THE EXORCIST III, William Peter Blatty's compromised and underrated adaptation of his novel "Legion" is ripe for reassessment with Scream Factory's two-disc Blu-ray edition.
Fifteen years after the exorcism of Regan McNeill and the tragic self-sacrifice of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller, TOY SOLDIERS), he is still missed by friends police lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott, THE CHANGELING) and Father Joseph Dyer (Ed Flanders, SALEM'S LOT). Kinderman finds himself confronting another anniversary when the brutal decapitation and crucifixion of young Thomas Kintry (James Burgess) followed by similar deaths of an elderly priest (Harry Carey Jr., GREMLINS) in the confessional bear the previously unpublished hallmarks of the Gemini killer James Venamun (Brad Dourif, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST) who died in the electric chair. Kinderman is mystified when the single fingerprints at the scene of each crime turn out to belong to different people. When Dyer becomes the third victim while recuperating at Georgetown General Hospital, Kinderman discovers that the sole fingerprint at the scene of his death belongs to elderly Mrs. Clelia (THE WALTON's Mary Jackson) in the neurology ward. Kinderman makes a much more startling discovery in the isolation ward that an amnesiac patient long dormant until just before the first murder appears to be Karras himself, although he claims to be The Gemini Killer killing from the confines of his cell with the help of "old friends" and out to settle a score for "The Master."
Adapted from the 1983 novel "Legion" which was developed out of Blatty's and William Friedkin's abandoned concept for an EXORCIST sequel sometime after the roundly panned EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, THE EXORCIST III forgoes Friedkin's documentary realism in favor of a more contemplative if sometimes archly-staged meditation on loss and death spiked by surrealistic touches, odd cutaways, some effective scares (aided by a sometimes growling and booming soundtrack by LOOKER's Barry DeVorzen), and disturbingly-described but largely offscreen gore. Scott is a more loquacious and theatrical Kinderman than Lee J. Cobb but a commanding presence supported by mostly hemmed-in, naturalistic performances – Flanders and BIRDY's Nancy Fish as acerbic Nurse Allerton, aside – like Grand L. Bush (LETHAL WEAPON), Don Gordon (BULLITT), George Di Cenzo (HELTER SKELTER), and Lee Richardson (NETWORK), as well as the deployment of faces like CREEPSHOW's Viveca Lindfors as "Nurse X". Sadly underused is Zohra Lampert (LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH) as Kinderman's wife. Although talk show host Larry King and surgeon general C. Everett Koop cameo to give the film a Washington D.C. flavor, Kinderman's surrealistic, somewhat Fellini-esque dream of purgatory features even more bizarre appearances by New York Knicks player Patrick Ewing and model Fabio as winged angels and a then-unknown Samuel L. Jackson (PULP FICTION) as a blind man ("The living are deaf"). The often beautiful photography of Gerry Fisher (WOLFEN) conveys a wonderfully "gothic" Georgetown with production designer Leslie Dilley (THE ABYSS) augmenting the real locations with rooms and some forced-perspective long corridors that offer no sense of comfort.
Blatty as director, having already helmed a film version of his novel THE NINTH CONFIGURATION which is as much a cult film for its content as the behind the scenes stories, is largely faithful to the novel but would find that producers Morgan Creek wanted an exorcism in their exorcist sequel – then titled THE EXORCIST 1990 – rather than the low-key ending and ordered a series of reshoots. In the director's cut, Dourif is Damien Karras (and thus, the patient in isolation) as seen in a photograph in Kinderman's and Dyer's restaurant scene, when he felt that alcoholic Miller was not up to the work. The theatrical recast him as The Gemini Killer and intercut his visual and vocal performance of Dourif with footage of Miller. An exorcist character was also added in the form of Father EXCALIBUR's Nicol Williamson – Blatty's original lead choice for THE NINTH CONFIGURATION – and the climax turned into an effects extravaganza with prosthetics by Greg Cannom (BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA) and visual effects by Dream Quest Images (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4). Both versions of the film are imperfect – Dourif as Karras is jarring even if you do not associate him with Chucky or one of his earlier edgy roles – but both evince a singular and stimulating approach to horror and even the serial killer genre much unlike anything else from the same year.
Released theatrically and on VHS and laserdisc by 20th Century-Fox (who handled Morgan Creek titles before Warner), THE EXORCIST III received a respectable barebones DVD release from Warner and was then dumped onto Blu-ray in a boxed set of the series a little while before Morgan Creek and Warner ended their distribution agreement (a development which also allowed Scream Factory's restoration/reconstruction of Clive Barker's NIGHTBREED). Scream's two-disc Blu-ray set features the theatrical cut (109:59) jn 1080p and in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a new 2K scan of the film's interpositive that bests the Warner effort (which compressed all of the near two-hour sequels to single-layer Blu-rays) but may have had its colors and contrast boosted over the earlier DVD release. The second disc feature's a reconstruction of Blatty's cut (104:30) – now titled WILLIAM PETER BLATTY'S LEGION – combining the 2K transfer of the theatrical cut, widescreen workprint shots, and fullscreen, pillarboxed videotape dailies (Miller and Williamson remain listed in the cast list since the opening credits background was not available without text. The quality jumps will distract videophiles but I found the film suitably engrossing in this unfamiliar cut (regretting only that the beauty of Fisher's camerawork is compromised). The loss of the original Dolby Stereo four-channel stems means that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on the theatrical version is umpixed from the matrixed 2.0 source while the director's cut is presented in lossless stereo. Optional English SDH subtitles are available for both.
Extras on the theatrical disc include a "vintage featurette" (7:13) that emphasizes the success of THE EXORCIST and Blatty helming the sequel, with no mention of the troubled production although we see the filming of the exorcist sequence and Miller in place of Dourif. The "deleted scene, alternate takes, and bloopers" (5:44) reel includes the short "Clown Birthday" sequence in which production designer Dilley cameos as a roller-skating clown for a hospitalized child's birthday, some alternate line readings, bloopers of "The Carp" monologue (Flanders can be seen cracking up even in the final version), and a couple other bloopers without audio. The "deleted prologue" (2:44) is a 1975 flashback featuring Scott's Kinderman with the corpse of Dourif's Karras in the hospital. The "vintage interviews" (38:35) feature cast and crew interviews that became sound bytes in the aforementioned featurette, including Miller being cagey about his role in the film, Larry King discussing how he got involved and his views on the paranormal, C. Everett Koop recalls some public health investigations into allegations of devil worship, while Blatty, Flanders, Bush, Dilley, and Scott focus more on the film. Also included on disc one are three photo galleries, two theatrical trailers (3:10), and a selection of TV Spots (2:25).
The director's cut on disc two is accompanied by an audio interview with Blatty recorded separately from the film by Michael Felsher and is a freewheeling discussion on where Blatty was in his career when he wrote THE EXORCIST, the creative process, his deal with Bantam Books and the book's success, the development of the film and his insistence on using Friedkin (who the studio rejected until the success of THE FRENCH CONNECTION), the film's success and his career in the wake of it. He took the money and ran when Warner wanted the rights to a sequel because he could not conceive of where a sequel would take off (his remarks on the sequel are priceless, including "Poor Linda Blair"). Discussion of the novel "Legion" and his direction of THE EXORCIST III dovetail with backstory of the production of THE NINTH CONFIGURATION in Budapest with potential international incidents perpetrated by cast members Joe Spinell (who roller skated on the marble floor of a landmark hotel), Neville Brand, and Nicol Williamson among others.
"A 'Wonderfull' Time" (24:30) is advertised on the disc cover as an "interview with producer Carter De Haven and more" but it is actually the first part of the Red Shirt documentary "Death Be Not Proud" and actually briefly features De Haven (HOOSIERS) with his remarks about the project augmented by remarks on the first film, THE HERETIC, and the present film under discussion by everyone from composer Dourif, De Vorzen, Blatty, and Dilley, to actress Tracey Thorne (who notes that she played the "Don't go in that room" girl and describes how she learned the scene had millions of hits on YouTube), actor Clifford David (SIGNS), Blatty's assistant Kara Reidy, effects artists Mike Smithson (SLEEPWALKER), Brian Wade (THE TERMINATOR), and Bill Forshe (THE LOST BOYS), and Dilley's assistant Daren Dochterman (THE ABYSS). The second chapter of the documentary is an interview with actor Dourif titled "Signs of the Gemini" (17:42) in which he expresses his distaste for EXORCIST II, "replacing" Miller, doing all of his scenes against an actor of Scott's stature, and being caught between Scott and Blatty influencing his performance choices. He also discusses scenes in the script depicting the Gemini Killer and the death of his kid brother that were in the novel but not retained in the film.
Chapter three is "The Devil in the Details" (18:03), an interview with production designer Dilley with additional input from Dochterman and concept illustrator Simon Murton (SLEEPY HOLLOW). They discuss the erection of the sets at DEG in Wilmington, North Carolina, including the hospital sets (with consecutive arches of smaller sizes to help the forced perspective illusion) and the isolation ward, as well as the effects for the lady crawling across the ceiling, and Blatty's insistence on the Joker face on the statue of a saint. Chapter four is "Music for a Padded Cell" (15:16), an interview with composer De Vorzen, an independent label producer who sold his label to Warner Bros. and then decided to try his hand at scoring films. He reveals that Blatty wanted him to score THE EXORCIST but Friedkin hired Lalo Schifrin (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR) before throwing that score out and creating a compilation score. Blatty then requested him for the score for THE EXORCIST III. DeHaven pops up again, reiterating his initial doubts about De Vorzen's thriller scoring credentials. De Vorzen discusses how they decided to move away from an orchestrated score and score it with a mix of sound effects, synthesizer textures, chanting, and vocal effects.
The final chapter "All This Bleeding" (28:49) finds editor Ramsay and production manager Ronald Colby (THE RAIN PEOPLE) – who screened the film with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (EASTERN PROMISES) who would go on to shoot the new cell scenes – discussing the dissatisfaction with the original ending, with the producers wanting an actual exorcism. Colby discusses the problems cobbling together the ending with Blatty directing the actors, tech advisors handling the different effects, while also expressing his frustration with the managerial choices (with stunt coordinator turned director Craig Baxley coming to the rescue when the effects cameraman's overdone setups were unworkable). Smithson, Wade, and Forsche reappear to discuss the reshoots, including making up doubles to look like Miller and Williamson (and the actual actor's patience with the effects shots in which he participated), as well as the severed heads that did not make up the film. Colby also discusses how unhappy Scott was on the reshoots, which required him to be strapped to a wall for long periods of time, while Smithson discusses working with Miller. Charles Powell (AFFLICTION) also touches upon his work doubling for Miller under prosthetics as well as coming to realize the underlying tension of the shoot. The disc comes with a double-sided cover – with the superior original artwork on the inside – and a cardboard slipcover with the new art. (Eric Cotenas)
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