Monday, September 27, 2010

Exorcist III: Legion (film review)

I consider this the only true sequel to the first masterpiece. Exorcist ends with Father Dyer looking down the formidable flight of stairs (the same stairs that took his best friend Father Karras’ life – he even reads him his Last rites). The beginning of Exorcist III begins in Georgetown in 1990 with Father Dyer looking down those same stairs 15 years later to the day (probably after midnight).

The eery opening of the movie, filled with imagery of creepy Christ statues, fog and rushing wind, encapulates the tone for the rest of the movie. There is something ominous lurking in the darkness. The beginning viewpoint of the camera is set through the eyes of the killer, slowly creeping through the muggy streets to the first victim of the movie – a black boy holding a rose. The next morning, we see Det. Bill Kinderman (a very loud George C. Scott) hovering over the body of the dead boy with the boy’s mother sobbing to the side. The victim is later identified as Thomas Kintry, who belonged to the Police Boys club.

Later on, during a lunch with his best friend Father Dyer, Kinderman describes what happened to the young boy:

"The killer drove an ingot into each of his eyes, then cut off his head…in place of his head was the head from a statue of Christ all done up in blackface, like a minstrel show, you know, the eyes and mouth painted white. …The boy had been crucified on a pair of rowing oars."

Kinderman is a run-down, hardened detective who has seen his share of vice and murder, and he is no stranger to death and despair of the city. A seasoned cop who has already accepted that “the world is a homicide victim,” these recent murders (and their extremely violent nature) jolt and remind him of the heinous nature in which he lost his best friend Father Karras. In the beginning of the film, we see him at his desk holding up a picture of him and Father Karras. They were the best of friends, but their friendship ended abruptly when Karras jumped out of Regan’s window and fell down the flight of stairs. He is now best friends with Father Dyer, most likely because they were both very close to Father Karras and have bonded through their strife.

The next victim is a Father Kanavan, who thinks he is absolving an old lady of her sins (whose voice is very reminiscent of Mercedes McCambridge!) but what she says in the confessional booth is not the run of the mill sin-talk.

Old Lady: “I have a…a scrupulous conscience, Father, this need to confess so many things. If I step on two straws in the shape of a cross, I feel that I have to confess it. It torments me."

Father Kanavan: “We’ll try to make a good confession, and remember, Christ forgives us all our sins.”

Old lady: “Only little things. Nothing. Seventeen of them, Father. The first was that waitress near Candlestick Park, I cut her throat and watched her bleed. She bled a great deal. It’s a problem that I’m working on, Father…All this bleeding. Heh Heh Heh!”

Father Kanavan is then viciously murdered in his own confessional booth.

The 3rd victim hits Kinderman close to home: his own buddy Father Dyer is murdered while lying in his hospital bed (he was there for some health tests I believe). Dyer is decapitated, and his entire blood supply is in several jars next to his bed, although some blood was used to write a little message above his bed.

Later on in the movie, Kinderman figures out that the murders are all interconnected. He first picks up on the killer’s modus operandi of which he is very familiar with – the Gemini Killings that took place in 1974 (not to be confused with the real life Zodiac Killer). The calling cards from the Gemini Killings are very close to the murders here: all the victims' names (first, middle or last) begin with the letter ‘K.’ Also, the killer cuts off the index finger of the right hand and carves the sign of the Gemini in the left palm. Twenty-one year old James Venamun (Brad Dourif) was put to death in the electric chair for these crimes, so this baffles the detective. Are these copy cat killings? Or has the killer come back from the dead?

Kinderman also figures out that the 3 victims all have the Regan MacNeil exorcism in common.

Thomas Kintry (the first victim) was the son of Mrs. Kintry who was sent a tape by Damien Karras that had the voice of a possessed Regan on it. She was the linguists expert that figured out the language was in fact English in reverse.

Father Kanavan is the one who gave Father Karras permission to investigate the MacNeil case in the first place, and Father Dyer is of course the one who mentioned Father Karras to Chris MacNeil at the party and probably the one that nudged her to seek him out for help with Regan.

Kinderman is then led by a soppy Dr. Temple who leads him to the "disturbed" wing of Georgetown General Hospital. Residing there in the dark, musty room is a Patient X who insists that he is the Gemini Killer. When Detective Kinderman meets the man in room, he cannot believe his eyes. Before him sits Father Karras, his best friend, a man he regards as a saint. Even though Karras has been ‘dead’ for 15 years, it is his body that sits before him; only it is James Venamun’s voice that comes out of Karras’ mouth.

Venamun tell Det. Kinderman that when his soul was slipping out of his body in the electric chair, Father Karras was supposively dying on the base of the infamous flight of stairs. ‘The Master,’ in an effort to wage revenge on all those involved in exorcising the demons out of Regan’s body, slips Venamun’s soul into Karras as his was slipping out. He was then picked up wondering the C&O Canal by authorities, and was stowed away in the Georgetown General Hospital disturbed ward for 15 years, of which he was catatonic with little activity. Only recently, he has awaken and carrying out ‘The Masters’ plan of revenge by possessing catatonics in order to continue the Gemini Killer’s dirty work.

"Oh, yes, their names began with a ‘K.’ That little modicum at least I was able to insist upon. … “I was obliged to settle the score on behalf of…well…a friend."

Venamun kills the Kintry boy, Father Kanavan, and Father Joseph K. Dyer in order to get in good with his ‘friend on the other side,’ in order to given a break when he is finally delivered in hell after his duties are carried through.

Because Det. Kinderman refuses to tell the press that Venamun is in fact the Gemini Killer, Venamun keeps punishing Kinderman by killing more and more in an effort to prove to him that he is in fact the Gemini. He is thrown ‘a bone’ from the master and is given a victim that is not connected with the Regan exorcism – nurse Amy Keating. Her murder is perhaps one of the most startling I’ve ever seen - the way that Blatty builds the tension is unparalleled.

Kinderman is still as staunch as ever and will not tell the press that Venamun is the Gemini Killer, and so he goes after Kinderman’s daughter by possessing a catatonic to go to his house, posing as a nurse. Kinderman arrives just in time to save her.

Meanwhile, a Father Morning (who has previously performed exorcisms in the Phillippines) comes to Venamun’s room and begins to try and rid Karras of the demons that possess him. He is somewhat unsuccessful at the time. Kinderman comes back to Venamun’s room after saving his daughter and has a showdown with Venamun/demons. He gives an ‘I believe’ speech that rivals any horror movie soliloquy to date:

Venamun: “Have I helped your unbelief?”

Det. Kinderman: “Oh yes. 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, and I believe in pain. I believe in cruelty and infidelity! I believe in slime and stink! And in every crawling putrid thing, every possible ugliness and corruption! You son of a b!tch! I believe…in you

Then Father Morning regenerates in the corner and grabs Venamun’s attention, begging the inner-Karras spirit to fight. This works, and for a split second Karras is able to drive out the demons at which point he implores Kinderman to shoot now! Shoot now! Kinderman shoots his best friend, and Karras dies and is able to finally rest in peace.


Lt. William ‘Bill’ Kinderman(George C. Scott)

We are first introduced to Kinderman in Exorcist (played by Lee J. Cobb), sitting on the bleachers waiting for Karras to finish his jog around the Georgetown Univ. track. He meets Karras while investigating Burke Denning’s strange death at the bottom of those infamous stairs. He is connecting a church desecration with Denning’s death (whose head was twisted completely around) and is wondering if there aren’t any crazy priests with a spite against the church running about. Karras may know because he is the resident Jesuit psychiatrist who is privy to any information about disturbed priests. A friendship evolves (mostly off-screen). They have a friendly banter that hints at a developing close bond.

In Exorcist III, Kinderman now has that same close relationship with Father Dyer, who also carries a witty rapport with the detective. Dyer is Kinderman’s shoulder and a sounding board whenever Kinderman needs to blow off some steam or talk about his cases. He is a rundown man who has seen too much, and you can see the experiences etched in his weathered face.

Father Joseph Kevin Dyer (Ed Flanders)

We first see him as a young priest at the MacNeil’s party in the first movie. He is also the one playing the piano for the small group that is lucky enough to witness Regan’s first sympton of possession, in the form of peeing on the floor.
His rapport with Det. Kinderman is perfect. It is a subdued comedy – you have to listen for it, like you would on an episode of the West Wing.

The Gemini Killer/James Venamun (Brad Dourif)

The Gemini Killer is James Venamun, a twenty-one year old that murdered about seventeen people before he was sentenced to die in the electric chair in 1974. He possesses Father Karras’ old body and is kept in the disturbed ward at the Georgetown General Hospital.
Brad Dourif is amazing in this role and I think he carries the film to a whole other sphere.

Nurse Allerton (Nancy Fish)

Nurse Allerton is seen escorting a possessed catatonic to the confessional booth where Father Kanavan dies. Later on she helps Det. Kinderman in his investigation regarding Father Dyer’s murder. Not sure if she was possessed when she escorted the catatonic, but there is no hint that she is further involved in the murders after Kanavan gets it.

Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson)

Dr. Temple is a chain-smoking doormat of a man who is threatened by Venamun into bringing Det. Kinderman to him. He commits suicide later on out of fear of Venamun.

***Final Thoughts***

1. In this movie, Det. Kinderman and Karras are best friends, but there is a bit of controversy surrounding this idea – mainly because the first movie only has the two men meeting once before Karras jumps out of Regan’s window and meets his death. I've always wondered when they had time to become the best of buddies?

2. Some people have regarded the dream sequence (before Father Dyer dies) as a cheesefest that almost ruins the whole movie. There are cameos from Fabio, Patrick Ewing, and Samuel L. Jackson. I'm curious to hear any opinions on this dream sequence, and significance.

3. I think the scene where Nurse Amy Keating dies is one of the most startling moments in underrated cinema. I defy anyone to name another death sequence that has as much tension and scare factor as this one.

4. It has been said that Blatty was forced to film an exorcism at the end of this movie because the movie title had the word ‘Exorcist’ in it, and it had to have the word ‘Exorcist’ instead of just ‘Legion’ in order to bait movie-goers into seeing a sequel. Do you think this compromised the quality and intention of the movie. Did we really need Father Morning at the end? What would have been a better ending to this movie?

5. I have two favorite moments in the film: when Dr. Temple is rehearsing his lines and chain-smoking in his office. When I first saw this, I thought it was just showing a man who had extremely low self-confidence and was rehearsing what he was going to say to Kinderman in order to impress him. I thought this was unique and original. Later on I learned that he was just rehearsing what Venamun told him to tell Kinderman.
Another favorite part is when Kinderman is telling Father Dyer the carp story after watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The beginning of the movie is light-hearted and interspersed with subdued comedy, especially in the carp-banter between Kinderman and Dyer. It later takes a moody turn when Dyer dies – you can feel the shift in the tone of the movie.

6. I feel Blatty did an amazing job of directing his first film, and considering he wrote the book as well, it's impressive that he was able to focus and turn out such a masterpiece. Certain scenes in the movie are shot with pure creativeness and genius. For example, when Kinderman first begins talking with patient X, and only sees his friend Damien Karras sitting across from him – and we see Karras as well. Then suddenly, he turns into Venamun (Dourif) and says “Look at me! Look at me, and tell me what you see!” Kinderman’s reaction doesn’t change, and we can tell that Kinderman still sees Karras’ body. The viewer, however, sees the Gemini Killer – we have the inside track while Kinderman is still in the dark. Venamun then says “if you looked with the eyes of faith, you’d see me….”


Grotto said...

It's amazing what an enormous impact the failure of Exorcist II had on this film's success. It is a truly under-rated and under-appreciated work.

And you're dead on about the Keating murder. One of the most effective scenes of its kind.

Thanks for this.

Dr. AC, Fool for Blood said...

Thank god someone called out my biggest complaint with this film: The fact that Kinderman and Karras are "best friends." Seriously, when the hell did that happen? They met once, and then Karras took a big dive out the window. Well done on that, Krisenthia.

FYI: EXORCIST 3 was the second movie that Blatty directed. He did a bang-up job with THE NINTH CONFIGURATION in 1980, based off his own novel TWINKLE TWINKLE KILLER KANE. Some really funny dialogue in there, which shows Blatty's comedic background before EXORCIST "ruined" it for him. (his words)

vicjoy1945 said...

Jeez !! This plot seems SO familiar to me...where have I seen this before !?!



vicjoy1945 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
alyrenee said...

Th killing of the nurse always creeps the bejebus out of me. This movie never fails to give me serious nightmares. And oh how I heart Brad Dourif.