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Film / The Exorcist III

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"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," 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.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • Back from the Dead: Deconstructed like hell with Father Karras.
  • Badass Boast:
    Pazuzu: This time, you're going to lose.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the novel, Pazuzu accomplishes his revenge.
  • Berserk Button
    Kinderman: The Gemini is dead.
    • Another one for the Gemini: anyone who has an initial starting with a "K".
  • Big "NO!"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Call-Back: "I have dreams of a rose... and falling down a long flight of steps."
  • The Cameo: Fabio makes his first screen appearance in the Dream Sequence, along with Patrick Ewing as The Angel Of Death, Samuel L. Jackson as the blind man, while other Washington, DC personalities such as then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson walking around. Larry King makes a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in the diner.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Despite the "III" in the title, the film completely ignores the much-reviled second entry. However, 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.
      • The end of the original film implies the two will become friends, but they otherwise barely interact over the course of the runtime.
  • 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.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Nicol Williamson (who plays Father Morning) is mentioned in William Peter Blatty's original novel 'Legion' which was adapted for this movie.
  • Central Theme: The nature of faith is the recurring theme of the film.
  • Confessional: A brutal murder occurs in one offscreen.
  • 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.
  • Demon of Human Origin: The Gemini Killer was a man so evil that he became a demon after striking a deal with the ancient demon Pazuzu (the one who possessed Regan in the first film).
  • Despair Event Horizon: James Venamun crossed it when his brother died, and became the Gemini Killer.
  • The Dragon: The Gemini Killer to the evil spirit who is helping him.
  • Dream Sequence. The Exorcist III, for Nightmare Fuel.
  • 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.
  • Eureka Moment:
    Allerton: Do you treat your family this way?!
    (You can almost see the light bulb appear above Kinderman's head.)
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: In Legion, James Venamun loved his brother, visiting him in the hospital many times over the years. And when he was killed at the hands of a reckless nurse, it hit Venamun hard.
  • 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.
  • 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. It's all but outright stated that supernatural forces are at work to keep people from noticing her. Or, from the simple fact she does it behind his back.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • "Do you dance?"
    • The Gemini Killer complains of how much blood was spilt when he murdered a waitress, and vowed to correct that. Apparently, he did with Dyer.
    • In the confessional, the Gemini Killer (who is possessing an old woman) complains in the confessional to the priest that his victims cause too much of a mess by bleeding all over the place, and he needs to figure out a way to solve it. See the Hannibal Lecture for how he solves that issue.
  • 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 grandoise.
  • 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!
  • 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: Poor Nurse Keating.
  • Large Ham. The Exorcist III has George C. Scott 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."
  • Mercy Kill:
    Patient X: We won, me.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Gemini is obviously a stand-in for the Zodiac Killer, another serial killer who terrorized San Francisco. The only difference being that the Zodiac's identity remains a mystery to this day. 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.
  • The Nth Doctor: The Gemini Killer switches actors depending on whether the audience is seeing things from Kinderman's perspetive (in which he's played by Jason Miller) or from the "eyes of faith" perspective (where he's played by Brad Dourif).
  • 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: he spelled words like wonderful or eventful with two L's (ie. "wonderfull".)
  • Sacrificial Lion: Father Dyer.
  • 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 peanut gallery.
  • Shout-Out: The nurse Lisa in Silent Hill is based off of a scene with a nurse in a red sweater.
  • 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
    • 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.
    • I See Dead People: Or they just hear them.
      Dt. Kinderman: What's wrong with (the radio)?
      Mrs. Clelia: Dead people talking.
    • It's a Call-Back to the original The Exorcist, as Fr. Karras' mother was reportedly talking to her radio, too.
  • 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 the Hell, Hero?: Nurse Allerton gives one near the end of the film to Kinderman, which leads to a Eureka Moment for the cop.


Example of: