Exorcist III (The) AKA William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III AKA William Peter Blatty’s Legion (Bl [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Arrow Video
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (22nd December 2019).
The Film

The Exorcist III (William Peter Blatty, 1990)

Synopsis:
Georgetown, 1990. Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) and his friend, detective lieutenant William Kinderman (George C Scott), are both still haunted by the death, almost 20 years prior, of Father Damian Karras. Karras gave his life during the exorcism of a young girl, Regan MacNeil, calling the demon possessing the girl to come into him before hurling himself down a flight of steps.

When a young African American boy is found murdered, having been tortured and beheaded, Kinderman finds his colleagues riddled with apathy. Kinderman recognises the modus operandi as similar to that of the Gemini Killer, a serial murderer Kinderman assisted in capturing 15 years prior. However, the Gemini Killer was executed for his crimes.

When a priest, Father Kanavan, is found murdered and decapitated, Kinderman realises the connection between this crime and the killing of the boy. He learns that both victims were paralysed by a drug that is most commonly used in electroshock treatment, which meant that both Father Kanavan and the child were conscious whilst the killer mutilated their bodies.

After Father Dyer is admitted to hospital for tests, Kinderman experiences a strange dream: he finds himself in Grand Central Station, but it is populated by lost souls waiting for passage to the afterlife. Angels are attempting to communicate with heaven, unsuccessfully, by radio. Kinderman sees the murdered child, his severed head stitched on to his neck; he also sees Father Dyer, his head also stitched to his neck. Kinderman awakens to a telephone call. It is the hospital: Father Dyer has been murdered, his body drained of blood.

At the hospital, Kinderman learns that Mrs Clelia (Mary Jackson), an elderly patient suffering from dementia, was discovered collapsed near Father Dyer’s room. Kinderman decides to talk with Mrs Clelia, who tells him that she has an invisible radio on which she can hear ‘Dead people talking’. Whilst in the neurological unit, Kinderman visits what is known as ‘the disturbed ward’, a high security unit presided over by Dr Temple (Scott Wilson).

Kinderman reveals to Temple that the killings all bear the hallmark of the Gemini Killer, and all of the victims are linked by the fact that their names began with the letter ‘K’. (Father Dyer’s middle name was Kevin.) Speaking with another priest, Father Healey (John Durkin), Kinderman learns that the mother of the murdered child was the woman who analysed the audio recordings of the possessed Regan MacNeil; Father Kanavan was the priest who gave Karras permission to investigate the possession of Regan MacNeil. Kinderman begins to wonder if the killings have some connection with the possession of Regan. This becomes compounded by Kinderman’s realisation that one of the patients in the ‘disturbed ward’ claims to be the Gemini Killer and bears an uncanny resemblance to Kinderman’s old friend, Father Karras. But what role does Mrs Clelia play in all of this?

Critique: William Peter Blatty wrote Legion in 1983. The novel was based on a script that Blatty had written in the late 1970s for a planned film sequel to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973); this film sequel was to have been directed by Friedkin until the production company, Warner Bros, backed out of the project. When the film project fell through, Blatty reworked his script into novel form. Where The Exorcist had posited the notion that the most horrifying thing an evil force could do would be to possess the body of an innocent child, thus capturing that child’s soul, Legion focused on a form of evil more immediately recognisable to America in the 1970s and early 1980s: the work of a serial killer. (‘I kill at random’, the Gemini Killer asserts, ‘That’s the thrill of it. No motives’.) In creating the Gemini Killer, Blatty looked towards the activities of contemporary serial killers such as the Zodiac Killer and Charles Schmid. (In a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in January of 1974, the Zodiac Killer had referenced Friedkin’s film adaptation of The Exorcist, writing that ‘I saw + think “The Exorcist” was the best saterical [sic] comidy [sic] that I have ever seen’.) The novel’s title, Legion, references the events depicted in Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke:26-39, in which Christ exorcises a man possessed by multiple demons; when Christ asks the name of the demon inhabiting the victim, the demon responds, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many’.

In 1989, six years after the publication of Legion, Blatty was given the go-ahead by Morgan Creek to make a film based on the novel; this became The Exorcist III. Distributed 17 years after the release of Friedkin’s The Exorcist and 15-20 years following the exorcism of Regan MacNeil and the death of Father Karras, Blatty’s The Exorcist III references the events of the first film, positioning itself as a direct sequel to The Exorcist and sidestepping the narrative of John Boorman’s poorly-received Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). (The Boorman picture was a film of which Blatty had been openly critical.) In its early sequences, The Exorcist III focuses on the cross-faith friendship between Lieutenant Kinderman and Father Dyer which was forged during the events of The Exorcist (Kinderman is a Jew; Dyer is a Catholic); both men share memories of Father Damian Karras, who sacrificed his life to rid the child Regan of the demon Pazuzu. However, in The Exorcist III these three roles are played by different actors to Friedkin’s film: where Lee J Cobb played Kinderman in The Exorcist, in The Exorcist III Kinderman is portrayed by George C Scott, who invests the character with a similar sense of down-to-earth, direct gravitas as Cobb did in his performance; Father Dyer is played in The Exorcist III with a similar sense of warmth by Ed Flanders, rather than William O’Malley, the real life Jesuit priest who Friedkin cast in the role in The Exorcist; finally, Father Karras is portrayed in the director’s cut of The Exorcist III by Brad Dourif, who assumes the role Jason Miller played in Friedkin’s picture. For the theatrical cut, Blatty reshot a number of the scenes involving Dourif, incorporating new footage that featured Jason Miller playing Karras – so that at times, during Kinderman’s conversations with the patient (given the nickname ‘Tommy Sunshine’ in the novel) he would morph from Dourif into Miller and back again. This effect is arguably more confusing than Blatty’s original decision to simply recast the part of Karras, especially if one accepts the recasting of the roles of Dyer and Kinderman.

At the core of The Exorcist III is Kinderman’s recognition that the Gemini Killer is inhabiting the body of his old friend, Father Karras, who uncannily appears not to have aged in the almost two decades since the events of The Exorcist. Early in the film, in a scene only included in the director’s cut, Kinderman and Dyer look at a photograph of Karras, in happier times prior to the events depicted in The Exorcist. ‘What a wonderful man he was’, Dyer reflects, ‘So loving, so terribly kind’; when we meet the Gemini Killer in the secure mental unit of the hospital, we recognise him immediately as the still-youthful Karras. (The theatrical cut obfuscates this by removing the scene in which Kinderman and Dyer look at the photograph of a young Karras, and as mentioned above by including reshot scenes in which Karras is played by Jason Miller.) On the other hand, Kinderman and Dyer are supposed to have aged between the events of The Exorcist and The Exorcist III: though in truth in The Exorcist Kinderman, as played by the then-62 year old Lee J Cobb, was clearly approaching retirement, so the fact that he’s still on active duty as a detective during the events of The Exorcist III, set in 1990, requires the audience to stretch their imagination somewhat.

Blatty’s Legion is as much a mystery novel as a horror story, its narrative focusing on Kinderman’s investigation of the murders committed by a serial killer, and has often been seen as Blatty’s attempt to prove himself to be something ‘more’ than a horror novelist. However, when Blatty presented his cut of The Exorcist III to Morgan Creek, the studio demanded a number of changes to amplify the horror within the film’s story and emphasise its connection to Friedkin’s film. Most notable were reshoots to the film’s final sequences, with the studio demanding a new ending to the picture in which a priest, Father Morning (Nicol Williamson), enters the cell of the Gemini Killer, performing a spectacular exorcism. The loud vulgarity of this sequence, in the theatrical cut, is offset by the more subtle scares evidenced elsewhere in the picture. In one of the film’s most famous sequences, a nurse is shown on night duty in the hospital before she is attacked by one of the elderly patients, who is being controlled at a distance by the Gemini Killer. The scene is played out in a long take, with lots of staging in depth and careful control of mise-en-scčne that is comparable to that in some of Jacques Tati’s films, except here it is conducted in the service of horror rather than comedy. The camera is locked down at the end of a corridor, the arches of the hallway functioning as frames within the frame, so that we see the nurse performing her duties at the nurse’s station, at the far end of the corridor. A security guard enters the hallway through the double doors next to the nurse’s station, his arrival providing a false sense of security; he sits on a chair for a while before leaving for his rounds. The nurse approaches one of the rooms, investigating a strange noise; she turns on the light and looks into the room but, apparently seeing nothing there, turns her back on it and begins to walk away. As she does so, the elderly patient inhabited by the Gemini Killer bursts out of the room behind her, holding surgical shears, and advancing on her quickly; Blatty cuts away just before the money shot (the decapitation of the nurse). It’s bravura filmmaking, supremely confident in its execution and its ability to hold the audience’s attention.

It’s most likely utterly incidental, but in the film’s core premise (that the Gemini Killer, or rather the demon inhabiting him – which we are led to believe is Pazuzu – is able to commit his crimes from a distance, using psychologically ‘weak’ dementia patients as his tools) there are some similarities with Ray Danton’s exploitative 1975 film Psychic Killer. In Danton’s picture, after being incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane for a crime he did not commit, Arnold Masters (Jim Hutton) uses astral projection to take revenge on those by whom he was wronged. Elsewhere, in the protracted exsanguination of Father Dyer as he lies in his hospital bed, The Exorcist III seems to make a sideways allusion to Robert Fuest’s The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971), in which Vincent Price’s Anton Phibes performs a similar exsanguination; in The Abominable Dr Phibes, Phibes drains the blood from one of his victims, Dr Longstreet (Terry-Thomas), lining up the jars containing Longstreet’s blood next to the body. Certainly, The Exorcist III, and Brad Dourif’s role specifically, was itself payed homage to in one of the most celebrated episodes of The X-Files, ‘Beyond the Sea’, in which Brad Dourif plays another incarcerated serial killer who exhibits psychic abilities.

Throughout The Exorcist III, Blatty returns to images of steps, using these symbolically. At the end of The Exorcist, Karras’ of course encourages the demon Pazuzu to enter him before throwing himself from the window of Regan MacNeil’s bedroom, tumbling down the steps outside the MacNeil home; the fall breaks Karras’ neck, leading to his death. The descent down the steps is fatal for Karras but is also symbolic of a descent – both moral and spiritual. As the film opens, we see a prowling Steadicam point-of-view shot that traverses the streets of Georgetown before tumbling down steps, as on the audio track a disembodied voice (which we later recognise as Dourif’s) asserts, ‘I have dreams of a rose, and then falling down a long flight of steps’.

Though Kinderman and Dyer are from very different backgrounds – one is Catholic, the other a Jew – they are both identified as free thinkers from very early in the story. Father Dyer is introduced after giving a sermon, having told a church benefactor that ‘Jesus loves you, but everyone else thinks you’re an asshole’. Meanwhile, when the young African American boy is found murdered, Kinderman is unafraid to call out what his colleagues’ racism, which manifests itself in their apathy towards the cruel murder of this child. Kinderman’s worldview is fatalistic and hopeless: ‘The whole world is a homicide victim, Father’, he tells Dyer, ‘Would a God who is good invent something like death? Plainly speaking, it’s a lousy idea. It’s not popular. It’s not a winner’. However, Dyer is more hopeful: ‘It all works out right’, he promises Kinderman, ‘At the end of time [….] We’re gonna be there. We’re gonna live forever, Bill. We’re spirits’. ‘I’d love to believe that’, Kinderman responds dryly.



Video

As noted above, Morgan Creek demanded numerous changes to Blatty’s cut of the film; these involved both cuts and reshoots. Most notable was the studio-mandated change to the film’s climax, which was reshot to incorporate a spectacular exorcism sequence (and the addition of a new character, a priest who performs the exorcism, played by Nicol Williamson). Blatty’s original cut of the film was, and remains, considered ‘lost’, the original footage sadly seeming to have been junked by Morgan Creek. However, in the digital age ‘fan edits’ attempting to reassemble something closer to Blatty’s original cut circulated for a number of years before, in 2016, the American home video company Scream Factory released a ‘director’s cut’, retitled Legion, which had been composited from a new restoration of the theatrical version of the film and VHS tapes of the film’s dailies. This wasn’t a complete assembly of Blatty’s original cut of the film, because some of the footage unique to the original edit of the film is still missing, but nevertheless it’s a substantially different movie to the theatrical cut and closer to Blatty’s intentions.

Arrow Video’s new release of The Exorcist III contains both the theatrical cut (running 109:53, on disc one and filling approximately 30Gb of its dual-layered disc) and the director’s cut (running 104:38, on disc two and filling slightly under 30Gb of space on a dual-layered disc). Both cuts are housed on separate discs, and encoded in 1080p using the AVC codec. Arrow’s version of the director’s cut is similar to that released by Scream Factory but makes some minor changes, such as rendering the flashback that opens the Legion cut in monochrome.

Presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the theatrical cut is presented via a restoration which uses as its basis the same 2k scan of the negative that was used for Scream Factory’s release in the US. This new presentation is a big improvement over the film’s previous Blu-ray release from Warner, which was based on an aged master. Detail is very pleasing, with a strong level of fine detail being present throughout the film. As with the Scream Factory release, however, there appears to be a small element of noticeable digital sharpening. Contrast levels are good, with finely-balanced midtones and even highlights, though the drop-off into the toe is sometimes quite sharp and shadow detail is slightly crushed because of this. Colour is balanced and consistent; skintones are slightly warm but predominantly naturalistic. Finally, the excellent encode to disc (on both presentations) ensures that the presentations of both the theatrical cut and director’s cut retain the structure of 35mm film, resulting in a very filmlike viewing experience.

The director’s cut uses the new restoration as its base but composites into this footage that is sourced from SD VHS recordings of the film’s dailies. This VHS-based material looks as good as videocassette footage can be expected to and is presented in the 1.37:1 ratio.

Many of the additions to the director’s cut of The Exorcist III are scene extensions, but some are new scenes entirely, and the climax is handled very differently. New material added to the director’s cut includes:
- An extension of the first scene in which Kinderman is shown with his family;
- An extension of the restaurant scene, with Kinderman and Father Dyer talking about the film they have just watched at the cinema together;
- An extension of the scene in which Kinderman visits Father Dyer in the hospital. A nurse, who comes to take Dyer’s bloods for analysis, blasphemes wildly;
- More dialogue between Kinderman and Father Dyer in the hospital, with Kinderman realising that ‘almost anyone’ could steal from the nurse’s drug cart, thus providing them with access to the medications that the killer has been using to paralyse his victims;
- An extension of the scene in which Kinderman first visits ‘the disturbed ward’ nd hears his name being spoken by one of the patients. This is followed by a shot from Kinderman’s POV as he looks in on the patient’s room and sees the Gemini Killer, who recites a line from John Donne’s Holy Sonnets (‘Die not, poor Death, nor canst though kill me’);
- A brief cut to the Gemini Killer whispering Father Dyer’s middle name (Kevin);
- Kinderman visits the Gemini Killer in his cell;
- Kinderman looks through the Gemini Killer’s medical file;
- A shot of the Gemini Killer after Kinderman realises that he may be Father Karras;
- The exhumation of Father Karras’ grave, and the discovery that Karras’ body is not in his coffin;
- A lengthy interview between Kinderman and the Gemini Killer, which makes quite direct allusion to the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac (Kinderman asks the Gemini Killer, ‘Who are you?’; the patient responds, ‘No-one. Many’);
- Father Healey tells Kinderman of the disappearance of Brother Fain, who dressed Karras’ body and sealed the coffin;
- Kinderman visits the Gemini Killer after the deaths of Atkins and the nurse. The Gemini Killer insists Kinderman put the killings ‘in the papers’;
- Kinderman on the telephone to Father Healey after interviewing the Gemini Killer;
- As Kinderman races home once he realises his family are in danger, a nurse reads the brain activity of the catatonic Gemini Killer;
- An added shot of the patient/nurse, acting under the influence of the Gemini Killer, as she attempts to strangle Kinderman;
- A different ending, between KInderman and the Gemini Killer, in place of the exorcism that resolves the theatrical cut.



Some full-sized screengrabs, including some taken of the VHS inserts from the director’s cut, are included at the bottom of this review. Please click to enlarge them.

Audio

The theatrical cut is presented with the option of either a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix or a LPCM 2.0 stereo mix. The former is more modern and makes subtle use of sound separation to create atmosphere; purists will prefer the latter, however, which is the original sound mix, and makes good use of the separation in the front channels. Both sound mixes are rich and display good depth and range. The director’s cut is presented with the lossless 2.0 mix only (ie, without the newer 5.1 mix as accompaniment); again, this is the original 2.0 sound mix and not a downmix of the 5.1 track. (This is different to the US release from Scream Factory, on which the 2.0 track was a downmix of the 5.1 track.) Both cuts of the film are accompanied by optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing. These are easy to read and accurate.

Extras

Disc contents are as follows:
DISC ONE:
- The Film (Theatrical Cut) (109:53)
.

- Audio commentary with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas & Josh Nelson
. These two critics discuss their original responses to The Exorcist and The Exorcist III. They talk about Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration too, reflecting on its relationship with The Exorcist III. The pair consider some of the abiding themes of Blatty’s work, and they discuss Blatty’s approach to building characters in this film, talking about one of the film’s ‘quiet’ themes – of racism, which Kinderman encounters both at work and at home. They talk about the cast in the movie and what they bring to their roles.

- Audio interview with William Peter Blatty
. This audio interview with Blatty was conducted by Michael Felsher in 2016. It is presented essentially as an audio commentary, though not synched with the onscreen action. It’s a fascinating interview that extends beyond the production of The Exorcist III, Blatty discussing pertinent topics and exploring much broader issues too.

- ‘Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III’ (104:23)
. This feature-length documentary about the genesis, production and reception of The Exorcist III is incredibly thorough. It includes input from Barry Devorzon, the composer and friend of William Peter Blatty; producer Carter DeHaven; Brad Dourif; make-up effects artists Mike Smithson, Brian Wade and William Forsche; production designer Leslie Dilley; actor Clifford David; actress Tracy Thorne; second unit production manager Ronald Colby; assistant designer Daren Dochterman; and Blatty’s personal assistant Kara Reidy.

Broken into five chapters (‘A “Wonderfull” Time’; ‘Signs of the Gemini’; ‘The Devil in the Details’; ‘Music for a Padded Cell’; and ‘All this Bleeding’), it’s helpfully accessibly via a ‘Play All’ option on the menu: it’s the same documentary that appeared on the Scream Factory Blu-ray release of the film, though on that release the documentary each ‘chapter’ of the documentary must be accessed separately from the disc’s menu screens.

The first chapter, ‘A “Wonderfull” Time’ (24:30), opens with Barry Devorzon talking about William Peter Blatty’s response to the success of his novel The Exorcist. The interviewees discuss their responses to Friedkin’s film adaptation of The Exorcist, how they came to encounter it for the first time, and considering its broader impact and significance (for example, in terms of its approach to special effects). ‘It’s scary as hell’, Dourif observes, ‘Still is’. They talk about their feelings vis-ŕ-vis The Exorcist II: The Heretic: Dourif describes it as ‘the biggest piece of shit probably ever made’. The origins of Legion in Blatty and Friedkin’s idea for a sequel to The Exorcist is discussed, as is the novel’s journey to the screen.

The second chapter, ‘Signs of the Gemini’ (17:42), focuses on Dourif’s casting. Blatty originally wanted Jason Miller, but Dourif says that Miller was ‘too far gone’ in terms of his documented alcoholism to deal with the lines required to play the part. Dourif was enticed to work on the project by Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration, which Dourif had seen and admired. Dourif talks about working with George C Scott, which he found slightly intimidating at first but soon came to enjoy. Dourif also discusses Scott’s reputation for being difficult to work with, which Dourif says was ‘completely unfair’.

The third chapter, ‘The Devil in the Details’ (18:03), sees Leslie Dilley talking about the production design for the picture, which he worked on after tackling the production design for James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989). He and Daren Dochterman talk about their working relationship (Dochterman had worked on The Abyss with Dilley; this had been Dochterman’s first feature film). They discuss filming on location and talk about some of Blatty’s ideas for the picture, reflecting on the logistics of how these were realised.

The fourth chapter, ‘Music for a Padded Cell’ (15:16), has composer Barry Devorzon reflecting on his career and talking about how he came to be a composer of film scores. Devorzon discusses his approach to scoring pictures, suggesting that his approach is to underscore the onscreen action in order to ‘enhance’ what is being seen by the viewer rather than distract from it. Devorzon talks about how he was originally asked by William Peter Blatty to score The Exorcist but was sidelined by Friedkin, who chose Lalo Schifrin instead (before discarding Schifrin’s score in favour of a soundtrack composed of found music). Producer Carter DeHaven discusses his feelings at the time vis-ŕ-vis Blatty’s suggestion that Devorzon should score The Exorcist III. (DeHaven was sceptical at first.) Devorzon talks about his minimalist approach to scoring the film.

The fifth and final chapter, ‘All this Bleeding’ (28:49), examines the film’s postproduction and release. Carter DeHaven talks about the studio’s pressure for the film to include an exorcism, to ‘live up’ to the title. Ronald Colby reflects on Morgan Creek’s feelings regarding Blatty’s edit of the film, which he was asked to watch with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky; Colby described Blatty’s edit as ‘totally leaden and without redemption’, saying that when he met with Blatty, Blatty thought he had created something special and unique. DeHaven suggests that Blatty didn’t have the ‘flexibility that a good director needs to have’ owing to his background as a novelist; ‘I don’t think Bill’s is the best collaborative mindset’, DeHaven says. Members of the special effects makeup team talk about how some of the effects in the exorcism sequence were achieved.

- Archival Interviews (38:36)
. These are videotaped interviews, apparently recorded during the making of the film and interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage. Included are interviews with Blatty, producer James Robinson, George C Scott, Jason Miller, Grand L Bush and Ed Flanders.

- ‘Falling Down a Long Flight of Steps’ (8:43)
. Randy Moore, special effects artist, talks about his work on the picture, discussing how the shot in which the camera tumbles down a flight of steps (conveying the POV of Karras as he falls down the stairs outside the MacNeil house) was achieved and some of the film’s other subtle effects scenes.

- Archival Featurette (7:13)
. This EPK-style featurette was made to promote the film on its initial release and includes behind-the-scenes footage alongside interviews with some of the cast and crew.

- Deleted Scenes, Alternate Takes & Bloopers (5:39)
. Deleted scenes include a scene depicting a child’s birthday in the hospital, which is attended by a clown; an alternate version of the murder in the confessional; raw videotape footage, presumably from the film’s dailies, of alternate angles of the murder of the nurse (which shows how wise Blatty was to shoot this in a long take); more raw videotape footage of additional dialogue/alternate takes during Kinderman’s conversation with Father Healey about Brother Fain; some brief additional videotape footage of Dourif talking to Kinderman in the cell; videotape footage of Kinderman and Dyer talking about Kinderman’s wife’s mother’s carp, which ends with some corpsing; and another take of the same scene, this one silent and film-sourced.

- Image Galleries: Production Stills (53 images); Behind the Scenes (mislabelled as ‘Behind the Stills’ on the menu; 43 images); Posters and Lobby Cards (69 images); Japanese Press Book (14 images)

- Trailers (3:10)
.

- TV Spots (2:25)
.

- Radio Spots (1:01)
.


DISC TWO:
- The Film (Director’s Cut) (104:38)
.

- Audio Commentary with Mark Kermode & Kim Newman
. New to this release from Arrow Video, Kermode and Newman’s commentary is enthusiastic and breathless, beginning with an explanation of the film’s production and postproduction history. Kermode offers some information from his interviews with Blatty. Kermode was instrumental in getting the director’s cut, ‘a version of the film that shows what Bill Blatty was trying to do’, assembled. The pair discuss the relationship between The Exorcist III and The Exorcist, Kermode highlighting some of the subtle discrepancies between this film and Friedkin’s The Exorcist. They also discuss some of the casting decisions, including what Scott, Flanders and Dourif bring to their roles. The footage unique to this director’s cut is highlighted and discussed in detail too.

- Deleted Prologue, with Optional Commentary by Mark Kermode & Kim Newman (2:45)
. This is the original black-and-white prologue that was intended for The Exorcist III. It begins as The Exorcist ends, with Karras throwing himself from the window of Regan’s bedroom, and then continues to show Karras’ body being visited by Kinderman. (Karras is played by Dourif; Kinderman is played by Scott.) Kermode and Newman’s optional commentary explains the function of this prologue, to set up ‘the bond between Kinderman and Karras’ and tell us ‘this [Dourif] is the face of Father Karras, and something is happening to the body of Father Karras immediately after the end of The Exorcist’.

Overall

The Exorcist III
has always been a compromised film which has divided audiences. Stories of how Blatty’s original cut differed from that released theatrically circulated amongst fans for many years. Though hampered by the fact that the footage trimmed by the studio was junked and therefore the ‘new’ footage is taken from VHS dailies (and, for that matter, there is still some footage from Blatty’s original cut, tantalisingly evidenced through onset stills and other promotional materials, that hasn’t turned up in any form), the new assembly of something closer to Blatty’s ‘director’s cut’ is something of a revelation. It brings The Exorcist III back towards something resembling the novel on which it is based – with as much a focus on its mystery plotting as on the horror elements that the studio considered necessary to sell the picture. The superb, multifaceted performances of Scott, Flanders and, of course, Dourif, anchor the film; and Blatty’s direction is assured and confident. Blatty had already proven himself to be a more than competent film director, with his own adaptation of his novel Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane in 1980 (as The Ninth Configuration); that film contains one of the most superbly-staged barroom brawls ever committed to celluloid. In The Exorcist III, Blatty stages one of the most memorable sequences of a modern American horror film with the nighttime murder of the nurse. Played out mostly in long shot and a single long take, it’s a bravura, deeply memorable sequence. It’s a shame that Blatty only directed these two films, as he clearly had a command of the language of cinema.

Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of The Exorcist III is superb. The presentation of the theatrical cut is easily superior to the HD presentation of the theatrical cut released on Blu-ray by Warners a number of years ago, thanks to a new restoration based on a 2k scan of the negative. This presentation is also used as the basis for the presentation of the director’s cut; into this, footage from videotapes of the film’s dailies has been composited. The transition between the new restoration and the videotape footage is, of course, not seamless, but fans of the film will find the new director’s cut an essential part of their collection. The two cuts of the film are supported by an immense array of contextual material. Coming at the end of 2019, this is easily one of the best UK Blu-ray releases of the year.

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