The Exorcist III

October 9th, 1975; Father Damien Karras falls to his death through a window and down a long flight of stone steps while performing a sanctioned exorcism on Regan MacNeil, teenage daughter of the international film star Chris MacNeil, to rid her of the spirit allegedly possessing her, Pazuzu, king of the demons.

October 9th, 1975; James Venamun, the notorious “Gemini Killer” is executed following a string of murders, his victims linked by the ritual mutilation he has performed on each of them and the letter K as an initial in their names. Police detective Lieutenant William F Kinderman was involved in both cases.

October 9th, 1990; the anniversary of the death of Father Karras, friends Kinderman and Father Joseph Dyer’s cinema date is overshadowed by the horrific murder of young Thomas Kintry, crucified and decapitated. A second murder follows, Father Kanavan, decapitated in his own confessional box, and the forensic evidence leads a trail back to the modus operandi of a serial killer dead fifteen years.

Written and directed by William Peter Blatty based upon his novel Legion, published in 1983, it had been his intention that when the film was released in the late summer of 1990 that it should bear that name, but the collective wisdom of the studio deemed that for commercial reasons it should instead be called The Exorcist III, linking as it did directly to the events of the 1973 blockbuster The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin from Blatty’s own screenplay adaptation of his 1971 novel.

Now released on Blu-ray by Arrow, their new edition contains two distinct versions of the film, the original theatrical release, containing substantial reshoots conducted by Blatty at the behest of the studio and alternative takes from principal photography, the director already aware of the possibility a change of direction would be dictated, and a reconstructed assembly approximating what the film would have been had Blatty enjoyed the privilege of final cut.

With no complete print of the “Legion” director’s cut in the archives, it is out of necessity a patchwork of restored raw footage transferred from VHS, jarring but illuminating and oddly familiar, the role of “Patient X” in cell eleven of Georgetown General Hospital’s secure psychiatric ward being played entirely by Brad Dourif in the initial shooting and as a dual role shared with Jason Miller in the theatrical release, Dourif returning to reshoot his monologues on a newly constructed set, with Charles Powell also uncredited as a stand in for Miller.

Despite these complications and the initial critical rejection and the subsequent box office disappointment, in the following years The Exorcist III has come to be appreciated as an intelligent and genuinely disturbing film whose prestige release is long overdue, the reinstated cut regarded as the “unholy grail” of lost horror films, a commentary from Mark Kermode and Kim Newman on the second cut detailing the changes, their reasons and consequences, and offering comparisons with the original novel.

Blatty originally a comedy writer who had only directed one previous film, The Ninth Configuration, following a minor character from The Exorcist, his confidence and daring are undeniable, The Exorcist III a magnificent and bold feature in terms of production and performance, from the sunrise over the Potomac River to the light and shadow of the churches, the ensemble led by The Changeling‘s George C Scott as Lieutenant Kinderman.

Each of the characters a wealth of humanising idiosyncrasies, Kinderman moves from the weariness of a career police officer to the horror of a man confronting the fundamental dissolution of his beliefs to a husband and father genuinely terrified for his family, barely hanging on as he loses himself in the case, matched at every turn by Dourif’s career-best performance as the manacled and strait-jacketed Patient X whose ravings, roars and arias may hold the answers or may just be more noise.

Blatty contrasting scenes of intense conversation with long silences, he imbues dread in the corridors of the hospital and the otherwise innocuous shuffling of feet, in the depictions of frailty and old age and helplessness, in the cruelties of the world which are never balanced, in the bleak humour by which those who have weathered pain hold back hopelessness, his vision of the afterlife startling and devoid of comfort as silent angels shepherd the dead desperately seeking the comfort and meaning their lives have lacked.

A film which does not lose its impact on multiple viewings, rather it increases the appreciation of the subtlety with which it is structured, several false jump scares followed by the relief of laughter leading to an iconic image as the night shift is cut short, but neither is The Exorcist III short on depth, considering life, death, the soul, repentance, sacrifice and the destination of the soul.

With supporting roles for St Elsewhere‘s Ed Flanders, The Walking Dead‘s Scott Wilson and Creepshow‘s Viveca Lindfors, Arrow’s new edition is equally packed with commentaries on both versions, an audio interview with William Peter Blatty, an extended “making of” documentary, vintage interviews and publicity material, deleted scenes, outtakes and multiple galleries.

The Exorcist III is available now from Arrow Films



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