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The Exorcist III: Legion (1990)
Rated R

Starring: George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, and Ed Flanders

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

The Exorcist remains one of the scariest horror movies of all time. Spawning numerous imititators -- none of which have ever equaled its quality -- the original movie is still worth watching again and again. In the early 1990's, when horror sequels were the rage -- with Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers stalking a seemingly endless supply of airheaded teenagers -- a horror film with a high degree of intelligence and scariness entered theaters with little fanfare. Unfortunately, that movie was branded as a sequel to the original Exorcist and that set off comparisons to the original film which made the film look unworthy of such a title. As a result, it didn't do so well at the box office and was quickly forgotten by most moviegoers.

The Exorcist III: Legion would have been much better off if it had been released as a stand-alone horror film. It really doesn't have a lot to do with the original film in terms of content. Some minor connections are attempted, but they're the weakest parts the film.

The story concerns a Washington, D.C. detective, named Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott), who's called into investigate the brutal killing of a young boy. The boy is found crucified with his tongue cut out and various other atrocities performed to his body. When a friend of his, Father Dyer (Ed Flanders,) who's been admitted to the hospital for treatment of a disease, is also murdered, Kinderman is baffled. Dyer's entire blood supply is drained neatly into small containers without a drop spilled. The police seal off the hospital and the investigation begins to center on people who work or live in the hospital.

Kinderman suspects a patient may have escaped from the psycho ward to commit these crimes. As he enters it to investigate, he's drawn to a patient who resembles Father Damien Karras from the original Exorcist (Jason Miller), who was killed by falling down a flight of stairs in that film. As he talks to this patient, he also finds himself talking to someone claiming to be a serial killer known as The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), who is also supposed to be dead -- executed, in fact. The Gemini Killer tells of a deal he'd made with Satan to enter a body -- Damien Karras' -- to continue his killing. This challenges the detective's beliefs and sets up a pretty creepy series of events.

One thing that sets this movie apart from other horror movies is that there's not a lot of action. But what the movie lacks in action, it more than makes up for it in atmosphere. This movie has a claustrophobic feel, which works to heighten the tension quite well. George C. Scott's performance isn't worthy of his work in Patton, but its well done and a welcome relief from the braindead teenage protagonists of most horror movies. Brad Dourif's monologues as The Gemini Killer are at once humorous and frightening. He is perfectly cast as someone in league with Satan.

The movie could have eliminated the connection to the original Exorcist and simply been a stand alone film. I guess the fact that slasher films were in vogue at the time of its release made the connection to the Exorcist franchise a valuable asset. (The Exorcist II, made in 1977, was a horrible mess of a movie that attempted to continue the story of the possessed girl (Linda Blair). This third movie is the "official" sequel.) Either way, the connection to the original film is a tenuous one. Being as it was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, my opinion might sound like blasphemy to some Blatty fans. However, aside from a few flashbacks to the original film and the inclusion of two of its characters, there still is little connection between the two films, other than the locale of the events. The characters from the original film could have simply been given different names and the film would have turned out fine.

The movie remains quite watchable even if you haven't seen the original and it retains the fright factor, albeit with much more subtlety than the first film had. In fact, this film is so sly in the way it sets up the creepiness, the scares are unexpected and, therefore, all the better. The Exorcist III's not the greatest horror film ever made, but it's a damn good one.

Trivia: Samuel L. Jackson can be seen as a blind man in a dream sequence. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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