The Exorcist is one of the most popular horror movies of all time. It was a media sensation in the early to mid-1970s, so a sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, that sequel was The Exorcist II: The Heretic. Despite a cast that included Louise Fletcher, hot off her Oscar win for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Richard Burton, and Linda Blair returning as Regan MacNeill, it wasn’t well received. John Boorman directed the movie and William Friedkin, who directed the first one, said he thought he was watching The Producers.
So, a third Exorcist was out of the question. Yet, William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel the first movie is based on as well as the screenplay and producing it, had wrote a sequel novel in 1983 called Legion based on an earlier screenplay he had written. However, it wasn’t really supposed to be a direct sequel, more like a spinoff but Hollywood wasn’t too keen, so Blatty turned it into a novel first. It was more of a detective story bringing back Det. Lt. Bill Kinderman, who was a minor character in The Exorcist, investigating a series of murders that’s believed to be similar to The Gemini Killer. The novel would bring back Fr. Joseph Dryer, another supporting character from the novel and movie.
Blatty then adapted the novel into another screenplay and shopped it around, getting Morgan Creek Productions to agree to produce it. John Carpenter was interested in directing but he left amicably when he realized that Blatty was also interested in directing, which ended up being the case.
Filming took place with the tentative title Exorcist: Legion in 1989. However, there was not supposed to be any exorcism in the movie. Also, Lee J. Cobb, who played Kinderman in the first movie had passed away in 1976, so George C. Scott was cast. (Incidentally, this would be the first time Scott would play a character Cobb had played first. Cobb appeared as Juror No. 3 in the 1957 movie Twelve Angry Men with Scott in the role in the 1997 TV movie, directed by Friedkin nonetheless.) Ed Flanders, who had been in The Ninth Configuration, which Blatty had directed, was brought in to play Fr. Dyer replacing a real priest, Fr. William O’Malley. Considering that Friedkin had hit O’Malley while filming the first Exorcist movie to make him more shaken up during a crucial scene, I can understand why O’Malley decided to stay away from this movie.
The plot isn’t too bad. It begins with Kinderman and other detectives investigating the decapitation of a 12-year-old black kid Thomas Kintry (James Burgess) in the Georgetown area. Then a local priest, Fr. Kanavan (Harry Carey Jr.) is killed by a person in a confession booth, and his head decapitated. The killer is never seen but we hear the voice, which is supposed to be of the demon Pazuzu. Colleen Dewhurst, Scott’s ex-wife, and mother of their son, Campbell, did the voice uncredited.
Kinderman notices certain similarities with both murders with that of the Gemini Killer, who was executed 15 years earlier. Both victims had a name beginning with K and their bodies were mutliated in ways that weren’t told outside the police department. Kinderman explain it was to keep the police from wasting their time tracking down fake leads from cracks looking for attention. At this same time, Kinderman is meeting with Dyer on the anniversary of the death of Fr. Damian Karras (Jason Miller) from the first movie.
In the years since, Kinderman and Dyer have become good friends, yet Dyer has become more cynical over the years than the jovial character he was in the first movie. The movie retcons a little the relationship between Kinderman and Karras as they only briefly meet once in the movie. But here they were good friends. In a deleted scene from ending of the first Exorcist movie, it’s implied that Kinderman and Dyer are going to be friends.
Most of the movie takes place in a hospital as Dyer is checked in for some routine follow-ups but is violently killed one early morning. He’s been decapitated and all his blood has been extracted and placed spotlessly in containers on a tray. All that except for a writing in blood on the wall reading IT’S A WONDERFULL LIFE which is the name of the movie Dyer and Kinderman see before Dyer’s murder.
Kinderman along with other police including Sgt. Mel Atkins (Grand L. Bush) interview people included the sassy nurse, Emily Allerton (Nancy Fish) who saw Dyer about an hour before he was found murdered. They go up the mental ward where Kinderman notices a patient only going by Patient X, who looks like Karras (Miller). They call him Patient X because he was found wandering years earlier with no identification and had been staying there since. However, when Kinderman goes to interview Patient X, he turns into the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) when really agitated. The Gemini is believed to have possessed people to carry out his killings outside of the hospital.
While The Exorcist III is more of a detective story, it does include one of the best jump scares every filmed. To tell you would be to ruin it for someone who hasn’t seen it. But the way Blatty and cinematographer Gerry Fisher set up the scene, it’s great. You think somethings going to go one way but it goes another way.
There’s also some odd scenes such as a female mental patient cralwing on the ceiling. And there’s a dream sequence that has to be seen to believed as Kinderman interacts with Thomas and then spots Fabio and Patrick Ewing among others. Blink and you’ll miss a small role by Samuel L. Jackson as a blind man whose voice is dubbed.
As for the titular character, that’s due to a reshoot ordered by 20th Century Fox. Fr. Morning (Nicol Williamson) appears at the end after being introduced briefly in a scene earlier on to perform an exorcism on Patient X to expel The Gemini Killer. The ending is kind of muddled, mostly due to the reshoots and possible deletion of some scenes for the insertions of the scenes with Morning.
Fox also decided that the movie go from being Exorcist: Legion to The Exorcist III, over Blatty’s objection. This was only the second movie Blatty directed and it’s his last one as he passed away in 2017. My guess it was probably from the studio interferences and reshoots as well as lack of critical and box officer success that led to Blatty to bascially retired altogether from writing, producing and directing. It is my understanding that before his death, a director’s cut was released taking out Miller’s performance as well as the scenes involving Williamson. I haven’t seen it but strangely, I did see a version once that cut out the dream sequence.
All in all, the theatrical version I’m familiar with is no where near the brilliance of the first Exorcist but it’s a better sequel than the second one. It’s also possible that the exclusion of Blair might have kept some people away. Incidentally, the studio rushed the movie in an August summer release as a horror parody comedy Repossessed, which did star Blair alongside Leslie Nielsen, was released a month later even though it was a box office dud only grossing $1.4 million. The Exorcist III grossed $44 million.
I also like this more than the two prequels Exorcist: Beginning and Dominion: A Prequel to The Exorcist which I didn’t find at all good. Beginning was trying too hard for jump scares, while Dominion was trying to be too cerebral. Both movies star Stellan Skasgard as a younger Fr. Lancaster Merrin, even though he was actually older in real life than Max von Sydow. But the story of these two movies is the topic for another blogpost.
David Gordon Green, who made the recent Halloween movies, is set to direct another Exorcist sequel due out in 2023 for the 50th anniversay of the first movie that reporting has Ellen Burstyn returning to her role as Chris MacNeil. Who knows what that movie will be like?
What do you think? Please comment.