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SYFY WIRE The Exorcist

The Exorcist III Remains One of Horror's Most Underrated Sequels

William Peter Blatty's follow-up to The Exorcist is rich, frightening, and packed with unforgettable scares.

By Matthew Jackson

Every once in a while, the Horror Internet gets talking about particular elements of our favorite genre, and someone brings up the best jump scares in the history of cinema. All the usual suspects get trotted out in gif and clip form, but in recent years, one has risen to eclipse many of the moments of terror that live in popular infamy.

It starts in a hallway, a hospital hallway where a nurse putters around making all the requisite stops and starts that come with her job, while a police officer kicks back nearby. It's humdrum, almost boring, but because of the nature of the film which contains the moment, we're waiting for something. Finally, we get it, as a nurse crosses the hall, only to be followed by a figure in white wielding gleaming, deadly shears. It might not sound like much when it's described like that, but in practice, this moment, even in isolation, is among the most heart-racing in horror history, and it comes from a film that, until recently, we didn't talk about nearly enough.

Why Now Is a Great Time to Revisit The Exorcist III

The film, as you've probably guessed by now, is The Exorcist III, William Peter Blatty's screen adaptation of his novel Legion, and the third film in the Exorcist franchise that's set to get a new dose of fear with The Exorcist: Believer in just a few days. Thanks to streaming –– it's available right now on Peacock for the curious –– the film has enjoyed a new round of reappraisals in recent years, bringing up discussions not just of its iconic jump scare, but of the entire film, Blatty's ability to twist the Exorcist lore to new ends, and its status as a worthy sequel to a horror classic. So, as we prepare for another round of Exorcist scares, let's take a closer look. 

RELATED: Why The Exorcist Still Haunts Us, 50 Years Later

Rather than working as a straightforward demonic possession story, Exorcist III instead picks up on the story of a police detective from the original film, William Kinderman, played this time around by the great George C. Scott. Kinderman, played in the first film by Lee J. Cobb, was the detective who investigated the mysterious occurrences at the MacNeil house back during Regan's possession, and he's been haunted by the death of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) ever since. When the film picks up, 15 years have passed since Karras died, and Kinderman is dealing with a pair of weighty concerns: remembering Karras, and pursuing new leads in a case he thought he'd wrapped up years ago.

For much of its runtime, The Exorcist III pursues a narrative that follows an apparent copycat of the Gemini Killer, a brutal serial murderer who supposedly died years ago, and therefore can't be responsible for this set of crimes. Or can he? As Kinderman gets closer to the case, and descends into darkness as he ponders evil he thought he vanquished years ago, he starts to realize that something supernatural is afoot, that maybe Gemini didn't die, but lived on in another, darker form. 

It's here that the connective tissue between this film and the original Exorcist is brought forward, with help from Miller returning in a cameo performance. How it all works is best left to see for yourself if you've never watched the film before, but it's a satisfying explanation that serves to bind the two movies together, even if that explanation does feel a little clunky and overlong. 

What that connection ultimately achieves, though, is far more impressive than the continuity juggling act to get us there. Through a combination of serial killer narrative and supernatural mystery, Blatty is able to weave new threads into the same thematic tapestry he explored in the original Exorcist. That film is, at its core, about the impenetrable reasoning of evil, the insanity of it, the way it attacks the innocent and the pure and the beautiful, and tears it apart for no reason other than because it can. Those same ideas return in Exorcist III, and Scott is remarkably good as a tired, aging man of justice doing his best to navigate yet another string of evil acts that don't make any sense, that transcend not just reason and morality but physical form. It's a wonderfully complete picture of that particular kind of evil, and Blatty sketches it out not just through his script, but through a very well-honed visual sensibility as director. 

The result is one of the most underappreciated horror films of its era, a supernatural epic that's getting new fans all the time thanks to its instant availability online. So, if you're still waiting to experience the full story, now's the time. 

The Exorcist III is now streaming on Peacock. The Exorcist saga continues with The Exorcist: Believer, in theaters Oct. 6. Get tickets at Fandango.