Fifteen years ago, the so-called Gemini Killer was sent to the electric chair and Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott) thought that was the last he would ever hear of him. But now there has been a disturbing development where the body of a twelve-year-old boy has been found decapitated, his head replaced with the head of a statue stolen from a nearby church, the face painted to look like a minstrel. This is precisely the kind of behaviour that the Gemini Killer would have gotten up to - if he were still alive, but the fact that this is also the anniversary of a priest's mysterious death, which occured at the same time the murderer expired, sets Kinderman's mind racing...
It's safe to say that The Exorcist III disappointed a lot of people when it was first released back in 1990, not that the theatres were exactly packed once word got around what kind of film it was. Yet curiously if it wasn't some effects-filled chiller, it did live up the original in that it tackled the big theological questions, it's just that this is about all it did for almost two hours, leaving an experience not so much chatty as talky. Nothing is so bad that it cannot be discussed out of the problems it raises appeared to be the maxim director William Peter Blatty was living by, as far as the production of this second sequel went anyway.
Needless to say, as far as the equally unsuccessful first sequel went, it never happened in the timeline of this, which was based on Blatty's novel Legion, a follow up more in themes than events. Indeed, until late in the day Exorcist III was to be released under that title whereupon the studio execs decided not only would it make more commercial sense to use the new title, but it would be better if there was an exorcism in it as well because there was not supposed to be in the first cut. This meant superfluous scenes featuring Nicol Williamson inserted into the action, playing a priest who happens to be a dab hand at casting out spirits, a practice he tries out for the grand finale which doesn't come across as in keeping with the rest of it, icky special effects and all.
However, if you can accept the film was hamstrung by the fact that its backers had little faith in Blatty's vision for his material, enough of the religious musings does get through to make this more intelligent than your run of the mill shocker. This does turn out to be mostly illustrated in dialogue rather than action, but Scott especially looked as if he was relishing the chance to gab away with his fellow cast members on the subject of evil and how we can weigh up God's purpose for us in the world where you could be forgiven for thinking it was taking over. As the Gemini copycat murders continue, all of them losing their heads, Kinderman finds himself strangely drawn to a hospital where not only has his old friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) been taken, but there seems to be a Gemini influence there as well.
Not least when Dyer ends up headless and his blood drained into neat little cups on the bedside, not something you imagine is proper medical procedure. As if that were not bad enough, there's a patient who was brought in as a amnesiac who now is practically catatonic, except when Kinderman goes to visit him he is shocked to see he recognises the man as the supposedly deceased Father Damien Karras, offering us the opportunity to see Jason Miller again in another studio-imposed decision. With all this going on - the patient also looks like a ranting Gemini (Brad Dourif was cast first) depending on his mood - it's no surprise that the point of it all is lost in a muddle of chit-chat and admittedly striking tension sequences, the most famous of which involves a nervy nurse, a hospital corridor at night, and a big shock for her and certain audience members. You'll wish it was more lucid in what it set out to achieve, because it would be provocative if only it wasn't such a mishmash. Music by Barry De Vorzon.