Director: William Peter Blatty
Screenplay: William Peter Blatty
Starring: George C Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif, Jason MIller
Year: 1990 / 2016
Duration: 110 mins / 105 mins
BBFC Certification: 15
Two movies, same book, same director. That is what we have here in this newly released box set of The Exorcist III. And yet both films have a very different feel. One is not necessarily better than the other but there are things about the director’s cut that I like more.
When the theatrical version of The Exorcist III was released in 1990 it got mixed reviews and although I enjoyed this version, I always felt that the ending exorcism seemed to come out of nowhere. It doesn’t appear in the book and doesn’t seem to have any build up within the rest of the film narrative. It really is as if someone turned around and said, ‘Oh no this is an exorcist movie and there’s no exorcism.’ Having now watched the directors cut, nearly 30 years later, and read a bit more about both versions of the film, I know why.
Both versions of The Exorcist III were based on the sequel to The Exorcist book, Legion, and were written and directed by William Peter Blatty the author of both books. However, the theatrical version released in cinemas in 1990 was not the intended version, but a revised working, requested by the studio who felt that Blatty’s original cut did not encompass enough elements of the two previous, Exorcist films to work as a sequel. For a start, it had no exorcism.
The Exorcist III follows Lieutenant William F Kinderman (George C Scott) as he investigates the murder of a 12-year old boy. Further murders occur, including the decapitation of a priest and the murder of his good friend, Father Dyer (Ed Flanders). Kinderman starts to suspect that the murders are more complicated than he first suspected when he uncovers some details unknown to the public that suggest this is the work of a previously executed serial killer known as the ‘Gemini Killer’ who has been dead for over 15 years.
Troubled by the link to a dead convict and the discovery that at each murder location the fingerprints are different, Kinderman eventually is lead to the local psychiatric hospital where he hears the story of a patient bought in years ago with amnesia. After visiting the cell of the patient, Kinderman begins to believe that this man could be another good friend of his, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), dead and buried years ago after falling down a huge flight of steps.
After a nurse is murdered and the psychiatric doctor commits suicide, Kinderman returns to visit the patient identifying himself as the Gemini Killer. To prove who he is, the killer possesses an old woman who seeks out Kinderman’s family. It is at this point the two versions start to look significantly different: one ending in a dramatic exorcism whilst the other meanders off quietly with the dialogue between Kinderman and patient x.
Whilst much of the narrative is the same, the ending exorcism in the theatrical version, and further re-shot scenes were added to tie in nicely to the idea that this really was a sequel to the original 1973 film. Other scenes were cut shorter or deleted to appease an audience that were increasingly craving more fast paced films with special effects, as opposed to slow burning thrillers.
Both endings have merit, but it is the more subtle, low impact scenes in the director’s cut that I personally prefer. In the theatrical version, the interview between Kinderman and patient x is typically The Exorcist, 1973, style, with the patient’s voice made to sound demonic as he talks, whilst in the director’s cut, it is the voice of the priest Father Karras (Brad Dourif) that we hear. Similarly, in the theatrical version we are exposed to patient x visually as both the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) and patient x (Jason Miller). Whilst Brad Dourif plays as patient x in the director’s cut.
Another reason I prefer the director’s cut is its development of its relationship between Father Dyer. Although we are led to believe they have a good friendship in both versions, we see more of this in the director’s cut. In doing this, we have more empathy for Kinderman as he battles through the days to understand and capture his friend’s murderer. Also, the exhumation of Father Karras’s body is explained better within the director’s cut.
However, the directors cut is not without its flaws. There is no surprise that this version has been 25 years in the making. Most of the original footage was lost long ago and as a result, limited, poor quality video is used to make up these extra scenes. They are noticeable. Very noticeable and can be distracting at times, particularly very short scenes interspersed with much better-quality film. Eventually you get used to this, and the final dialogue is so long, you almost forget that the quality and viewing ratio is different, to much of the film.
The biggest thing to commend on both versions, is the acting. George C Scott takes on the part of Lieutenant Kinderman brilliantly alongside Ed Flanders as his long-standing friend, Father Dyer. Their depiction of friendship is commendable, particularly in the director’s cut where we get more insight into how close they are. Brad Dourif and Jason Miller, equally share superb acting skills as patient x / Gemini Killer / Father Karras despite scenes in both versions played slightly differently. Even supporting roles are believable.
Overall, I would recommend watching both versions of this film. Whilst one may appeal more to the traditional horror fan and the other may be more of a psychological thriller, both are an interesting watch. Don’t be put off by the poor-quality scenes in the director’s cut, it does give an interesting and different take from the theatrical version.
Both films can be bought together with a number of interesting extras such as interviews, Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III, 2016, an in-depth documentary, deleted scenes and trailers. Worth it if you are really keen on the films or a bit of a film buff.
This 2-disc limited-edition Blu-ray is released by Arrow Video and includes the following extras:
• Two presentations of The Exorcist III: the theatrical cut and the Legion director s cut
• Original 2.0 stereo audio and optional 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Richard Wells
• Limited edition booklet with new writing on the film by Lee Gambin, archival articles and reviews
DISC ONE THE THEATRICAL CUT
• 2K restoration of the theatrical cut of The Exorcist III, presented in High Definition
• New audio commentary by critics Alexandra Heller Nicholas and Josh Nelson
• Audio interview with writer/director William Peter Blatty
• Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III, an in-depth 2016 documentary divided into five chapters:
• Chapter One: A Wonderful Time, an interview with producer Carter DeHaven and members of the supporting cast and production crew
• Chapter Two: Signs of the Gemini, an interview with actor Brad Dourif
• Chapter Three: The Devil in the Details, an interview with production designer Leslie Dilley and more
• Chapter Four: Music for a Padded Cell, an interview with composer Barry De Vorzon
• Chapter Five: All this Bleeding, interviews about the additional shoot and special effects
• The Exorcist III: Vintage Interviews, archival interviews with cast and crew members including William Peter Blatty, producer James Robinson, actors George C. Scott, Jason Miller, Grand L. Bush and Ed Flanders
• The Exorcist III: Vintage Featurette, making-of documentary with onset footage and interviews
• Deleted scenes, alternate takes and bloopers
• Image galleries
• Trailers and TV spots
DISC TWO THE LEGION DIRECTOR S CUT
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Legion director s cut, assembled from the best available film and video elements