For more than fifteen years Police Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) has been haunted by the death of his friend Father Damien Karras. Now, on the 15th anniversary of the exorcism that claimed the priest's life, Kinderman's world is once again shattered when a boy is found decapitated and savagely crucified. It's just the beginning of a nightmare series of bizarre religious murders.
The brutal murders bear the hallmarks of the infamous Gemini Killer…who died in the electric chair fifteen years earlier. But when a psychopath claiming to be the Gemini Killer reveals intimate, gruesome details that only the true killer could possibly know, Kinderman is confronted with a horrifying truth that he cannot explain…and that will shake him to the core.
The Exorcist III is author/filmmaker William Peter Blatty's personal vision of what followed after The Exorcist. Like the original, The Exorcist III combines elements of a detective story, a theological puzzle, and an unforgettable study in terror.
The 1973 feature film version of 'The Exorcist', directed by William Friedkin from a novel and screenplay by William Peter Blatty, was a major cultural event, was nominated for ten Oscars, and became the highest-grossing movie of its day. Naturally, studio Warner Bros. was eager to exploit that success by churning out sequels. Unfortunately, 1977's 'Exorcist II: The Heretic', directed by John Boorman without any involvement from either Friedkin or Blatty, was a notorious disaster laughed off theater screens by both critics and audiences. Its failure was so profound that it seemed to kill 'The Exorcist' as a viable franchise.
In spite of that setback, author Blatty wasn't quite ready to give up on his creation. He developed plans for a third 'Exorcist' film that he would write himself and Friedkin would return to direct. Ultimately, he and Friedkin couldn't agree on a direction for the story and the project went into turnaround. Instead of making a movie, Blatty redirected his efforts and wrote a novel, which was published in 1983 under the title 'Legion'.
Rather than a direct sequel, 'Legion' was a spinoff centered around some of the supporting characters from 'The Exorcist', primarily police detective Lt. Kinderman and priest Father Dyer. Unsurprisingly, it completely ignored anything that happened in the 'Exorcist II' movie. The story takes place a number of years after the infamous Georgetown exorcism. Kinderman's investigation into a serial killer called Gemini leads to a mental institution, where he finds incarcerated a familiar figure from his past who exhibits signs of possession by a very bitter demon.
The book became a bestseller that reignited some interest in 'The Exorcist'. New studio Morgan Creek Productions bought the film rights, hoping to relaunch the 'Exorcist' brand as a horror cash cow. Blatty wrote a screenplay, and having helmed a picture called 'The Ninth Configuration' a while earlier, was keen to direct it himself. It took several more years for all the pieces to come together, but that eventually happened in 1990.
Blatty cast George C. Scott to take over the Kinderman role from the late Lee J. Cobb. The film that he set out to make differed somewhat from the novel but followed the broad strokes. Most importantly, the story had only tangential connections to the events of 'The Exorcist' and did not feature any exorcisms of its own. This greatly displeased the studio heads at Morgan Creek, who hated the initial cut that Blatty turned in, still called 'Legion' at the time. They demanded rewrites and reshoots to tie the story more closely to the first 'Exorcist', plus the addition of an exorcism scene at the end to really sell the franchise connection. The movie would also be retitled 'The Exorcist III', even though Blatty refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of 'Exorcist II'. The writer/director wasn't happy about this, but he understood how Hollywood politics worked and acquiesced so that he could finish his movie.
Even in its compromised state, the finished version of 'The Exorcist III' is a weird, idiosyncratic movie that's wildly different in tone from 'The Exorcist', despite coming from the same author. Filled with quirky characters and bizarre dream sequences, it's also quite unexpectedly funny. (Blatty started his career as a comedy writer.) The film is very uneven, is quite noticeably hampered by the studio meddling, and goes off the rails at the end, but it has a number of really terrific scenes, including one clockwork suspense sequence that's remarkably ingenious at subverting viewer expectations.
Upon release, both critics and audiences got too caught up in comparing the film to 'The Exorcist' and didn't know what to make of it. Many were so turned off by 'Exorcist II' that they never even gave the third one a chance. The movie was a box office disappointment, but has built a cult following and is seriously underrated. Of all the 'Exorcist' movie sequels to date, it's the only truly worthy follow-up, even if it's not quite what the filmmaker wanted it to be.
Warner Bros. previously released 'The Exorcist III' on Blu-ray in 2014, both on its own and as part of a franchise box set called 'The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology'. That disc was a pretty basic affair with a so-so video transfer and no bonus features other than a trailer. Two years later, Scream Factory has licensed the title and has improved on the former Blu-ray considerably.
Not only does the new 2-disc Collector's Edition reissue provide a freshly remastered video transfer and a strong assortment of bonus features, Scream Factory made an effort to reassemble William Peter Blatty's original version of 'Legion', the movie he set out to make before the studio interfered. Sadly, most of the film footage that Blatty shot was lost over time and all that currently remain are VHS dupes of the dailies. As such, the so-called "Director's Cut" is cobbled together from a mix of good-looking scenes (all those shared in common with the theatrical cut) with inserts and other whole scenes that look and sound atrocious. It's very distracting to watch this way. Because some footage is still missing, it's also confusingly edited and structured.
Among the notable differences between the two cuts, 'Legion' ends very abruptly with no exorcism sequence. It also features considerably more screen time for Brad Dourif. As initially filmed, Dourif played both the Gemini Killer and the demon-possessed Father Karras, but rewrites resulted in original 'Exorcist' star Jason Miller returning to play the Karras parts. All of Dourif's scenes were reshot and he wound up with a much smaller role. (Because of the hodgepodge mix of film sources, the reconstructed 'Legion' still prominently lists both Jason Miller and Nicol Willaimson – who played the exorcist in the new ending – in both the opening and end credits even though neither actually appears in this version of the movie.)
Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching this 'Legion' cut now is discovering that some of the studio-mandated changes and reshoots actually made the movie better. The opening of the theatrical cut is much clearer than the confusing mess that Blatty wanted, for example. Although Brad Dourif was excellent playing two roles and pulled off the transitions between them on his own, bringing back Jason Miller adds a new level of tension to the scenes. Even the exorcism climax, as cheesy as it may be, serves a legitimate purpose and features some of the most memorable images from the film. It may not have been executed as well as it could have been, but the movie needed something there, and without it, Blatty's ending is pretty limp.
Despite its labeling as a Director's Cut, the new 'Legion' edit is at best a curiosity and should be treated as a supplement to the true and proper film, which (for better or worse) is the 1990 theatrical cut. I absolutely do not recommend that anyone watch 'Legion' first without having seen the theatrical version. It's too difficult to watch in its current condition.
Like many Scream Factory titles, the Blu-ray comes packaged in a standard keepcase with reversible cover art and a slipcover. The newly commissioned artwork on the slipcover and one side of the case insert is, quite frankly, ghastly. Even by the low standards of the recent "pop art" fad that just won't seem to go away, this one is just plain hideous. Fortunately, the flipside of the insert contains the movie's original theatrical poster art, which looks much nicer.
Before I start here, I want to be clear that the theatrical cut of 'The Exorcist III' should be everyone's first and primary viewing option for the movie. The star ratings you'll find near the top of this review are for that version of the movie alone. I consider the alternate "Director's Cut" a bonus feature only.
The prior Blu-ray for 'The Exorcist III' that Warner Bros. released in 2014 wasn't terrible by any means, but it clearly came from a dated video master (most likely prepared for television syndication) and was given no special attention. It was a little soft and sometimes quite grainy, but looked respectable overall. When I first cued up this new Collector's Edition copy, I half expected to find that Scream Factory had just licensed the Warner transfer and considered it good enough. Fortunately, that's not the case. The label has remastered the theatrical cut from a new film scan that's a decided improvement.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode has a noticeably better sense of detail than the Warner transfer. Skin complexion and facial features are more clearly resolved in both medium and close-up shots. Film grain is tighter and better controlled all around. The picture is also mildly letterboxed to the movie's theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio (as opposed to the Warner copy, which was slightly opened up to 16:9).
It looks pretty great overall, although I have to note that the photography for 'The Exorcist III' is fairly bland and frequently overlit. It was shot more like a TV movie than the follow-up to such a stylish film as 'The Exorcist'. With that in mind, the only negative thing I have to say about the new Blu-ray is that flesh tones are sometimes a little too pinkish. That's a minor complaint and easy to forgive.
The Director's Cut of the movie was assembled from a mixture of footage shared in common with the theatrical cut (which comes from the same new scan and looks very good) with new footage that only survives on VHS dupes of the production dailies. The frequent insert shots and new scenes look awful even by VHS standards. They're extremely blurry, faded and smeary. They're also pillarboxed in the center of the screen at a 4:3 aspect ratio. In most cases, this means that they have extraneous picture information at the top and bottom of the screen that was intended to be matted off during theatrical projection.
The huge quality shifts from shot-to-shot all through this version of the movie are extremely distracting and make it very difficult to watch. Within a single scene, the image will jump from this:
A considerable amount of the running time for the Director's Cut comes from the VHS source, especially in the second half.
The Warner Bros. Blu-ray for 'The Exorcist III' came with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that I found underwhelming. It had bright, sometimes raspy dialogue and very little surround activity. It also had obnoxious volume swings from passages that were too quiet to others that were too loud.
Unfortunately, those problems may be endemic to the movie's original sound mix. The audio options that Scream Factory provides aren't much better. The theatrical cut can be watched in your choice of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 formats. I imagine that the 2.0 track is meant to be closer to the movie's original Dolby Stereo theatrical master, whereas the 5.1 is a remix. In either case, the sound quality is a little thin and hollow with a harsh character. Of the two, the 5.1 version has wider dynamic range with more rumbly bass, which may be more appealing in some scenes but is more fatiguing in others.
The Director's Cut only comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Whenever the video switches to the VHS source, the corresponding sound quality also takes a noticeable dive. Fidelity is even weaker in these clips, and any background ambient sounds typically drop out entirely until the footage returns to the film source.
This new Collector's Edition marks the first time that 'The Exorcist III' has been granted any significant bonus content. Previously, the most we got was a single teaser trailer. Considering that Scream Factory does not appear to be issuing this set in DVD format, the rest of the features can all be considered Blu-ray exclusive.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
All of the supplemental content in the Collector's Edition is new.
Theatrical Cut Disc
Director's Cut Disc
After the sensational first movie, none of the sequels to 'The Exorcist' have ever come close to living up to it. Of them, only 'The Exorcist III' feels at all like a legitimate follow-up. The film may be very flawed, but it's also quite underrated and has a lot of interesting ideas that writer/director William Peter Blatty attempts to convey.
Largely dismissed ever since its box office failure, Scream Factory resurrects the film with an excellent Collector's Edition package that tells some fascinating stories about the troubled production. The Blu-ray also provides a never-before-seen alternate cut of the movie that sheds some light on the director's original intentions for it.
Any fan of this movie or the 'Exorcist' franchise will find this to be an essential purchase. Other curious viewers who are perhaps less familiar with 'The Exorcist III' are advised to start by watching the theatrical cut disc in the set first.