Lieutenant Kinderman investigates a series of murders that bear the mark of the Gemini Killer who was executed fifteen years earlier. As the investigation continues, he comes face to face with a hospital patient that looks like a man who died fifteen years earlier, performing an exorcism…
Based on William Peter Blatty’s own follow up novel to The Exorcist, which was called Legion, The Exorcist III came out in 1990. I saw it on its original release and loved it (Blatty writing and directing the film himself). It scared the hell out of me. Personally, while The Exorcist is certainly the better film overall, I think this part III was a scarier film. Each time I’ve seen the film since, it has only reinforced that opinion.
At the time, I was unaware of what went on behind the scenes, of how Blatty was forced to make changes to his film, involving re-shoots and some changes in casting. When I first found out, like many fans, I wondered how the finished, original take on the film called Legion, would look like. Despite the removed footage from Legion not being found, in 2016, the company Scream Factory released a version of the film. The assembled cut used video, some filmed footage to try and make as close a version to the film Blatty had intended. That version is now on an Arrow Video Blu-Ray, alongside the theatrical version of the film.
So, what has changed? Well, the biggest change is that the entire exorcism plot has gone. No Father Morning, no last minute appearance to try and exorcise Patient X. Instead the film builds to a surprisingly low key, more personal ending, although it does lose a terrific speech from Kinderman about belief.
There are other changes too, the opening is different, certain scenes moved around, others extended and so on. wise they don’t make a lot of changes to the finished film.
But the biggest change is in Patient X. In the theatrical version, the role is shared by Jason Miller (Karras in The Exorcist) and Brad Dourif. The film cuts between both at times and does it very well it has to be said. In Legion however, the role is only played by Brad Dourif. Despite most of his performance here coming from video and some film footage, Dourif’s performance is sensational. While the scares still work (not changed from the theatrical version) the real power in the film comes from the exchanges between Patient X and Kinderman and Dourif and the excellent George C. Scott are riveting to watch.
One of things this assembly cut does do is change the story into a more personal one. Kinderman and Father Dyer, played here by Ed Flanders, became friendly at the end of The Exorcist (in the extended version). There has been a subtle re-writing of the friendship between Karras and Kinderman, which in turn plays into the Dyer/Kinderman friendship, which allows for some moments of humour early on. As a consequence of events in the film, it makes the story even more personal for Kinderman, which causes a major change to the ending. It also gives Kinderman’s final act in Legion a different meaning compared to the theatrical cut.
Even with the use of the video and film footage, it’s clear that Legion was going to be something special. I love The Exorcist III. The header above should clue you in to that fact! It’s the only film I’ve ever seen at the cinema where there has been genuine screaming in the audience (if you know the film, you know which scene).
But Legion, had it been released as Blatty intended was going to be something remarkable. It still has the scares, but it would have been in many ways, a more haunting and personal film, which would have been, in my opinion a horror classic.
The Arrow Video Blu-Ray contains both The Exorcist III and Legion versions of the film. I truly love both of them.
Rating: ***** out of 5