The Exorcist franchise is one wacky series. You had the amazing original film, which was one of the most intense horror films to come out at the time. Then, 4 years later we got the crazy, shitty Exorcist II: The Heretic, that featured a near naked James Earl Jones dressed as an insect. It wasn’t until 13 years later that we finally got a proper sequel, The Exorcist III, also plagued with issues, with both Director/Author William Peter Blatty and the studio not agreeing on what they wanted as a final product. I haven’t even mentioned the even crazier Exorcist: The Beginning, directed by Renny Harlin, which was later re-released as the slightly superior version Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, directed by Paul Schrader. I could go on for days about the troubled history of these last two films, but I won’t.
Today I want to focus on The Exorcist III, as Scream Factory has just released an amazing Blu-ray, which features the much talked about William Peter Blatty Director’s Cut, which tells a story that is closer to his book Legion, which I will also delve into. There will be plenty of spoilers, so if you are just interested in how the Blu-ray performs, skip to the BLU-RAY OPINION portion of the review.
RUN-TIME: 110 min
ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1
AUDIO: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
PRODUCTION DATE: 1990
RELEASE DATE: Oct 25, 2016
For more than fifteen years Police Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) has been haunted by the death of his friend Father Damien Karras. Now, on the 15th anniversary of the exorcism that claimed the priest’s life, Kinderman’s world is once again shattered when a boy is found decapitated and savagely crucified. It’s just the beginning of a nightmare series of bizarre religious murders.
The brutal murders bear the hallmarks of the infamous Gemini Killer…who died in the electric chair fifteen years earlier. But when a psychopath claiming to be the Gemini Killer reveals intimate, gruesome details that only the true killer could possibly know, Kinderman is confronted with a horrifying truth that he cannot explain…and that will shake him to the core.
The Exorcist III is author/filmmaker William Peter Blatty’s personal vision of what followed after The Exorcist. Like the original, The Exorcist III combines elements of a detective story, a theological puzzle, and an unforgettable study in terror.
First up, let us discuss the William Peter Blatty’s Legion book, released in 1983. The novel Legion was originally going to be a sequel to The Exorcist movie, with William Friedkin returning to direct, but things just couldn’t get off the ground and Friedkin left and Blatty decided to turn his screenplay into a novel. The book is a loose sequel to the original The Exorcist novel, with a couple returning characters. Returning are Detective William Kinderman and Father Dyer, both who were friends with Father Damien Karras. Although the book tells you that Detective Kinderman was a big time friend with Karras, but honestly, I never felt that when reading the original The Exorcist novel.
The story behind Legion focuses on a murder investigation involving the deceased Gemini Killer and Kinderman, who is trying to figure exactly who is behind these most recent killings, which bear the true MO of the Gemini Killer. He eventually ends up interviewing a psych patient who says he is the Gemini Killer, but when Kinderman visits him, he is thrown for a loop when he sees “the definitely should be dead” Father Damien Karras, who has now become possessed by the Gemini Killer. The rest of the novel, unfortunately, features pages and pages of Blatty’s theories on evolution and random nonsense that has nothing to do with the main story. Honestly, the book ended up being awful because of that.
When 1990 was approaching, a sequel to The Exorcist was being demanded. Blatty came on as writer/director and went to work adapting his once screenplay, now a book, Legion. The original idea for Exorcist III, at the time also called Legion, was to follow the original story pretty closely and not have any sort of exorcism at all. Blatty hired actor Brad Dourif to play Damien Karras, as Jason Miller was indisposed at the time and the film was nearing completion before the studio was like “Hey, why is there no damn exorcism in this movie?” What is a film studio to do then? Why, reshoots!!
They managed to get Jason Miller to come back to play Father Damien Karras and most of Brad Dourif’s scenes were reshot. However, they still kept Dourif in the film, as when the possessed Karras is revealed to be the Gemini Killer, the appearance of Karras(Miller) changes into Dourif. It’s a convoluted idea, but for the most part, it works.
Just bringing back an original The Exorcist actor wasn’t their only request, though, as they also wanted to tack on an exorcism near the end of the film, which brings up a whole bunch of issues with the movie.
You see, as Father Karras was dying at the bottom of those infamous steps, the Gemini Killer was being electrocuted in prison. A menacing being known only as The Master (The Devil?) didn’t want the Gemini Killer to stop doing what he was doing, so he slipped his soul into the dying Karras’ body. However, Karras’ head was like jello, so he was a bit brain damaged and it took 15 years for the Gemini Killer to gain enough power to start controlling and possessing people.
The problem we get into with the tacked on exorcism, though, is that technically, the Gemini Killer isn’t a demon per say, but just a soul living inside another person’s body. The new exorcism ending all of a sudden makes it seem like Father Karras is in fact possessed by a demon, but really he isn’t.
I suppose an exorcism could expel a foreign entity from a corrupted body, but please explain to me the crazy imagery of snakes, demon eyes, lightning and the Gemini Killer’s sudden ability to fling shit around with his mind during the ending? It just doesn’t make sense.
Another big issue is the introduction of a new character by the name of Father Morning (Nicol Williamson), a priest who has dealt with exorcisms and demons before. His inclusion in the movie is jarring after having watched the exorcism-less Legion cut. How Father Morning figures out that Father Karras is alive and possessed while being held up in a psych ward is never explained and the exorcism comes out of nowhere.
Sadly, though, the Legion cut isn’t perfect either. If you can get past the weird recast of Brad Dourif as Father Karras, the story is definitely more straightforward, but because most of the footage was lost to time, it makes the story come across as pretty disjointed in places and the endings abrupt termination of Father Karras is lacklustre, to say the least.
Ultimately, the best version of The Exorcist III, of course, would be a mashup of the Theatrical and Director’s Cut. Keep the idea of Brad Dourif as the representation of the Gemini Killer and Jason Miller as Karras, but nix the exorcism stuff and flesh out the ending better.
Nevertheless, whichever version you decide to watch, you can be guaranteed fantastic performances from Geroge C. Scott as Detective Kinderman and Ed Flanders as Thomas Dyer. Brad Dourif refuses to be outclassed and delivers a chilling performance as the Gemini Killer (or Karras depending on which version you watch) and Jason Miller swoons me with that deep booming voice in the Theatrical Cut.
I still consider The Exorcist III to be the next best thing next to the original, however, the new FOX TV show The Exorcist is slowly taking that honour with each new episode.
Just having the inclusion of the director’s cut of The Exorcist III warrants a purchase of the Scream Factory Blu-ray. The Director’s Cut offers up such a different take on the Theatrical version, it will feel like you are getting two different films for the price of one. However, you should know that the Director’s Cut is a bit rough around the edges, as Scream Factory had to source some footage from a VHS copy and they’ve interspersed it with Theatrical footage to fill in some of the gaps. It isn’t a perfectly coherent story, but it works enough to give you the gist of what Blatty wanted to achieve with his film.
As for the Theatrical Cut, the quality of the new 2K scan is fantastic, with no noticeable issues in sight. I did notice on the 5.1 DTS track some hiss here and there, but nothing so much as to distract from your viewing pleasure. Also included is a 2.0 DTS track.
Disc two houses all the new special features, with over an hour of new interviews with certain cast and crew. It’s a really informative sit-down, with plenty of information on the shaky experience of getting a workable product out to the masses. Also included is an audio interview with William Peter Blatty that runs over the Director’s Cut. Disc one includes the Theatrical version and all the old features included in past releases.
DISC ONE: The Exorcist III (Theatrical Cut)
- NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive
- Vintage Featurette
- Deleted Scene/Alternate Takes/Bloopers
- Deleted Prologue
- Vintage Interviews (Featuring Behind-The-Scenes Footage) With Writer/Director William Peter Blatty, George C. Scott, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Grand L. Bush, Executive Producer James G. Robinson, Production Designer Leslie Dilley, Larry King And C. Everett Koop
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Photo Galleries
DISC TWO: Legion (Original Director’s Cut) 105 minutes
- NEW Audio Interview With Writer/Director William Peter Blatty
- NEW A “Wonderfull” Time – Interviews With Producer Carter DeHaven, Actors Clifford David And Tracy Thorne And Production Assistant Kara Reidy
- NEW Signs Of The Gemini – An Interview With Brad Dourif
- NEW The Devil In The Details – Interview With Production Designer Leslie Dilley, Assistant Designer Daren Dochterman And Illustrator Simon Murton
- NEW Music For A Padded Cell – An Interview With Composer Barry DeVorzon
- NEW All This Bleeding – A Look At The Re-shoot And Makeup Effects With Production Manager Ronald Colby, Editor Todd Ramsay, Effects Artists William Forsche, Mike Smithson, Brian Wade And Actor/Body Double Charles Powell
Scream Factory has knocked this release out of the park and it has allowed us fans to see The Exorcist III in a brand new light. I have a better appreciation of the story and the special features will take viewers plenty of time to get through. Exorcist lovers should pick this one up for sure.