The Exorcist III (1990)
It took me a long time to track a copy of this down. Fifteen years after Father Damien Karras’s exorcism of Regan McNeil, a serial killer sets out on a series of brutal murders that is reminiscent of the long-dead Gemini Killer. Each death is a meticulous obscenity that is wisely more spoken of than shown. Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (the ever wonderful George C. Scott) is a seasoned but good humoured detective trying to connect the dots.
Kinderman has a tender relationship with Father Dyer, played by Ed Flanders, because they both knew the dead Father Karras. I’d heard Mark Kermode talk about George C Scott’s improvised story about carp that makes Ed Flanders giggle, so it was a joy to see it in context. The two men bond over cinema and banter like an old married couple. This gives the midpoint plot development an extra emotional kick.
The whole film is more of an existential downer than I expected. It’s about a demon bringing hell to earth after all. It’s flawed but also filled with wonders, and it must have been an influence on David Fincher’s Seven. Brad Dourif has to say some awful dialogue but gives such a great performance you almost buy it (souls drifting after death so that demons can slip them into other people’s bodies?). The final act is a bit of a mess, but portrayals of hell are tricky, especially with 1990 special effects. The now-famous hospital jump scare is truly one for the ages.