Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to make another The Exorcist. The second film in the series is so strange and so awful that it’s almost miraculous. It belongs in a jar in a very disturbing section of a natural history museum. When it came time to make a prequel, Morgan Creek hired Paul Schrader to direct it. Schrader made his movie, and when Morgan Creek saw it, they fired him and scrapped it. After hiring director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea) and drastically rejiggering the script, we got Exorcist: The Beginning. After that tanked, Morgan Creek released Schrader’s prequel under the title Dominion. It sucked, too. But The Exorcist III is a different story. While a very different film from William Friedkin’s original, it is the only other movie in the franchise to have any lasting value.
William Peter Blatty, the author of the original 1971 novel, wrote and directed The Exorcist III. Blatty initially developed the project as another collaboration with Exorcist director William Friedkin. But after Friedkin left the project, it slipped into development hell. Not content to leave it at that, Blatty adapted the story into a novel called Legion.
Published in 1983, Legion follows Detective Bill Kinderman fifteen years after he first appeared in The Exorcist. Kinderman is still friends with Father Dyer, a peripheral character from the original novel. But when Kinderman investigates a series of recent murders, he starts to see connections to a long-dead serial killer known as The Gemini. Upon questioning a patient in a psych ward who claims to be The Gemini, Kinderman makes a startling discovery. The patient appears to be Father Damien Karras: the priest who exorcised Regan MacNeil and leapt out a window to his death at the end of The Exorcist.
In the late 80s, Morgan Creek approached Blatty to bring Legion to the big screen. They brought on John Carpenter to direct, but he eventually left when he felt that Blatty should helm the picture. It’s a shame — John Carpenter’s Legion would’ve been a hell of a thing to see. But Blatty gladly stepped in to direct. He cast the great George C. Scott as Kinderman, Ed Flanders as Father Dyer, and Brad Dourif as the creepy Patient X/Father Karras. With a great cast in tow, Blatty made the movie he wanted. But Morgan Creek wasn’t pleased.
Hollywood Steps In
Unsatisfied with the film’s loose ties with the first Exorcist, Morgan Creek demanded significant rewrites and additional photography. To bear the title of The Exorcist, they felt the movie needed an effects-heavy exorcism sequence instead of the quiet, talky ending Blatty shot. They wrote a new character, a priest played by Nicol Williamson, into the third act. What’s more, Morgan Creek executives also demanded that Jason Miller (the actor who played Father Karras in The Exorcist) appear as Patient X. The reshoots would be expensive and arduous, especially due to Jason Miller’s declining health. Some of his performance would be accomplished with an uncredited double in lookalike makeup. Blatty wasn’t happy about any of this, but it happened anyway. And it gave us 1990’s The Exorcist III: Legion — a film that received a mixed critical reception but gained a strong cult following.
The Director’s Cut
Now Scream Factory, the patron saint of under-appreciated horror films, has assembled a new cut of the movie. They’re calling it the director’s cut. And you’ll be able to see it on the new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, available starting Tuesday, October 25. It’s more accurate to Blatty’s vision — a more thoughtful, chatty film. And there is no exorcism. There is no Jason Miller or Nicol Williamson.
But I hesitate to call it a real director’s cut of the film. The previously unseen footage is all sourced from VHS tapes, and the difference in quality is staggering. No one reframed or recolored the VHS footage to match the original footage. The audio doesn’t match, either. The footage from the theatrical cut lowered Brad Dourif’s voice a few steps, but the VHS footage doesn’t use the same effect. This is particularly noticeable because a substantial chunk of this new footage is Dourif delivering monologues.
But despite its technical shortcomings, the director’s cut is still essential viewing for fans. The Blu-ray also contains the original theatrical cut, which looks great after a new 2K scan. The new interviews on this Collector’s Edition reveal some fascinating details about the film’s reshoots and Blatty’s directorial methods. So this new edition is, without a doubt, the best way to watch The Exorcist III. And if you’ve never seen it, expect something very different from The Exorcist. It has its share of scary moments, but this is a contemplative movie. It’s a little sad, a little sleepy. It’s a story about old men confronting illness, death, dementia, heaven, and hell. And it’s the one other Exorcist movie that wasn’t a terrible idea.