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THE EXORCIST III (1990)

[aka The Exorcist III: Legion aka William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III]

 
Damien Karras was a Jesuit psychiatrist at Georgetown University... Fifteen years ago he jumped or was pushed to his death down that long flight of steps near the Car Barn. I saw it. I watched him – die. I think – the man in Cell 11 is Damien Karras...





  Director:
 
William Peter Blatty

  Starring: 
George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Scott Wilson, Nicol Williamson, Nancy Fish, Grand L. Bush, Don Gordon, Mary Jackson, Lee Richardson, Tracy Thorne, Harry Carey Jr, Viveca Lindfors

  Screenplay: 
William Peter Blatty, based upon a novel by William Peter Blatty

Synopsis:  Father Joseph Dyer (Ed Flanders) is questioned by one of his students about someone he mentions in his prayer for the dead. Father Dyer confirms that, yes, he meant that Damien Karras; it is the fifteenth anniversary of his death... Lt William Kinderman (George C. Scott) is called to the mutilation murder of a young black boy, whose savage injuries are frighteningly familiar. Kinderman asks Sergeant Atkins (Grand L. Bush) to contact Richmond and request the file of the Gemini Killer, ignoring the objections of the exasperated Detective Ryan (Don Gordon), who points out that the Gemini Killer has been dead for fifteen years. Later that day, Kinderman and Father Dyer meet as they do every year on this day; each insisting that it is to cheer the other up. After a viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, the two men get some lunch and fall into one of their unresolved debates, with Father Dyer holding quietly to his faith in the face of Kinderman’s increasingly bitter unbelief. Father Dyer draws Kinderman into talking about Thomas Kintry, the murder victim, whom the lieutenant knew slightly from the Police Boys’ Club. Kinderman reveals that the boy had been crucified on a pair of rowing oars. An ingot was driven into each of his eyes, and his head was then cut off – and replaced with the head from a statue of Christ, made up in blackface. At the Holy Trinity Church, Father Kanavan (Harry Carey Jr) hears the confession of an elderly woman, who begins by talking of her scrupulous conscience, which drives her to confess to almost everything; but then, she has so much to confess...starting with the murder of a waitress near Candlestick Park. As the woman starts to laugh, the priest recoils in terror... As his team investigates the crime scene, Kinderman reluctantly examines Father Kanavan’s sheet-covered body, noting that the index finger of his right hand is missing. The lieutenant is still examining the confessional when Sergeant Atkins (Grand L. Bush) gives him a verbal report of the results of Thomas Kintry’s autopsy, which determined that the boy was first injected with succinylcholine, which left him fully conscious but paralysed... Kinderman visits Father Dyer, who has been checked into hospital for some tests. As he leaves, he passes without noticing a statue of Christ with its head missing... It is confirmed that Father Kanavan was also injected with succinylcholine before being mutilated and decapitated. Fingerprints were found at the scene, as there were at the scene of Thomas Kintry’s murder – but not the same fingerprints. That night, Kinderman experiences a strange and disturbing dream of the afterlife, wandering through an enormous room half-nightclub, half-waiting-room, where angels and the recently deceased congregate. There he encounters Father Dyer, whose head appears to have been removed and sewn back on. Kinderman is woken at dawn by a phone-call... Though in the utmost distress, Kinderman forces himself to go through his usual motions in Father Dyer’s hospital room. He learns that the priest’s body was drained of every single drop of blood, all of which sits in jars in neat rows by the bedside; he was then decapitated and his finger severed, as with the other murders. Dr Stedman (George DiCenzo), from the Medical Examiner’s office, tells Kinderman that the only blood not in the jars was that used to write on the wall. Steeling himself, Kinderman tears away the covering sheet to reveal the words, IT’S A WONDERFULL LIFE...

Comments:  The Exorcist III is one of those films that failed at the box office at the time of its initial release, but which has since found an audience on DVD. A review of current opinions reveals an interesting fact. While a few people unqualifiedly love this film, and a few people unqualifiedly hate it, on the whole there is agreement that it is a mixture of good bits and bad bits...but very little agreement over which are the good bits and the bad bits.

In the wake of the stunning success of The Exorcist, Warners’ thoughts not surprisingly turned to the possibility of a sequel. William Friedkin and William Peter Blatty sat down together to try and work out a treatment, but ultimately were unable to agree on a storyline – not unexpectedly, really, in the wake of their disagreement over the final cut of their film – and finally the project was shelved. In an object lesson in why it is sometimes best just to leave well enough alone, eventually Warners revived the sequel idea; the result being John Boorman’s deliriously bizarre Exorcist II: The Heretic.

Meanwhile, at least partly because of what had been done to his brainchild, William Peter Blatty dug out those unused treatments for his sequel and began toying with the idea of turning them into a novel. The result was 1983’s Legion, which drew upon the real-life Zodiac Killer case. (In one of his letters to the newspapers, the Zodiac referred to the film version of The Exorcist as, “The best satirical comedy I have ever seen.”) However, although it brought back the characters of Lt William Kinderman and Father Joseph Dyer, Legion was not a sequel to The Exorcist – or The Exorcist – as such, but rather a rumination upon the nature of evil, and the imperative need to hold hard to the tenets of humanity and compassion in the face of evil.

Legion became a best-seller and, in the nature of things, the studios came sniffing around for the film rights---although, after the critical and commercial disaster of The Heretic, not Warners. Two minor outfits, Morgan Creek and Carolco, ended up competing for the rights; but when the latter suggested that the film should not only be an overt sequel to The Exorcist, but that its premise should be a grown-up Regan MacNeil giving birth to possessed twins, Blatty immediately sold his novel to Morgan Creek. (Carolco retaliated by putting into production Repossessed, a parody of The Exorcist starring Linda Blair and Leslie Nielsen, which, after a desperate race to the finish-line, was beaten into release by The Exorcist III by one month.)

Now--- There were always going to be difficulties in adapting Legion for the screen. The novel is, in essence, a murder mystery that progressively takes on supernatural overtones. However, much of the narrative is spent within the minds of its characters; while its ending is uncinematic almost to the point of being unfilmable. To his credit, Blatty recognised this and made a number of significant changes, including to the nature of his ending. But when he turned over his cut of the film to Morgan Creek---who had, we presume; we hope---read the novel before purchasing the rights to it, their response was a blank, “Where’s the exorcism?”

In vain Blatty argued that there was no place for an exorcism in his story; Morgan Creek simply countered that an Exorcist sequel had to have an exorcism. And in vain Blatty argued that his film was not a sequel to The Exorcist; that after the debacle of The Heretic, the worst and most counterproductive thing that Morgan Creek could do was send the film out into the marketplace as an overt sequel to The Exorcist. Let it go out as Legion, he begged, and let it find its own audience.

Well, history shows how those arguments ended: when the film was released in 1990 as The Exorcist III, it included a climactic exorcism that pretty much defines the expression “tacked on”. Critical response was, on the whole, quite positive – memories of The Heretic no doubt helped – but everyone commented on how out-of-place the exorcism sequence both looked and felt; while the film went on to die a fairly swift death at the box-office.

In the wake of this outcome, both George C. Scott and Brad Dourif went public to complain about the studio’s interference. Meanwhile, having pondered the matter, the Morgan Creek executives contacted Blatty and told him that, in their opinion, the film’s failure could probably be attributed to it having the word “Exorcist” in the title...

It may well have been William Peter Blatty who invented the face-palm.

It spite of his warranted objections, it was Blatty himself who wrote and shot the new ending for The Exorcist III, having accepted that if he continued to oppose them the producers would simply sack him and hire someone else to do the job. His consolation was that this post-production tampering at least allowed him to work again with Jason Miller, who due to previous commitments was originally unable to participate in the production. Blatty did his best, clearly, but the exorcism ending is completely out of step with the rest of the film, as well as creating as many problems as it solves, as we shall see.

The Exorcist III is only the second, and to date last, film to be directed by William Peter Blatty, after he adapted his own novel, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane, as The Ninth Configuration in 1980. As both of these films demonstrate, Blatty has some real talent; his specialty is the off-kilter (which sometimes, granted, tips over into the merely quirky), and in particular an ability to create a growing sense of unease. It’s the quiet stuff he’s good at; or so I feel. This is where the differences of opinion start to kick in; no doubt there are those who would have felt cheated without the exorcism sequence.

This film contains a lot of arresting imagery, as well as certain touches that link it more securely to The Exorcist – such as a pendulum clock that stops for no reason – and it brilliantly exploits the fact that in spite of their purpose of healing, hospitals make a great many people very uncomfortable. In fact, this film includes a sequence set in a hospital corridor that may well leave you scarred for life...

The opening section of The Exorcist III is devoted to picking up the threads of The Exorcist, while at the same time reassuring the audience that the events of The Heretic never really happened; it was all just a bad dream. (Though actually, II and III are not mutually exclusive, as they involve two completely different sets of carry-over characters). In fact, there’s some awkwardness about this: sometimes this film acts as a sequel to The Exorcist, the film, and sometimes to The Exorcist, the novel; and sometimes it just makes stuff up.

Most importantly at the outset, we have the necessary re-casting: George C. Scott replaces Lee J. Cobb, who died in 1976, as William Kinderman; while Ed Flanders replaces Father William O’Malley as Father Dyer. While the latter does a fine job conveying Father Dyer’s sense of humour and his compassion, as well as his faith, Scott’s interpretation of Bill Kinderman is a bit more contentious. Although he does capture the homicide cop’s essential kindness (seen in his interaction with the hospital patients), his escalating anger is new.

I suppose it is not unreasonable that, after fifteen years more of horrors and man’s inhumanity to man, Lt Kinderman may indeed have grown very angry indeed (not to mention his failure to gain any further promotion); though my sense of Cobb’s Kinderman suggests that, more likely, he would have grown older, and tireder, and sadder, instead. No doubt “angry” suits George C. Scott better, though. Overall it’s quite a good performance, but there are moments when Blatty is unable to rein him in.

The exteriors of The Exorcist III were shot on location in Georgetown, and the credits play over some familiar territory, while “Tubular Bells” plays on the soundtrack. In particular we see the notorious set of stairs on which Burke Dennings and Damien Karras each met their death. There is also an odd sequence of someone recounting a dream in which he hurtled down those stairs... At the Holy Trinity Church, the doors suddenly burst open as a strange force sweeps inside... In different parts of the city, at the dawning of a new day, Father Joseph Dyer recites a prayer for the dead, while Lt William Kinderman gazes in horror at the butchered body of a twelve-year-old boy.

The first overt bit of tampering with our back-story posits that instead of new acquaintances and potential friends, Bill Kinderman and Damien Karras were very close (“The man was a saint. He was my best friend, I loved him...”); so close that Kinderman keeps a photo of the two of them amongst his family pictures, and that each year he and Father Dyer jointly mark the anniversary of Damien’s death.

It happens to be the fifteenth anniversary of that day, and the priest and the cop have made their plans to get together, as soon as each of them can escape from his duties. For Kinderman, this involves trying to motivate his too-callous underlings, whose professional indifference in the face of Thomas Kintry’s murder – and the inference that the murder of one more black youth doesn’t matter – appals him. (“Do you know what Macbeth is about? The numbing of the moral sense.”) Father Dyer, meanwhile, is being taken to task by the University President for offending one of their leading benefactors (“Jesus loves you, everyone else thinks you’re an asshole”). The unrepentant Father Dyer reveals his plans to meet Bill Kinderman at a screening of It’s A Wonderful Life; adding that it will the 37th time he’s seen it. (Asked his favourite film, the President deadpans, “The Fly.” That’s my boy!)

With both roles re-cast, some time is spent establishing the relationship between Dyer and Kinderman, a deep and enduring friendship that transcends their fundamental differences---in particular, Dyer’s steadfast faith against Kinderman’s inability – or unwillingness – to believe in a God who can allow things like the murder of Thomas Kintry to happen. Dyer encourages Kinderman to unburden himself, and learns the brutal details of the boy’s death. As it later turns out, the murder was even worse than first supposed: the boy was fully conscious throughout his torture, and died of slow asphyxiation.

At the Holy Trinity Church, Father Kanavan hears the confession of a frail, elderly woman, who worries about her over-scrupulous conscience. Urged to make a good confession, she responds with the graphic description of the murder of a waitress in San Francisco; one of seventeen such crimes, she insists, as she starts to laugh...

(The much-reproduced image of the murdered priest sitting in the confessional with his own head in his hands did not make the final cut...if you’ll pardon the expression.)

When Kinderman and his team are called to the crime scene, a glance at the body is enough to convince the lieutenant that it is the work of Thomas Kintry’s murderer; the full horror of the boy’s death having just been revealed by his autopsy.

A second autopsy later confirms that the priest, too, was injected with a paralysing dose of succinylcholine prior to being butchered. Fingerprints are found on the inside of the sliding panel of the confessional, as they were upon the crossed rowing-oars on which Thomas Kintry was crucified, but they are not the fingerprints of the same person...

Kinderman takes a break from his professional duties to visit Father Dyer, who has been hospitalised for what he insists are just routine tests. We get another nice detailing of the relationship between the two men here, as Kinderman comes hurrying down the corridor in agitation, but then stops and forces himself to enter the room with great casualness, before mocking Father Dyer’s choice of reading material: Women’s Wear Daily. (“What, I’m supposed to give spiritual advice in a vacuum?”)

As he leaves, Kinderman passes a statue of Christ with its head missing – and doesn’t notice, which seems rather improbable, under the circumstances; but perhaps we are supposed to take this obliviousness as another sign of how worried he is about Father Dyer. This is, in any case, the film’s first intimation that the Georgetown General Hospital is somehow connected to the murders.

(Smoking was allowed in American hospitals as late as 1990!? And not just for visitors, but for staff and patients!? [*shudder*])

That night, Kinderman has a strange and disturbing dream...

One of the oddest touches in The Exorcist III, one which I find distracting to the point of being self-defeating, is its plethora of cameo appearances. The scene in which Kinderman and Dyer have lunch also offers a glimpse of C. Everett Coop and a better look at Larry King; while this dream sequence jerks the viewer – or at least, this viewer – right out of the film by confronting them with Samuel L. Jackson (not intended as a “cameo” at the time, of course) and – ulp! – Fabio as an angel. Another angel – the Angel of Death – is played by basketballer Patrick Ewing, although that one I needed help with.

 

Another issue is that cinematic time has caught up with this sequence. Kinderman’s dream, which gives us the afterlife as a weird mixture of railway waiting-room and nightclub, is a point of connection with The Exorcist, where at the party thrown by Chris MacNeil – destined to be rudely interrupted by her daughter – we find Father Dyer tickling the ivories and admitting to a vision of heaven as a nightclub with himself as the permanent headlining act. However, not only is this visual in The Exorcist III amusingly close to what the Pythons served up at the end of The Meaning Of Life, its waiting-room aspect means that these days, it’s impossible to look at it and not think of Beetlejuice.

In his dream, Kinderman finds himself wandering through a space populated by – we gather – the recently or the soon-to-be deceased and their gathering angels, as a departure board updates constantly to indicate their destinations. He encounters Thomas Kintry, who greets him cheerfully. At the front of the waiting-room, near the information desk, a string-quartet of middle-aged ladies plays enthusiastically; towards the back, an angel leads a swing orchestra.

Eventually, Kinderman encounters Father Dyer, whose has prominent stiches all the way around his neck, and who sits watching as the Angel of Death deals a tarot hand. Kinderman smiles at the sight of his friend, commenting, “I wonder if we’re both having this dream?”

“No, Bill,” replies Father Dyer gently. “I’m not dreaming...”

Kinderman is woken at dawn by a telephone-call...

In spite of his grievous loss, Kinderman does his job. He finds Ryan and Stedman on the scene at the hospital, both of them on their best behaviour; the latter sends the oblivious photographer away as Kinderman approaches. The details of Father Dyer’s murder are even more grotesque than those of the earlier two: in addition to the signature physical mutilation, every drop of his blood has been collected in plastic jars, which are lined up in neat rows on a table beside the bed. In fact, the whole thing has been impossibly neat; not a smudge, not a drop lost: except, Stedman reluctantly reveals, what has been used to write on the wall...

Kinderman interviews the, shall we say, eccentric Nurse Allerton, who was the last person to see Father Dyer alive, when she took in his medication at 5.00am; by 6.00am, incredibly, though she saw and heard nothing, the murder had been committed. The only other person in the vicinity was a Mrs Clelia, an elderly patient who had apparently wandered away from the neurological ward, and who was found unconscious in the corridor nearby.

Kinderman visits the ward, populated by those suffering Alzheimer’s, autism, or other forms of disassociation or withdrawal, but who are deemed harmless, and tries to talk to Mrs Clelia, but she thinks of nothing but her broken radio, which certainly needs fixing: dead people talk through it...

(These scenes very deliberately evoke Mrs Karrass hospitalisation in The Exorcist.)

Dr Temple, as he leads Kinderman away, tells him that he was lucky to get that much out of Mrs Clelia, who is quasi-catatonic. The two men on are on their way to the disturbed ward, where Temple demonstrates their security precautions. Here the violent patients are kept in isolation, restrained if necessary. As Kinderman wanders down the corridor of blank metal doors, he hears a soft, familiar voice speak his name. Puzzled, he steps up to the observation window in the door of the cell from where, or so it seemed, the voice came, only to be called away by Sergeant Atkins, who tells him grimly that the hospital administrator is going ballistic over his orders of lockdown, search and fingerprinting.

Kinderman and the others move away; the camera stays where it is, giving the viewer a glimpse of the occupant of the cell, who sits slumped over in shackles and straitjacket, quietly reciting John Donne...

Actually, “ballistic” is putting it mildly, particularly with respect to the proposed fingerprinting of the other patients; but Kinderman, who has been watching Father Dyer’s body being taken away, barely seems to be listening. Abruptly he changes the subject to the Gemini Killer, further angering Dr Freedman, who starts to yell at him again---but his explosion comes to an abrupt and embarrassed halt when suddenly, the veteran homicide cop starts to cry...

(And, we gather, it never recovers momentum, since Kinderman & Co. later have a collection of fingerprints that they certainly had no legal right to obtain.)

After a moment, Kinderman recovers himself and goes on. The Gemini Killer was one James Venamun, whose rampage of slaughter was his way of striking back at his evangelist-father; all of the Gemini’s victims shared the initial ‘K’, a reference to Karl Venamun. However--- As Kinderman now reveals, all the other details given to the press were fake, to weed out the copy-cats and the crack-pots: the Gemini symbol was carved, not into the victims’ backs, but the palm of their left hands; and it was the right index, not the left middle, finger that was severed. The truth was kept a strict secret.

And these three murders have all the genuine hallmarks, including the initial ‘K’ – Kintry, Kanavan, and Joseph Kevin Dyer – and an idiosyncrasy of the killer’s writing. In his letters to the newspaper, the Gemini always spelled all words ending in ‘l’ with a double-l; and now, just down the hall, in Father Dyer’s blood, is written the word “wonderfull”...

The problem is, the Gemini Killer has been dead for fifteen years---and not the inconclusive, his-body-was-never-found kind of death, either, but about the most decisive kind possible: execution in the electric chair before a panel of official witnesses.

The investigation identifies what Kinderman believes to be the instrument used to decapitate the victims, a pair of bone-cutting shears. As a doctor demonstrates the instrument, Kinderman notices that the pair is new; no-one knows what happened to the old pair...

The lieutenant then calls upon the University President, who reluctantly concedes that the murders may be linked by Regan MacNeil’s exorcism: Father Dyer’s joint friendship for the MacNeils, and Damien Karras; Father Kanavan, the then-President, who gave permission for the exorcism; and Thomas Kintry’s mother, the linguistics expert who analysed the recordings of Regan’s speech while possessed.

This is a problematic scene. Kinderman may be trying not to reveal anything himself, of course, but it plays as if he didn’t know, or didn’t remember, the details of that time. Perhaps Blatty was hoping the audience didn’t: the linguist in The Exorcist was a white man, not a black woman. However, more importantly there is the fact that, whatever he could or could not prove, Kinderman knew – knew – that Regan was somehow responsible for Burke Dennings’ death, and possibly for Damien’s also. His position as a seeker of facts about possession and exorcism, after fifteen years of Joe Dyer’s friendship, seems odd. He never asked?

(We get a very odd false scare sequence breaking up this scene. Mostly false, yes; but what’s that in the middle of it...?)

The President, disclaiming specialist knowledge, sends Kinderman to speak to Father Morning, the hospital chaplain, who is supposed to have once performed an exorcism – and had his hair turn white overnight as a consequence. The priest, however, has problems of his own: he is visited in his room by the same sort of invisible force that swept through Holy Trinity Church not so long ago, leaving the injured bird he was tending dead, and his crucifix weeping tears of blood...

Meanwhile, the police sweep of the hospital has turned up a third set of incriminating fingerprints, this time on the jars of blood: they are Mrs Clelia’s, but this time she has nothing to say...

One of my favourite scenes follows. We hear Dr Temple apparently telling Kinderman about one of the patients in the disturbed ward, in fact, the very one he began to look in on. Curiously, Dr Temple says the same words over and over, though slightly differently each time; sometimes approving one version more than another---with the camera then pulling back to show us that he is rehearsing his speech off sheets of paper.

Sure enough, the next thing we know he is telling Kinderman all about that patient, found fifteen years ago wandering near Key Bridge in a state of complete amnesia, using one particular version of his words. Dr Temple explains---still reading off his prompt-sheets when Kinderman looks away---that the unidentified man progressively withdrew into a state of catatonia, staying that way until very recently, when he began to show signs of coming out of it. However, his recovery has been accompanied by outbursts of violence, forcing isolation and restraint.

But he is talking---and what he says is that he is the Gemini Killer.

And that’s not all. When Kinderman finally does take a good look in that cell, it is to discover that the man inside is Damien Karras...

SNAP.

That’s the sound of The Exorcist III breaking into two parts. (Which, by the way, happens almost exactly in at the mid-point of the film.) What we’ve had up until now has been mostly – not entirely – as William Peter Blatty intended; what follows is mostly – not entirely – what the studio forced upon him.

It’s also the point at which opinions of this film, and its “good bits” and “bad bits”, start to divide.

Originally, as noted, Blatty wanted Jason Miller to play “Patient X”, but he was already committed elsewhere. Blatty then compromised by casting Brad Dourif as the Gemini Killer and shooting the relevant scenes so as to make it clear that while we, the audience, are seeing James Venamun, Lt Kinderman is seeing Damien Karras. However, the imposed re-shoot allowed Blatty to cast Jason Miller after all – but at the potential expense of Brad Dourif. In the end, Blatty kept them both, showing what before he was only able to imply by cutting between the two actors and the two points of view, and at points using a morphing effect. (He did a lot more of this than now stands, but the studio found it confusing and made him tone it down.)

For many people, I know, Brad Dourif’s performance is the best thing about The Exorcist III. For me, his arrival marks the point where the film starts to lose it; though how it might have played out had Blatty had his way about an exorcism-free film is open to debate. I like the first half of this film. I like its growing sense of weirdness, the accumulation of impossible details---and I like the respectful, restrained handling of the murders, which are not mere plot-points.

What I don’t like, and never have liked, is psycho-killers who won’t shut up. It takes what should be scary and disturbing and makes it merely tiresome. One of the reasons I have belatedly developed something of a soft spot for Jason Voorhees---as well as supporting him in his battle against Freddy Krueger---is that the man goes about his work silently. Here, alas, Brad Dourif gives us a Gemini Killer who makes Freddy seem tongue-tied by comparison.

Don’t get me wrong: in some contexts I love Brad Dourif’s manic ranting; when he’s Chucky the Killer Doll, I could – and have – listen to him for hours. But here the torrent of words, the screaming, the wisecracking, the gloating, the laughing, the taunting, sends this hitherto low-key film completely off the rails.

And that’s before the tacked-on exorcism starts.

All that said, three of my favourite scenes in The Exorcist III occur in the second half of the film: one, a bizarrely shot attempted murder, on the back of a genuinely suspenseful (because realistically shot) race-against-time sequence; one, a moment that is just plain weird, but which has lost some of its impact over the intervening years from being homaged to death; and finally, an exquisitely staged and executed shock-scene, wherein (among other things) Blatty gives aspiring horror-film makers an object lesson in the correct use of the false scare.

After Kinderman has sent Sergeant Atkins on a quest for Damien Karras’s medical records, his dental records, the results of a saliva test, anything, a series of confrontations between the disbelieving lieutenant and “Patient X” takes place, in which the man who looks like Damien Karras reveals more details that only the Gemini Killer could know. He warns Kinderman that if he does not publicise the recent murders as genuine Gemini killings, he will be punished, and also explains that these particular murders were not his own idea, but favours performed at the request of, ahem, a friend who prefers to remain nameless.

As for whether he is Damien Karras, well---yes and no. It is Damien’s body, stolen and slowly brought back to consciousness, so that he is capable of knowing what acts of horror his body commits, although not capable of stopping them. That friend of whom we have already heard was not at all pleased by Damien’s successful intervention in the possession of Regan MacNeil...

The first interview ends rather abruptly when Patient X’s graphic recapitulation of Father Dyer’s murder provokes Kinderman into breaking his nose. While Nurse Allerton is bandaging his hand, she tells Kinderman that Patient X has been having strange bouts of unconsciousness, wherein his autonomic system almost shuts down, while his brain activity goes berserk; one of which coincided with the time of Father Dyer’s murder. She also mentions that, once or twice, Patient X has said a few words in a voice that sounded different from usual; decent – and desperate. At one time he said, “Save your servant”; at another, “Kill it.”

Kinderman can make nothing of the latter, but he tracks down the former: it is from the opening passage of the Catholic rite for exorcism.

While all this has been going on, the audience has been made aware of another of the nurses who works at the hospital. Unfortunately for the poor girl, it turns out that her name is Amy Keating...

On which subject--- Kinderman is terribly slow to recognise the implications of his own name – his family’s name – starting with ‘K’. (I may say that a certain film-reviewer of my acquaintance was a little quicker on the uptake, for some mysterious reason...) Two more murders, one attempted murder and one suicide later, Kinderman is ready to take definitive action, no matter what the personal cost...but Father Morning beats him to it.

You remember Father Morning, right?

(Poor Nicol Williamson! I think I’ll re-watch Venom, and cheer myself up.)

The less said about the actual exorcism, the better; there’s some effective imagery, granted, but quite a lot of silliness, too. (We should note a piece of in-jokey casting here: “the voice of the devil” is supplied by Colleen Dewhurst, the former Mrs George C. Scott.) It ends in what we might call a tie, with Father Morning having left a significant portion of himself glued to the ceiling of Patient X’s cell but nevertheless still with us when Bill Kinderman arrives for the final confrontation...

It is very easy to get distracted by the gaudy visuals of the closing stages of The Exorcist III, but beyond the animated lightning flashes and the yellow-bloodshot contact lenses and the skin-peeling priest and the cobras (ooh, cobras! – whoops, see what I mean?) are some very worrying implications; particularly with respect to the revelations about poor Damien Karras.

True enough, The Heretic undid the end of The Exorcist by suggesting that Regan was not really unpossessed, so that the deaths of the two priests were effectively meaningless; but that was intentional on the part of John Boorham, who hated The Exorcist.

Here – and in Legion – we find Blatty undoing himself. The suggestion is that after his fall down the stairs, Damien was not quite dead (despite what the medical examiner had to say) and therefore vulnerable to possession; fifteen years of it. This hardly seems a just return for his sacrifice on Regan’s behalf; or is he being punished for his suicide, however nobly motivated? Is this his purgatory?

During this final confrontation the floor of Patient X’s cell drops away to reveal a vision of hell. Thomas Kintry is there, crucified, and so is Damien. No doubt this is simply a vision, conjured up to torture Kinderman – but it brings into focus the other disquieting aspect of this film’s closure.

There is no sign in this film of Pazuzu or any other intermediary. Though no names are mentioned there seems little doubt that it is the devil who has brought about James Venamun’s occupation of Damien Karras’s body, in order that he may go on with his “work”, and that Damien may be punished; and who at times puts aside “my son, the Gemini” to speak directly to Father Morning and to Lt Kinderman; and who mockingly offers Kinderman help with his unbelief.

Going back to The Exorcist, a recurrent theme in Blatty’s writing is the suggestion that belief in the devil is far easier than belief in God because, as Blatty puts it, “He does commercials.” This is the point that Kinderman has reached when challenged with his lack of faith:

“This I believe in... I believe in death. I believe in disease. I believe in injustice and inhumanity, torture and anger and hate... I believe in murder. I believe in pain. I believe in cruelty and infidelity. I believe in slime and stink and every crawling, putrid thing...every possible ugliness and corruption, you son of a bitch. I believe...in you.”

The Bill Kinderman of The Exorcist was overtly Jewish, and a lot more “ethnically” so than he is in the film; he was also a questioner rather than an unbeliever. In both versions of the story, however, he remained on the sidelines while the Catholic ritual was being enacted. This is not the case with The Exorcist III, where---not intentionally, perhaps, but rather as a result of the tacked-on ending---we have a Jew dropped into the middle of a Catholic exorcism, and forced to examine his faith, or lack thereof, in that context.

And so we see the Jewish Kinderman studying the exorcism ritual, and also the New Testament (Mark 5:9, of course: And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”) The negative “belief” that Kinderman initially expresses – “I believe in YOU” – can likewise only be understood in terms of the Christian interpretation of the devil, since at this point that is fairly explicitly who is talking through the body of Damien Karras. We should also note that Kinderman makes that quoted speech while being held pinned against the wall in the crucifix position. As with The Exorcist, what we have here is the Catholic interpretation of the Christian religion presented as literal truth.

So where does that leave Bill Kinderman? And if his experiences with Patient X do turn him into a believer, what kind of believer would that be? Accidentally or otherwise, the question being asked here seems to shift from Do you believe? to Do you believe the right things?

And in the end, I think we are supposed to come away from The Exorcist III accepting that Bill Kinderman has found his faith. The irony is that Damien Karras’s fate is an example of exactly the sort of thing that Kinderman was complaining to Father Dyer about at the beginning of the film, and which led him to reject his faith: the idea of a God who causes, or at least permits, such desperately cruel things to happen. So perhaps in fact what we’re left with is a Bill Kinderman who does believe in God...but who still thinks He’s an unjust you-know-what.

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Footnote:  There is a fanedit’ of The Exorcist III out there – under the title Legion – which has tried to restore what William Peter Blatty originally intended, removing the exorcism, the character of Father Morning and most of the special effects work, and recreating the scripted ending.

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----02/11/2014