Welcome back everyone to the 2020 edition of Ben's Super Spooky Halloween Movie Extravaganza! This year being the absolute hellscape that it has been has made me step up my game. So this time around we have DOUBLE VISION and will be returning to a series that we have covered here before on the Extravaganza. This means we will be focusing on both William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist III and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist III: Legion. Confused? Well you have come to the right place. We will be going over the long road that led to The Exorcist III, it's much anticipated Directors Cut and why it just may be the most interesting productions of a Horror movie ever made.
First let's go over how we arrived here. After the massive success of The Exorcist book and it's film adaptation, Warner Bros. was anxious to get a sequel quickly into production. Both Blatty (who wrote the original novel and won an Oscar for writing its film adaptation) and William Freidkin who directed the first movie were completely uninterested in making a sequel. Blatty in an interview states that Warner Bros. offered him a "dizzying" amount to create a sequel without his involvement and being a family man he accepted.
Warner Bros. went on to put out The Exorcist II: The Heretic in 1977. While Linda Blair and Max Von Sydow returned to reprise their iconic roles, Ellen Burstyn was recast. The Heretic has gone on to be one of Hollywood's shining examples of artless commerce and the series lay dead and buried. For now.
Blatty had decided to expand on his favorite character to write from the first book, Lt. William F. Kinderman, who had a less prominent role in the movie. He originally wrote the story as a screenplay with involvement from his now good friend William Freidkin. When little interest in a third installment was shown Friedkin walked away from the project. Blatty then decided to turn the screenplay into a novel titled Legion which became a best seller in 1983.
Seeing the success of the novel studios became interested again and Blatty decided to go with production company Morgan Creek as they offered more creative freedom. Blatty was allowed to direct as he had experience from directing 1980's The Ninth Configuration.
Blatty was against making reference to The Exorcist in the title and was even more reticent to put a 3 in it as he felt it would remind people of the horrible second movie. He simply wanted it to be titled Legion as the book is not necessarily a sequel to the original but involves some similar characters. This was a battle he lost, the first of many.
Finally we arrive at the two separate versions. From here on out I will be calling the theatrical release of the movie, The Exorcist III and the Directors Cut, Legion. As you will come to find the movies share a good majority of footage but a few key elements were either added in or removed in post production.
The Exorcist III tells the story of Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, set 15 years after the events of the first movie. Kinderman had investigated the murder of Burke Dennings and the goings on of the McNeil household and had begun a friendship with Father Damien Karras, who was murdered from a fall just outside the home. In subsequent years Kinderman has begun a friendship with Father Joseph Dyer who was also close with Father Karras. They both are still haunted by the death of their friend and the events surrounding it.
Kinderman is investigating the murder and mutilation of a young boy who's wounds fit the modus operandi of a serial killer known as "The Gemini Killer". Kinderman had sent The Gemini Killer to prison and his eventual death sentence 15 years earlier. Shortly after a Preist is murdered in a confessional and Kinderman again notices that the body is mutilated in the same fashion as the boy.
Father Dyer ends up in a hospital but claims the condition is not serious. While in the hospital Kinderman notices a clue that leads him to believe the killer may be located there. This directs him to the mental ward where he finds that they have an unknown man who was found wandering the streets coincidentally also 15 years earlier. When he goes to interview the man, Kinderman is horrified to find that he appears to be Father Karras. During his interviews with the John Doe, his personality shifts between the possessed figure of Father Karras and that of The Gemini Killer, James Venamun.
The demon claims to have some relation to the one who possessed Regan during the events of the first movie and claims that he has returned to exact revenge for being defeated last time. Another exorcism is held with the help of Father Morning and after quite a bit of fanfare the host body is killed and the demon exorcised. In the end Kinderman feels that he can finally truly bury his friend Father Karras.
Now we can move onto the Directors Cut, known as Legion. Most of the same story beats from The Exorcist III and Legion are the same with two major differences. In Legion Father Karras does not appear to Kinderman, he only speaks with Venamun and in the end there is no exorcism. Instead Kinderman just shoots Venamun and thus releases his friend Karras and the movie ends. To be fair a lot of the footage has been lost over the years so it is hard to tell exactly what Blatty wanted to do with a full ending.
Probably the other biggest change from the Theatrical Cut is the omission of Father Karras. The actor who played Father Karras in the original film, Jason Miller, was unavailable when the movie was to be shot. Blatt's original plans had Miller being the only "Patient X" as he is credited and thus had to change his plans. Blatty instead turned to Brad Dourif to play the role and filmed all of his scenes before Miller was surprisingly able to return.
The studio wanted more of a connection to the first film to raise interest and demanded that Miller be added into the movie using major reshoots. They also wanted an exorcism scene added to the end, as they still wanted the title to be The Exorcist III and not Legion.
Since they no longer had access to the cell in which Brad Dourif filmed all of his scenes and a different room with padded walls instead of brick was used to film the Jason Miller scenes, Brad Dourif had to film all of his scenes over again. If you have seen the movie you will know how difficult this must have been as Dourif's performance is a doozy.
In the end the studio went with their cut and Blatty's vision was scrapped. While having the demon appear to Kinderman as two of his more tormentors fits into the powers that Pazuzu had shown in the original movie, having the two characters cut between each other is needlessly confusing and overall did not exactly fit with what is shot. Unfortunately the footage that we do have of Blatty's original cut is not properly colored or edited and has the look of a rough early 90's VHS tape.
While Blatty had his artistic opinion gutted in both the theatrical cut and the title of the film, the real victim here is poor Brad Dourif. Mr. Dourif gives an absolutely insane performance here and I mean that both literally and figuratively. He so perfectly captures what a angry, several thousand year old demon in the dead body of a serial killers body would be. He is furious and calm all at once and shifts between bouts of otherworldly brilliance and utter madness. To then be told that not only would he have to reshoot all of his very intense and stressful scenes over again but also have his performance neutered and edited in with another actor's is heartbreaking. Especially for someone as talented and respected as Dourif.
While neither cut lives up to the first movie in either horror or filmmaking, The Exorcist III/Legion are a fun and relative way to stay in the world that William Peter Blatty created in 1972. Legion save it's visual fidelity, I believe to be the better movie. There is already some pretty wild stuff in the here, such as a celebrity filled dream sequence and a through line of fairly solid black comedy, that we don't need even more confusion of characters to throw the audience off. So for those of you who want to spend another few nights in the sleepy streets of Georgetown give this one a viewing.