit going on. Maybe one thing to add is that I liked that cantankerous nurse, though in her first interview with Kindred, she seemed pretty sinister, so, there was some good misdirection there.

    The movie did start to fade a little bit for me during the back third. In particular, Dourif’s second meeting with Kindred was a bit too much of an exposition dump, even in Dourif’s capable hands. For me, the Dourif-Miller Gemini stuff was surprisingly the weakest, though Miller has a very watchable haunted face.

    Random stuff
    1. What was up with Dr. Wackadoodle’s titty pictures in his office. Unprofessional, in my opinion. Not hinged, that one.
    2. George C. Scott at this point in time was about four years older than present-day Brad Pitt and about the same age as present-day Campbell Scott.

    This is a very, very original, inspired film. Love it!

  21. Brad Dourif in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST is just painful to watch, he is so fragile and shall I say beautiful? It is hard to believe that this guy who has been the go-to man for deranged psychotic parts for the last thirty years was once really handsome.

    George C Scott is a pretty good actor I think. He was good in DR STRANGE LOVE.

  22. I saw this at the cinema when I was ten years old, and loved it. Loooved it. It scared the crap out of me, but I went back to see it again, this time bringing my father along. He absolutely hated it, and loudly and angrily said so when it finished. We had a very awkward drive home. His reaction baffled me. Many years later, seemingly out of nowhere, he told me that he didn’t hate it. He was terrified by it, but his only way to express that at the time was to say it was a bad film, as a form of compartmentalisation, so the existential horrors the film ripped open didn’t gnaw too far into his mind.

    Thirty three years later, I still love it, much more than The Exorcist. I didn’t know at ten years old that this was an unusual film, with uncommercial aspects. I simply accepted it as it was, as a great film. There is still nothing like Exorcist III. It reminds me a little of Return to Oz (also with Nicol Williamson!) in that I know of no other film with this kind of atmosphere or pacing. It is truly unique. It has a profound, palpable and unmatched sense of dread and menace, although that may be due to the enormous imprint it left on me at a young, impressionable age. The voice of the woman in the confessional is still greatly disturbing. And yet, as Vern says, it is amazingly funny, in the driest way possible. I appreciate the humour much more now that I’m closer to the age of the characters. A perfect example of the way films have multiple lives.

  23. That is a great story. Oh man, I feel (for) your dad on this one. There’s the throwaway rollercoaster fear experience, and then there’s something like this, that is not merely terrifying but deeply disturbing and haunting. For Blatty to make so many bold, weird choices that ultimately work so damn well. It’s really something tha he had the skill and the confidence to do that in only his second and final film as a director. There is some avant garde shit happening, but it always serves his objectives and enhances the audience experience vs. being merely self-indulgent. He really humanizes his victims (all of his characters, really), and in the case of the priest friend, he has great texture as a character.

    Aside from it being a clinic in horror and terror, I appreciate the way Blatty is wrestling with and integrating a lot of deep themes. Someone elsewhere pointed out to me how the film is about institutions — their strengths, weaknesses, and crevasses. Cops and police deparments, medical workers and hospitals, clergy and churches. It’s also about how people operate in those institutions. There is a lot about agency and its moral dimension: George C. Scott in particular is impelled by a sense of moral obligation and personal mission, which is juxtaposed against his more detached institutionalist colleagues working the case and their analogues at the hospital. George C. Scott’s Kindred is so full of (justifiable!) righteous indignation, not only at sadism and violence, but at casual indifference, casual racism, bureacratic and self-interested groupthink. In a word, he cares. He sees himself as a free moral agent operating in a world of good, evil, and muddled indifference. He doesn’t settle for excuses or passivity.

    It speaks of Blatty’s maturity that, although he was clearly a devout Catholic, he was fully dialed in to the horrors and terrors and general fraughtness of life, enough that he tends to choose skeptics (like George C. Scott’s character) as his main protagonists — and to portray them with integrity. Right away, with how he portrays Dyer and Kindred’s relationship, or how he presents victims with those gnarly staples around their necks, or how he portrays radical sadism or rails against racism and institutional failure and indfference: He presents a world of good and evil and agency, where doubt and despair and rage are understandable, but also where choices and a sense of moral urgency can matter. Bracing stuff.

    Also, that confession scene voice IS creepy as hell and is one of several such moments. Crawls right under your skin.

    p.s. I realize in my prior comment I refer to “Father Morning” when I meant “Father Riley.”

  24. The confession booth old lady voice and the laugh at the end 😱

  25. Rewatched this (theatrical cut) over the weekend. This movie rules. Great imagery and composition from Blatty and crew. The measured pacing which propels us into that feeling of dread and impending doom. I can relate to George C. Scott’s character– so full of despair and rage by the societal rot around him, threatening to explode at any moment. The best jump scare ever. And it’s funny!

    I like that the bad guy isn’t a demon, just some evil guy who can possess other people. Like an X-Files plot. (Brad Dourif is also great as another psychotic prisoner in the X-Files episode “Beyond the Sea.”) But also showing us that man’s inhumanity to man is the true evil in our world.

    The climax isn’t as strong as the rest. I’m not sure if it’s the reshoots or if it’s just because it feels so abrupt. But on the whole it’s a very strong film that still holds up.

    I wish we got to see the carp in the bathtub. It would be another arresting image to add to the film’s collection of them.

  26. I had never seen this prior to this past month and ended up watching it twice. What struck me most here about Scott’s character was that he actually gives a damn. He suffers and emotes and rages because he cares so damn much. You see this right out the gate in the police station where he’s (somewhat playfully) annoyed at his colleagues about their causal indifference and unwillingness to go above and beyond (only wearing 15 pieces of flair, to use the OFFICE SPACE parlance). You see it in the care in how he goes over the confessional crime scene to reconstruct how the killer closed the confessional panel or connecting the hand mutiliation to the Gemini’s pattern. You see it in how much he cares about racism, which oddly (for what was intended as a mass audience, predominantly white cast, mid-brow horror film c. 1990!) keeps surfacing throughout the film. He’s even incredulous as how his priest friend is reading circulars and tabloids and smoking in his hospital room — shouldn’t you be doing religious stuf?! He’s incredulous at how the staff failed to record key information in THE DAMN FILES! You see it in how he (indirectly) reads God the riot act at lunch with the priest and then at the final confrontation with Gemini/Karras.

    He despairs and rages because he is scrupulous and filled with concern and compassion through and through, and literally no one else ever rises to his level of conscientiousness or moral compass. And he’s presumably been doing this shit for 40 years by this point!

  27. Further to this, there is a nuance where Scott’s character likes to tease and be playful with these same people, including his cop colleagues when they’re all chatting in the precinct near the beginning, and the priest (when he’s suggesting that he becom a missionary in India or something), and how he eventually seems to make up with the older nurse who dresses his wound, or the old lady who asks if he’s her son (“I might wish I could be” or whatever evasive, warm response he makes), or the other lady for whom he plays “radio repairman.” He has a lot of affection for all of these people and a lot of compassion in his heart, which is really his motivational core, with the rage and disgust and despair being secondary — he’s a frustrated but unremitting idealist living in a world that very much does not measure up to his ideals but that he still loves and tries to improve/protect.

  28. Really an amazing character, and I can’t think of any other horror movie protagonists to compare him to. I think only the combination of Blatty and Scott could’ve created him.

  29. Scott’s character really has more in common with the archetypical inspector character from a British police procedural than he does with anyone in the horror tradition. Sensitive, humanist, introspective, uncommonly literate, not quite outcast but certainly a breed apart from his fellow ruffian police officers, he is ever unsure of his effectiveness in holding back the tide of corruption and darkness that constantly threatens to wash over his ideals. He cuts a morose but noble figure, unable to prevent or even fully understand the violence and cruelty that lurks all around him but doomed to clean up after it all the same. This movie feels like what would happen if one of those characters managed to confront the source of the evil that surrounds him and found that it brought no greater comprehension. Even face to face, evil remains inexplicable.

  30. Insightful and well-said. I have not really watched many British procedurals, but something about Kinderman* is that he seems kind of passionate and warm. I don’t typically assocaite that with British stereotypes (which is maybe just to say that he’s a uniquely American riff on the archetype?). Sometimes he goes from warm to hot (the bursts of rage), and sometimes he expresses his warmth in wry or sardonic ways (“India is calling, father”, the carp story), where the wit is his verbal form of affection or avuncular-ness, and sometimes it’s just warmth, which you can tell from how his wife and daughter relate to him, or how he relates to the older folks in the hospital (and how they relate back to him), and the grief and pain on his face whenever he looks under the sheets (of which there are several!)). He’s not only com-passionate but also just passionate. I find him fascinating and challenging, as one of my core struggles is to cultivate and expression my own passions vs. be self-protective. To be earnestly passionate about things, knowing I’ll definitely sometimes fail or have my heart broken or just look dumb — often all of the above. He is mostly not afraid to do that, and it’s that same willingness to follow his passion and intuition that allows him to spring into action when others hesitate. He is discerning and decisive.

    *whom I apparently kept calling “Kindred” above. Sounds like the name of a JV nu-metal band

  31. I am mostly familiar with British detective novels, though I believe that type of character is more common on television than in film. It’s an enormous subgenre and I’m far from an expert, but Kinderman would fit right in in Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler books, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford novels, and William McIvanney’s tortured Scottish detective Jack Laidlaw series. There is, of course, an entire other strain of British crime novel that is the exact opposite of this battered humanism, being far more cynical and cold-hearted than anything an American author could ever cook up, such as the works of Derek Raymond, GET CARTER’s Ted Lewis, the 87th Precinct-esque procedurals of Bill James (whose inspectors are as likely to take a bribe as they are to save the day) and, of course, the Red Riding novels. This branch of British fiction has little place for a sensitive soul such as Kinderman.

  32. What an awesome post about my favourite and incredibly under-rated. Glad you picked up on the humour. The film’s hilarious 😆

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