DirectorWilliam Peter Blatty
Release Date(s)1990 (October 25, 2016)
Studio(s)Morgan Creek Productions/20th Century Fox/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
Despite the fact that The Exorcist was a well-received film (not just with audiences but with the film community), the author of the original novel, William Peter Blatty, was never quite satisfied with it. Many aspects of the film had been compromises between he and director William Friedkin. Blatty later envisioned an indirect sequel set in its own universe, but failed to interest Friedkin in returning to direct, so he wrote it as a novel entitled Legion. Years later, after Blatty began directing, he decided to bring Legion to the screen himself. The result was The Exorcist III, a film that was not quite what he’d envisioned and dismayed audiences for its approach.
The Exorcist III takes place many years after the events in the original novel and movie version of The Exorcist. Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer remain old friends, but when a series of grisly murders begin taking place around the city, Kinderman believes it to be the work of someone imitating the Gemini Killer, a man sent to the electric chair years before. Investigating further, he finds a familiar face in a padded cell at a local psychiatric hospital, a person who may hold the key to uncovering who, or what, is committing these crimes.
In today’s horror climate, suggesting that The Exorcist III is a scarier film than the original could be greeted with skepticism. After all, The Exorcist consistently tops “Best of” lists as “the scariest movie ever made,” never mind that it’s been ripped off and parodied often since its original release. But it’s my belief that The Exorcist III is a much darker and more effective film than its predecessor. It’s startling and gets under your skin such that, despite your unease, you can’t turn away from it. The film stays with you for days, in a way that the original Exorcist just doesn’t. Part of this is thanks to Blatty’s work with cinematographer Gerry Fisher. The Exorcist III is one of the best-looking horror films you’re ever likely to come across. It’s on a whole other level entirely.
The film wasn’t received well by critics and audiences at the time, partly due to the negative response to Exorcist II: The Heretic. It’s also possible that folks just weren’t ready for something so unsettling. This is why Blatty wanted to set the story apart and call it simply Legion. But Morgan Creek insisted on releasing it as The Exorcist III and wasn’t satisfied with Blatty’s first cut, so an additional month of shooting was required to “fix” it. This didn’t sit well with Blatty, for obvious reasons, but that’s the version that was released.
Fans have wanted to see the so-called Director’s Cut for years, but the truth is that nearly all of the original cut footage has been lost. All that exists are VHS copies of the film’s dailies and a couple pieces of B&W film negative. Using this material, Scream Factory producer Cliff MacMillan and his team have assembled the only version possible. It should also be noted that not all of the lost footage is represented here; material from the theatrical version had to be used in a few places to make this cut work. Perhaps all of the trims will yet be found and a true Director’s Cut can be created. Still, I think most fans will agree that even an assembly of lower quality footage is better than nothing at all.
The Director’s Cut differences mostly involve the scenes featuring the Gemini Killer, played by Brad Dourif. They were re-shot later with Jason Miller, who portrayed Father Karras in the original Exorcist. The theatrical version features both Dourif and Miller in the same role, but originally, it was only meant to be Dourif. Most of the other changes are minor scene extensions in three or four places, as well as a slightly different opening, and some excised elements involving Father Morning. But the most drastic change is the film’s finale, which no longer contains an exorcism.
While this release certainly gives you a better idea of the film Blatty originally intended to make, I would argue that without the actual negative, finished effects, and sound mixing, casting judgment upon this cut seems false to me. Exorcist III’s soundtrack has always been just as important as its visuals, crafted deliberately to move viewers in certain directions or make them feel certain ways. Dourif’s dialogue is a good example, as it’s constantly tweaked in pitch and tone in the theatrical version. Without a final mix, the Director’s Cut ending is less satisfying and Dourif’s performance is a bit lacking in energy and personality (though Dourif himself disagrees). I thiink it’s one of those rare cases where changes made by the studio actually benefited the film as a whole. Regardless, I wholeheartedly applaud Scream’s tremendous effort to restore what they could here given the circumstances.
Scream Factory’s new Collector’s Edition features a brand new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element and the results are spectacular. This is, bar none, the best the film has ever looked on home video. It’s a beautiful and extremely organic-looking presentation, with more clarity than ever before. Grain levels are even, with plenty of fine detail visible in close-ups, backgrounds, skin textures, and clothing. The color palette is strong, with authentic skin tones. Brightness and contrast levels are perfect, offering deep blacks and terrific shadow detailing. Each frame is clean, with almost no noticeable age-related artifacts. The only problem I noticed was some extremely minor wobble, which is hardly worth nitpicking. The Director’s Cut is of the same caliber, but with the aforementioned lower quality VHS footage cut in.
Of course, the film would be nothing without its soundtrack. For audio options, there are both English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks to choose from. Both tracks feature excellent dialogue reproduction and strong sound effects and score. The mixes are potent, with the 5.1 having a bit of an edge in ambience and surround movement. There’s also frequent low end activity, giving the film’s deep rumblings more power than ever. Some of the overdubs and set-recorded dialogue is more noticeable as a consequence, but there’s excellent fidelity no matter which track you choose. English SDH subtitles are available for those who might need them.
This is another extras-packed release from Scream, with material that’s just as compelling and interesting as the film. On the first disc, which contains the theatrical version, there’s a vintage featurette; a set of photo galleries; 2 theatrical trailers; 6 TV spots; more deleted footage (including a deleted scene, alternate takes, and bloopers); the film’s deleted prologue; and a set of vintage interviews interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage. The interviews include writer/director William Peter Blatty, executive producer James G. Robinson, Larry King, C. Everett Koop, actors Ed Flanders, George C. Scott, Grand L. Bush, production designer Leslie Dilley, and actor Jason Miller.
On the second disc, which contains the Director’s Cut, there’s a new audio interview with Blatty, which acts as an audio commentary over the main feature; and the new Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III documentary, which is fantastic and is split into five parts, including A “Wonderfull” Time (interviews with producer Carter DeHaven, actors Clifford David and Tracy Thorne, and production assistant Kara Reidy), Signs of the Gemini (an interview with actor Brad Dourif), The Devil in the Details (interviews with production designer Leslie Dilley, assistant designer Daren Dochterman, and illustrator Simon Murton), Music for a Padded Cell (an interview with composer Barry DeVorzon), and All This Bleeding (interviews with production manager Ronald Colby, editor Todd Ramsay, effects artists William Forsche, Mike Smithson, Brian Wade, and actor/body double Charles Powell). Other than the previously mentioned missing footage, the widely available Warner Bros. one-minute teaser for the film is the only other extra that hasn’t been included, most likely due to rights issues.
Giving an author total control to adapt their own work for the screen could have been a disaster (I site Maximum Overdrive as an example). The fact that anything effective came out of this project at all says really something about the people who made it. The Exorcist III, in the scheme of things, might be a bit of a miracle. It’s akin to Apocalypse Now in my mind, a psychologically disturbing film and wounded masterpiece that was ahead of its time. The Exorcist III isn’t perfect, and I completely understand why some fans still can’t get behind it, but it remains a slick, cerebral, and effective horror film. Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray finally gives this title the respect it deserves and it’s a must-have release for fans. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons