THE EXORCIST III / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: WILLIAM PETER BLATTY / STARRING: GEORGE C. SCOTT, ED FLANDERS, BRAD DOURIF / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Writer William Peter Blatty wasn’t going to take no for an answer when he made directing a condition of this second Exorcist sequel from 1990. If you’ve seen Exorcist II: The Heretic, you’ll understand where he was coming from; John Boorman’s bizarre contamination of strangeness was a dud of legendry proportions and no way to follow up the greatest of all ’70s horror flicks, and Blatty has proven himself more than capable behind the camera with his excellent debut feature, The Ninth Configuration (1980).
Intriguing then, that this isn’t really an Exorcist sequel either. Based on Blatty’s 1983 novel, Legion, it’s a psychological detective story with supernatural overtones that might be set in the same universe but goes off on a very different tangent. George C. Scott, looking a great deal older than his 62 years, delivers a soulfully pained performance as detective Kinderman from the first movie (Lee J Cobb, the original actor, had died in 1976). He’s on the trail of the Gemini Killer, a serial slicer of heads using the kind of heinous surgical shears David Cronenberg has wet dreams about. To perplex matters further, a local nuthouse resident not only claims to be the killer but reminds Kinderman of Damien Karras, the priest who took a tumble down the stone stairs back in 1973.
Exorcisms? None, as per the novel. But the studio wanted the green stuff and insisted on re-shoots that inserted original Exorcist actor Jason Miller into scenes already filmed with Brad Dourif as the Gemini Killer, so they effectively ‘shared’ the role. This actually works very well – the two actors’ faces merging together at times to infer the long-deceased Father Karras breaking out of Dourif’s character like some kind of tortured incubus. Far less effective was the studio’s insistence on additional demonic SFX that culminate in the arrival of Nicole Williamson’s chanting priest to give Joe Public his devil-dashing money’s worth.
This two-disc set from Arrow presents the 1990 cut and a new restoration of Blatty’s originally-intended version which takes out all the re-shot sequences and brings things right back to earth using raw, character-based ‘dailies’ from a VHS source. This reveals a contemplative and quietly unnerving film, whose greatest scares always came not from satanic pyrotechnics but from Blatty and editor Todd (The Thing) Ramsay’s dread-inducing extended takes. The locked-off shot of a nurse systematically checking each room in a gothic hospital corridor, for one harrowing example, pays off in shears.
For all the revisionist appraisal on offer in the extras (including a thorough 90-minute documentary), The Exorcist III remains a decidedly dour experience, but this intriguing revisitation deserves to win it a moderate band of new acolytes, if not quite a legion.