It’s a great time to be a fan of THE EXORCIST.
William Friedkin’s 1973 film adaptation of the novel by William Peter Blatty has long been considered “the scariest movie of all time,” and for most people, that title remains firmly intact, despite the existence of a few misguided sequel/prequels sharing the same name. There is one exception. Blatty’s own sequel EXORCIST III, based upon his book, LEGION, is not only a proper and fitting continuation of the foundation laid in original, it’s the only film in the franchise to truly deserve the “Exorcist” name in the title. We now have a surprisingly great television series based on THE EXORCIST that acts more as a loose, modern day sequel, taking place in the same world Blatty created, but more importantly, the fine fiends over at Scream Factory are at it yet again with their new double-disc Blu-Ray release of THE EXORCIST III: LEGION (which is now available direct through Scream Factory, regular retail next Tues. Oct 25th).
The existence of an alternate “director’s cut” has long been rumored and whispered about, depending on what quotes from various interviews and articles you’ve read over the years with Blatty. But being that the film was made by Morgan Creek, who in a similar case claimed to have lost all the original elements to another one of their films, NIGHTBREED, the probability of it ever coming to light was next to none. However, Scream Factory magically managed to find that “lost” footage for NIGHTBREED and restore that. They did the same with the much-bootlegged version of HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS as well. So one of the most exciting announcements about this set was the inclusion of Blatty’s cut.
Now, let me curb your expectations before we delve into this disc. Unlike NIGHTBREED, original elements from the initial shoot that prominently featured Brad Dourif in the lead were, in fact, lost. All that remained was a VHS copy. So be forewarned that the quality of this “director’s cut” jumps around quite drastically. But also, well… it’s not as strong a movie as the final cut ended up being. After examining all the documentaries on the disc, as well as watching both versions back to back, the addition of the “exorcism” at the end was a good call to make the film better. And despite the weird back and forth between Dourif and Jason Miller, it is great to see Father Karras back in the theatrical version to give it a true sense of continuity with the original.
The most fascinating aspect of this release is just how much new information there is regarding the making-of this 1990 cult masterpiece. There’s a 5 part documentary that gives us all the juicy tidbits, as well as a candid and extensive interview with Blatty conducted by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher that runs as an audio commentary along with the “director’s cut.” But just to whet your insatiable appetites, here are 6 new things we learned about THE EXORCIST III from Scream Factory’s release.
William Peter Blatty Had Final Cut, Or So He Thought
There are two drastic differences between the original shoot for the film, which made up the “director’s cut,” and the extensive reshoots, which were all done exclusively for the released theatrical version. The original script (and movie) didn’t end with an exorcism. And Jason Miller was not in the movie initially at all. In fact, when you see a photograph of Father Karras early in the “director’s cut,” it’s Brad Dourif playing young Karras.
Although Blatty had a long history as a screenwriter, dating back to his time writing material for Blake Edwards, and already had one director’s credit under his belt for THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, the studio was very reluctant to let him helm LEGION. (One of the many people they courted was John Carpenter, for example!) He was under the assumption that he could make a film worthy of THE EXORCIST novel, but have it not be just another EXORCIST sequel.
Among the many names that the film had were LEGION, THE EXORCIST 1990, THE EXORCIST: 15 YEARS LATER. And once the studio saw his original cut, they insisted on changing it to THE EXORCIST III: LEGION and incorporating more things to tie it directly back to the original beyond simply sharing a few characters in common. Blatty didn’t want to do any of this and refused to compromise, so the studio brought in multiple uncredited directors for the reshoots. Despite his name prominently being displayed before the title, the movie wasn’t William Peter Blatty’s.
Brad Douriff Shot All His Scenes Twice
On the initial shoot, Dourif played both the Gemini Killer and Karras for all the scenes in the rubber room. After reshoots were scheduled, Jason Miller was intended to completely replace Dourif in the role, but unfortunately, the crew is very candid about the fact that Miller was unable to remember his lines and pull it off. So, they brought back Dourif, but all his scenes that are in the theatrical cut are solely from the reshoots. None of the footage from the original shoot with Dourif made it into the final film, although there is an interesting deleted prologue where Kinderman is standing over the corpse of the Gemini Killer (played by Dourif), showcasing that they did know each other. Brad admits in his interview that he thinks his performance was much better the first time he did it, and is sad that no one ever got to see his work. One of the benefits, however, with the director’s cut presented in this set is that we do get to see that original performance. Granted, it’s not the greatest of quality because it’s from a VHS master, but it’s still a fascinating look at “what if?”
Side-note: Brad Dourif’s extensive interview on this disc is like taking an acting class. Tremendously educational and insightful.
Jason Miller Mostly Did NOT Play The Possessed Version Of Karras!
Charles Powell, who would later go on to have a robust acting career in both television and movies, was Jason Miller’s uncredited double in THE EXORCIST III, one of his first gigs in the business. He spoke briefly with Jason Miller during the 2 days they were both together on set and tried his best to watch him work in that brief period, because for the next 3 weeks (!), he was going to be doubling for Jason in all the scenes where he was a possessed demon. Miller is only in the close-ups. In order to maintain the illusion with the audience that Jason Miller was in the movie, Charles Powell remained uncredited for his work, even being omitted from the press packets, all the way up until now!
Samuel L. Jackson Is An Extra In It
There is a surreal dream sequence in the film where Kinderman visits what appears to be a purgatory, filled with angels and random other crazies. You’ll spot cameos from people like Italian fashion model Fabio Lanzoni and Basketball star Patrick Ewing. But also babbling about on the bed, you’ll spot a pre-PULP FICTION Samuel L. Jackson as the blind man. Actress Tracy Thorne was pleasantly surprised to see the thespian on set because they had both worked in theater and done a play together prior to this film. It was a cameo appearance that I’d never noticed until watching this Blu.
Batman’s The Joker Makes A Terrifying Cameo
One of the scariest subliminal moments of the movie is when Kinderman is walking through the church after speaking with the Father. We get a glimpse of a statue in the church. When we cut back to it, for a brief few seconds, the face on the statue has completely changed into a scary face with an inhuman smile. Turns out that was very much intended to be The Joker, as in Batman’s arch-nemesis. Assistant designer Daren Dochterman explains on the documentary that Blatty did in fact reference The Joker in terms of what he wanted to see when we come back to the statue. Up until now, it was one of those quick shots that always unnerved me, but now that I know it’s the Joker, it’s a bit sillier than I remember!
No One Knew The Ending, Even Before The Reshoots
Much like with PSYCHO II back during its shoot in 1982, no one was permitted to see the last few pages of the script for THE EXORCIST III. The idea was to keep it a secret and to insure none of the surprises got out, but also this would make for great publicity when it came time to promote the film. Little did Blatty know that there would be a radical re-working of his ending, so no doubt, Blatty probably didn’t know what ending was going to play when it would unspool for the public in theaters. The reshoots, and multiple directors for them, are all well documented in the 5 chapter documentary “All This Bleeding.”
The above is literally just scratching the surface when it comes to uncovering the secrets behind the making of THE EXORCIST III. For example, another fun tid-bit is seeing a photo of the original script which says “THE EXORCIST 1990,” arranged in the shape of a crucifix.
So if you like the movie, this set is a must own. And while it’s cool to finally see the much-talked about “director’s cut,” believe it or not, after having watched all the featurettes, it only further solidifies that the theatrical cut is the superior version. With the original film always holding a slot as one of the most celebrated horror movies ever, and a new TV show worthy of “THE EXORCIST” title, it’s nice to see THE EXORCIST III finally get its due!
You can hear us discuss THE EXORCIST III Blu-Ray release on the episode of Shock Waves embedded below!