Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Exorcist III

Go To

"I have dreams... of a rose... and then of falling down a long flight of steps..."
Opening narration

The Exorcist III is a 1990 supernatural horror film and the second sequel to The Exorcist. It was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, the author of the original 1971 Exorcist novel, and based on his 1983 sequel novel Legion.

Set fifteen years after the original film (and ignoring the events of Exorcist II: The Heretic), the film centers on a character from the first film, Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (played by George C. Scott this time around), as he investigates a baffling series of murders in Georgetown that appear to have a satanic motive behind them and furthermore have all the hallmarks of "The Gemini" (Brad Dourif), a deceased serial killer.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Lee Richardson states that his favorite movie is The Fly (1986). About a year earlier, he starred in the sequel.
    • When asked how he is able to get in and out of jail without being seen, The Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) replies: "It's child's play." The camera cuts to a young, red-headed boy who looks a lot like the Chucky doll.
  • Alpha Bitch: Nurse Allerton, and isn't shy about it.
    Kinderman: You're most kind.
    Allerton: I'm a bitch.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Father Karras, due to being the host of the Gemini Killer.
    • What the Gemini does to his victims. He drugs them with succinylcholine so they're paralyzed yet fully conscious while he does all sorts of horrific things to them.
    • Happens to the Gemini Killer himself. Karras' dead body was almost beyond the point of being salvageable when he entered it, forcing him to spend fifteen years trapped in a catatonic body until Karras' damaged brain recovered enough for it to become active again.
  • Advertisement:
  • Ascended Extra: Kinderman is now the main character, New actor notwithstanding. Kinderman had a much larger role in the original book, as he had a growing friendship with Karras.
  • Arc Words: It’s a Wonderfull Life.
  • Back from the Dead: Father Karras didn't die at the end of the first film. His comatose body was possessed and regenerated by a legion of demons. Death be not proud, indeed!
  • Badass Boast: "This time, you're going to lose."
  • Berserk Button: When Kinderman states, "The Gemini is dead," Patient X screams, "NO! I'M NOT! I'M ALIVE! I GO ON! I BREATHE! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!
  • Big "NO!"
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kinderman defeats the legion and exorcizes Karras, but only at the cost of Karras's life, and only after the Gemini has killed many people, including Father Dyer.
  • Blackface: Kinderman relates how the Gemini chopped off the head of a black boy and put the head from a statue of Jesus in its place, painted to look like it was in blackface, "like a Minstrel Show."
  • Bluff the Impostor:
    • One of the most bizarre examples ever. Kinderman offers to repair a dementia patient's delusional radio.
      Mrs. Clalia: I just knew you weren't really a radio repairman. That's a telephone I'm holding.
    • Kinderman tells of one for people who claimed to be the Gemini Killer. The information the police released about the serial killer to the press was deliberately false. Someone claiming to be the Gemini would repeat the wrong info, and that's how they knew the loon was a fake. Truth in Television, of course — police in Real Life do the same thing to weed out imposters in famous crimes.
  • Body Surf: The Gemini Killer has "old friends" who allow him to escape his cage.
  • Brick Joke: A truly ghastly example when Kinderman and Dyer go see It's a Wonderful Life together. Later, the Gemini Killer writes the movie's title on the wall in Father Dyer's blood.
  • Broad Strokes: How the film treats its much-reviled predecessor. It never technically contradicts the events of those films, carefully avoiding showing the iconic house from the original film, which was destroyed at the end of the second. Since the film maintains a 'III' moniker, this was likely to avoid confusing audiences.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Fr. Dyer is quite the contrast to the dour Fr. Karras. He's impish, and when he's at the hospital he's reading fashion weeklies and begs Kinderman to get him more recent magazines so he can keep up with the latest fashions.
    Kinderman: Mother India is calling you, Father.
  • Call-Back: "I have dreams of a rose... and falling down a long flight of steps."
  • The Cameo: Basketball player Patrick Ewing appears in the Dream Sequence as the Angel of Death.
    • Then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson, Larry King and C. Evert Coop all appear in blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos.
    • Model Fabio Lanzoni has an uncredited bit part as an angel in the dream sequence as well, though he was only a prolific male model rather than a household name at the time, making it an overlap of Retroactive Recognition.
    • Samuel L. Jackson has a single line as a hospital patient, although curiously, his voice is dubbed over.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Despite the "III" in the title, the film completely ignores the much-reviled second entry.
    • The shots of the stairs are framed in such a way to avoid showing the nearby house, which was destroyed in the climax of the second film. Reportedly, this was done to avoid confusing the audience.
    • In this movie Kinderman and Karras were best friends. In first film, they barely knew each other - however, in the novel, they had a friendship growing, and when it was cut short, Kinderman and Dyer became friends because of their mutual relationship with Karras.
  • Canon Foreigner: Father Morning wasn't in any of the books, and was added into the film because the producers wanted there to be an actual exorcism scene.
  • Ceiling Cling: There is a very creepy moment where an old woman skitters by the protagonist... on the ceiling.
  • Central Theme: The nature of faith is the recurring theme of the film.
  • Confessional: A brutal murder occurs in one offscreen.
  • Composite Character: Dr. Temple in the film has traits in common with both the novel's Dr. Temple and with Dr. Amfortas, a character who does't appear in the film.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: The Gemini Killer writes "It's a Wonderfull Life" on the wall in Father Dyer's blood.
  • Daylight Horror: A lot of sinister moments take place in well-lit rooms, including the murder of Nurse Keating and the notorious Ceiling Cling scene.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the cast. Kinderman wins the Deadpan prize with his story about the carp swimming in his bathtub.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Gemini's Father is a Type 2 example. In Legion, the novel this installment was based on, he dies of natural causes, and his death causes the Gemini to lose all his motivation because he can no longer bring him shame and grief; in the movie, he was the Gemini's first victim; after this, the Gemini kept on murdering so he could figuratively continue to kill his father forever.
    • Dr. Temple is a Type 1 example. In Legion he survives the book, albeit suffering a stroke that leaves him mentally disabled. In the movie, he is Driven to Suicide.
  • Demon of Human Origin: The Gemini Killer was a man so evil that he became a demon after striking a deal with another "Master" demon who wants revenge for the failed possession of Regan in the first film.
  • Despair Event Horizon: James Venamun crossed it when his brother died, and became the Gemini Killer.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The Angel of Death is seen playing cards with Father Dyer during Kinderman’s Dream Sequence.
  • Dream Sequence: A very surreal one in which Kinderman walks through a crowded train station filled with angels and hospital patients and encounters several victims of the Gemini Killer, including Father Dyer, who is likely being killed at that very moment.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The above Dream Sequence is Kinderman dreaming of Dyer's murder.
    Kinderman: You know, I wonder if both of us are dreaming this.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Kinderman discovers the corpse of a svelte young nurse clad only in her panties, revealing that there's a murderer dressed as a nurse somewhere.
  • Dying as Yourself: With Father Morning's help Karras finally manages to break demons' control long enough to give Kinderman the chance to fatally shoot him.
    Fr. Karras: BILL! SHOOT NOW! SHOOT N—!
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When Allerton says, "Do you treat your family this way," you can almost see the light bulb appear above Kinderman's head.)''
  • Evil Sounds Deep:
    • When played by Brad Dourif, the Gemini Killer's voice changes pitch several times in each of his scenes, and often goes unnervingly low; people who have seen Dourif in other movies would likely be very creeped out by how much lower than Dourif's natural range the voice gets. Of course, this is definitely the case when Colleen Dewhurst (sometimes mistaken for Mercedes McCambridge) takes over vocal duties.
    • Patient X has a deep voice when played by Jason Miller due to the actor's naturally gravelly voice.
  • Failed a Spot Check: A frightening example, when a possessed old lady escapes the hospital by crawling across the ceiling, which isn't very high.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Sharp eyes will notice Fr. Dyer's head is stitched on during the dream sequence, as he sadly informs Bill he's not dreaming of the afterlife. The Angel of Death at his bed is also a clue.
  • Forced to Watch:
    • Part of the Master's revenge against Father Karras is that he's forced to watch while the Gemini Killer uses his body to murder people.
      Patient X: But the main thing is the torment of your friend, Father Karras, as he watches while I RIP, AND CUT, AND MUTILATE THE INNOCENT! HIS FRIENDS, AND AGAIN AND AGAIN! HE IS INSIDE WITH US! HE WILL NEVER GET AWAY! HIS PAIN WON'T END!
    • The Gemini Killer wanted to wait til Kinderman got home so he'd be there when his possessed woman cut off his daughter's head with garden shears.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "Do you dance?"
    • The Gemini Killer complains of how much blood was spilled when he murdered a waitress, and vowed to correct that. Apparently, he did with Father Dyer.
    • In the first act, Kinderman's mother-in-law criticizes his daughter Julie's long braid, saying she looks like Pocahontas. In the third act, the mother-in-law yanks Julie's head out of the Gemini's shears by pulling her braid.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Very little of the Gemini Killer's violence occurs onscreen. There are multiple different scenes where Kinderman has to examine the bodies (often by lifting up sheets), and we never actually see what he's seeing, but it's presumably quite horrible.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: William Peter Blatty goes so far to suggest that the evil spirit might not be Pazuzu this time, but might actually be Satan himself, although this raises questions as to why the head of all demons would be interested in petty revenge as opposed to something more grandiose.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: George C. Scott vs. Brad Dourif, a battle for the ages.
  • Hannibal Lecture. Brad Dourif out-Hannibal Lectures Hannibal Lecter; The Exorcist III was released a year before The Silence of the Lambs.
    The Gemini Killer: It's too bad about Father Dyer. I killed him, you know. An interesting problem, but finally... it worked! First, a bit of the ole succinylcholine to permit one to work without, ah, annoying distractions, then... a three foot catheter threaded directly into the inferior vena cava — or, superior vena cava. It's a matter of taste, I think, don't you? Then the tube moves through the vein, under the crease of the arm, into the vein that leads directly into the heart, and then, you just hold up the legs and you SQUEEZE the blood manually into the tube from the arms and the legs. There's a little shaking and pounding at the end for the dregs — it isn't perfect, there's a little blood left I'm afraid. BUT, regardless, the overall effect is astonishing! And isn't that REALLY what counts in the end? Yes GOOD SHOW BIZ, Lieutenant, the EFFECT! And then, off comes the head without spilling one single drop of blood. Now I call that SHOWMANSHIP, Lieutenant!
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: The climactic exorcism hinges on Kinderman being able to get Father Karras's original personality to manifest for just long enough that Kinderman can give him a Mercy Kill.
  • It's Personal: All of the Gemini's victims in the film are people Kinderman knows (Thomas, Dyer) or has met (Keating).
  • "Jaws" First-Person Perspective: We get to see what it was like for Father Karras to fall down those steps.
  • Jump Scare: One of the best in film history. The tension builds up for an incredibly long time including not one but two fakeouts before the victim exits the room and SCREEEEEECH! Poor Nurse Keating.
  • Large Ham.
    • George C. Scott is in his hammiest role, ever.
    Kinderman: Yes, I believe... I believe in death. I believe in disease'. I believe in injustice and inhumanity and 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.
    • Meanwhile, Brad Dourif's The Gemini Killer Lampshades this after an outburst ("But the main thing is the torment of your friend Father Karras as he watches while I rip and cut and mutilate the innocent, his friends, and again, and again, on and on! HE'S INSIDE WITH US! HE'LL NEVER GET AWAY! HIS PAIN WON'T END!") he sheepishly apologizes: "Gracious me. Was I raving? Please forgive me. I'm mad."
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: Nurse Keating is wearing a bright red jacket right before falling victim to Gemini.
  • Mercy Kill:
    Patient X: We won, me.
  • Mugged for Disguise: An old mental patient, possessed by Gemini, murders a nurse for her uniform.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Gemini's association with astrology is obviously influenced by the Zodiac killer, though their methods are nothing alike. Amusingly, the Zodiac once referred to the first movie as "the best saterical comidy [sic] that I have ever seen".
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Most of The Exorcist III derives its horror from implication and verbal speeches. And it works. Hardly a single dead body is actually seen onscreen; Kinderman's disgusted reactions to the killings tell us all we need to know.
  • Not Me This Time: The Gemini Killer tells Kinderman he wasn't really responsible for Temple's suicide, though he does chuckle that Temple actually believed him when he threatened him with torment if he didn't follow his instructions.
  • The Nth Doctor: The Gemini Killer switches actors depending on whether the audience is seeing things from Kinderman's perspective (in which he's played by Jason Miller) or from the "eyes of faith" perspective (where he's played by Brad Dourif).
  • Off with Her Head!: The Gemini Killer's MO.
  • Poetic Serial Killer: The Gemini Killer thinks of himself as an artist and takes great pride in his work.
    Patient X: Incidentally, did you know that you're speaking to an artist?
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Gemini Killer is gleefully racist, murdering a 12-year-old black boy and replacing his head with a decapitated head from a Christ sculpture that he's painted in blackface.
  • Posthumous Character: Thomas is killed either before the movie even starts or right after the opening credits (depending on how much of the credits sequence was just Patient X's dream), but is a big reason for Kinderman's personal interest in the case, actually shows up in Kinderman's nightmare, and don't get started on how he plays into the climatic showdown.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: One of the Gemini Killer's Calling Cards is doubling the letter L when it appears at the end of a word, like "wonderfull".
  • Sacrificial Lion: Father Dyer dies midway through the film after being a major character up until that point.
  • Scare Chord: The soundtrack lets out an ungodly SCREECH right as the Gemini Killer attacks Nurse Keating.
  • Serial Killer: The Gemini Killer.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Kinderman, after The Gemini Killer gets a little too graphic.
    Gemini Killer: (after Kinderman breaks his nose, mockingly) Oooh, a few boos from the gallery, I see.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Kinderman and Dyer see It's a Wonderful Life every year.
    • The Georgetown University president states flatly that his favorite film is The Fly (1986).
    • Dyer tells a nurse who'd mistaken him for a patient named Schwartz, "May the Schwartz be with you," quoting Spaceballs.
    • Patient X quotes John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud" in his first scene.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The Gemini Killer says of The Bard's plays, he loves Titus Andronicus the best, calling it "sweet." Those familiar with the play will know why.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Father Dyer.
  • Surreal Horror:
    • The opening credits.
    • Kinderman's nightmare.
    • The old woman crawling around on the ceiling above an oblivious Kinderman.
    • Brad Dourif's voice changing pitch throughout each of his scenes.
  • Talking to the Dead: Some of the dementia patients talk to their appliances, having conversations with dead people. It's a Call-Back to the original The Exorcist, as Fr. Karras' mother was reportedly talking to her radio, too.
Dt. Kinderman: What's wrong with (the radio)?
Mrs. Clelia: Dead people talking.
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked with the animatronic grinning pianists at Grand Central during the Dream Sequence for Nightmare Fuel.
  • Weak-Willed: "Catatonics are so easy to possess."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The film doesn't make it clear if Father Morning survives his injuries. It's even possible that his recovery during the climax is a divine intervention to mirror the infernal one which allowed Gemini to return.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Nurse Allerton gives one near the end of the film to Kinderman, which leads to a "Eureka!" Moment for the cop.
  • Wicked Cultured: The Gemini Killer considers his murders to be art, and is a big fan of Shakespeare. He also quotes John Donne in his introductory scene, and breaks out into song at one point, his voice unnaturally morphing into that of a child as he sings an aria.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: