VERSUS: The Exorcist VS. The Exorcist 3
The Exorcist 3 is superior to the first film because it works on a level of metaphysical Horror that was beyond the ken of William Friedkin, who took Blatty’s rather obvious novel and shoved our faces into the bloody crotch of a 13 year old girl.
The Exorcist is completely unsubtle and the whole premise seems designed to be sensationalistic rather than attempt to truly unnerve people the way part 3 does. Yeah, 3 has some shock jumps (and that stupid fucking Exorcism) but if you read Blatty’s original novel Legion, you’ll see how much more powerful a story it is.
For instance, one of the thing’s that has always bothered me about The Exorcist is the fact that there is no reason for the Devil, or any other demon, to possess that 13 year old girl. I know a lot of you will say “but the Devil has no purpose beyond evil”. But there must be a reason why out of all the people in the world to possess, it chooses this girl in particular?
I know a lot of you will say it was about Father Merrin facing his (literal) demons and Father Karras’ crisis of faith in the wake of the death of his mother but that, IMHO, makes it no different than some police drama about the old timer and the young guy who questions if he’s doing any good. There’s others who will say it’s about how a mother must turn to the church when modern medicine and science fails to help her daughter.
Or maybe it’s, as some have suggested, that the movie is really about a parent panicking over her daughters emerging sexuality due to puberty and unable to control her daughters raging hormones with medicine and science, she goes medieval and has two celibate men torture her back into submission.
But none of these theories give any reason why it’s THIS girl in particular and that has always bothered me. To me it’s just “oh, let’s spin her head around and have her jam a cross into her cunt!”. The Exorcist feels like Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ which settles for torture and grue over any real sort of theological reasons why audiences should feel that they’ve seen an act of spiritual salvation. In both cases the movies seem to say that physical pain has some sort of cleansing properties which helps a person become of one with the divine. That sounds like bullshit to me and Rodney King sure as fuck didn’t become a Priest after the LAPD beat his ass.
In comparison, The Exorcist 3 presents the Horror of an executed killer using the re-animated body of a “saintly priest” to commit hideous murders through the possession of comatose patients – “A Horror to the eyes of all men who seek faith” as the Gemini Killer puts it as opposed to a sweet, innocent little girl talking dirty and puking GREEEEEEEEEEENNN SLIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMEEE, GREEEEEEEEENNN SLIIIIIIIIIIMMMEEE, GREEEEEEEEEN SLIIIIIIMME which seems a bit Special ED for the Devil if you ask me. This also presents a crisis for Sgt. Kinderman who must accept that these thing’s are happening and who must, in the end, kill his friend in the face of the punishment that he could be subjected to for doing so. He doesn’t take this lightly and only does so once he discovers the Gemini’s secret and after the murder of his friend Father Dyer not to mention the near murder of his own daughter.
But the main reason that I think that The Exorcist 3 is superior to the original is because of the incredible mood and atmosphere that Blatty achieves not to mention the outright surreal and weird shit that goes on. Like I said, he resorts to jump scares here and there, particularly the infamous Hallway sequence, but that scene’s where Kinderman is dreaming of the afterlife is more haunting and FUCKED UP than anything Friedkin did.
Blatty’s Exorcist movie is like Kubrick’s The Shining where as Friedkin’s is like the Stephen King novel. Or another comparison would be that Exorcist 3 is like The Silence of the Lambs film, mostly a series of gripping conversations between two opponents, where as Friedkin’s movie is more like Hannibal, baroque grand guignol designed to simply shock and horrify.
Blatty’s movie has more on it’s mind and he’s a much better Director than Friedkin who’s like a bull in a China shop. If you needed further proof of Blatty’s superior skills then watch the two movies that made Friedkin famous, The French Connection and The Exorcist, and compare them to Blatty’s fantastic The Ninth Configuration (the middle part of his Faith Trilogy including The Exorcist and Legion) and The Exorcist 3.
On a final note, I will say that one of the benefits of the studio imposed re-shoots on Exorcist 3 was that they were able to get Jason Miller in to shoot the scene’s which were juxtaposed with Brad Dourif’s work thus adding to the dual nature of Patient X who was host to not only the Gemini Killer but also the emerging spirit of Father Karras.