It is a sad fact that so many sequels are such trash that the few fantastic follow ups get forgotten. Thankfully that will not be the case with The Exorcist III a brilliant continuation of William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece.
Penned by Blatty and intended for Friedkin to direct The Exorcist III also known as Legion ended up as a novel after the pair could not see eye to eye on it. A bestseller in 1983 when it was published the movie adaptation languished in development hell and was offered to John Carpenter who liked the script but backed out when it became clear Blatty himself wanted to take the helm.
Thankfully the famed writer also has a great eye behind the camera having honed his craft on another adaptation of his own work the crazy surreal war story The Ninth Configuration released in 1980’s.
Inspired by the real life murder spree of the Zodiac Killer, The Exorcist III sees Lieutenant Kinderman, played in the original film by Lee J. Cobb and here by George C. Scott from The Changeling, investigating a series of sick killings that replicate the religious mockery that was the modus operandi of the Gemini Killer who was caught and executed many years ago.
It has also been 15 years since the events of the first film and Father Dyer (recast and played by Ed Flanders) is troubled by memories of the fateful exorcism which led to the death of his friend Father Karras (Jason Miller) after he fell down a flight of steep stone steps.
Father Dyer still regularly sees Lieutenant Kinderman and the unlikely pair go to a movie together afterwards discussing the past, the cops current disturbing case and the wicked world around them which has led to the policeman loosing what little faith he once had.
Tragically both men are about to be tested as the slayings increase in number and nastiness, leading a warped path to a secure hospital ward and a man known only as Patient X who has all the answers even if they seem unbelievable.
Unlike so many sequels which simply rehash and repackage the original Blatty’s sensational script takes the idea of The Exorcist in a whole new direction with the police procedural at the fore. Hurling all sorts of strange and shocking scenes at the audience the true nature of the evil Kinderman is facing only becomes clear towards the finale with everything insanely looping back to the original movie.
George C. Scott and Ed Flanders are excellent and their relationship in the opening propels the plot forwards while providing some much needed light relief amongst the twisted torture the Gemini Killer is dealing out on his innocent victims. Throwing theological issues alongside kind hearted barbs the pair are extremely believable and likeable making what happens to them all the more upsetting and impactful.
Opting to tell rather than show the crime scenes are actually all the more creepy with the film building tension and terror rather than showing gratuitous gore. That’s not to say there are not some stand out scares and as the movie moves towards its chaotic close we get more for our money with some superb effects and horrifying scenes.
Interestingly the studios didn’t totally believe in Blatty’s vision and wanted a climax closer to the first film, insisting on an alternative ending that the author reluctantly shot. This led many to speculate what a director’s cut would look like and thanks to Arrow we can find out as the brand new Blu-ray features both the theatrical version and the ‘Legion’ director’s cut which is assembled from the best available film and video elements finally recreating Blatty’s original idea.
Packed full of more extras than you could cram into a crowded confessional the special edition comes with new audio commentary by critics Alexandra Heller Nicholas and Josh Nelson on the standard version of the film as well as brand new ‘Legion’ audio commentary with esteemed film critics Mark Kermode and Kim Newman. There is also Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III, an in-depth 2016 documentary divided into five chapters together with interviews, featurettes, alternate and deleted scenes and much more.
Proving it is possible to step out of such an iconic horror films shadow with a sequel as long as you come to it with a new and interesting angle The Exorcist III may not be as magnificent or memorable as the original but it still manages to shock and entertain in a devilishly different way.