After the massive worldwide success and phenomenon of "The Exorcist" in 1973, film goers were dumbfounded by the craptastic sequel "Exorcist II:The Heretic" in '77.
Understandably, they were hesitant when THE EXORCIST III was released in 1990.
Much better than the second film, this edition is written and directed by William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original book of "The Exorcist" as well as the first film.
Some of the story elements are excellent.
It seems that the same night that the young priest Damien Karras was tumbling down those Washington steps with Regan's demon inside of him, another source of evil was getting ready to be unleashed.
When a series of gruesome murders in DC directly replicate the Gemini killings 17 years after his death, police lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott) follows all leads to a psychiatric hospital where he makes a very chilling discovery.
As a good friend of Father Karras (Jason Miller) in the original story, Kinderman begins to see links to the evil of the Regan MacNeil case many years before.
What Blatty does so well here is create an enormous sense of dread. As pure evil begins to take over innocent people who become pawns of a legion of demons, the series of ritualistic murders escalates, each one depicted in more detail and length than the last.
There is a scene just past the halfway point in which Kinderman's best friend, Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) is in the hospital. Blatty's camera sits at the the end of a long hallway for nearly five minutes. A nurse checks out some strange noises in a room, policemen guarding the wing slip in and out of frame during a shift change, time unwinds in real time. The payoff for the scene is a huge scare so far from what you'd expect that it makes your skin crawl.
Beatty's got more than a few of those up his sleeve during this taut and scary two hours.
Scott is full tilt George C. here, shouting plenty of lines and portraying a man very much at the end of his rope as reality is tested by what he's watching happen.
By the time he accompanies the head psychiatrist Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson in a chain-smoking, quietly tortured performance) into the maximum security wing and looks in to meet Patient X, the suspense and payoffs come in waves.
Viveca Lindorfs visit to Kinderman's home as Nurse X and our elderly patient's transistor radios getting some strange messages add to the fear.
This is a much better film than anticipated and is by far the best of the endless sequels and offshoots to capitalize on the "Exorcist" brand.
I could complain that some of Blatty's dialogue is very mannered (it is) and that Nicol Williamson (Excalibur) needs more backstory than he gets, but that would be ignoring his great scenes with Brad Dourif as The Gemini Killer and Patient X.
Creepy as hell and a blast for those of us that love a smart & scary movie, EXORCIST III proves that the third time's the charm, even for Pazuzu.
He and his legion get a solid B+.
Followed in 2004 by "Exorcist: The Beginning".