Exorcist III, The (Blu-ray)

exorcist-iii-the-1990Starring George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller

Directed by William Peter Blatty

Distributed by Scream Factory


After William Friedkin’s 1973 adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s worldwide bestseller, “The Exorcist”, became one of the highest-grossing films of all-time, breaking records across the country, it wasn’t long before studio executives were chomping at the bit to make a sequel… and that sequel was Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), one of the most notorious turkeys in all of cinema history. Boorman’s sequel is a psychedelic nightmare, filled with all sorts of bizarre moments that just never gelled. At all. Given that film’s abysmal response, it would be thirteen years before another attempt at capitalizing on the original classic was made. This time, writer William Peter Blatty stepped into the dual role of writer/director, adapting from his novel, “Legion”, to craft The Exorcist III (1990). The road to cinemas would not be an easy one, however, as many fans are quite aware that Blatty’s film was retitled and recut to a large degree. Reaction to the film’s theatrical cut improved upon the previous entry, though that’s a dubious honor. While The Exorcist III has built up a decent cult following over the years, fans have clamored to see Blatty’s original cut for just as long. Well, fans, your day has (sorta) come as Scream Factory has spliced together a close approximation of what Blatty originally intended, putting to rest once and for all the notions of what could have been. Turns out, maybe what we got was the best version all along…

Fifteen years ago, Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller) jumped out of that lofty window in the MacNeil house to kill the demon within him, sacrificing his life and deeply depressing his good friend Lt. Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott taking over for Lee J. Cobb). Now, Kinderman is older, more cantankerous, and forced into reopening some old wounds when a killer sets off on a spree within the city of Georgetown. People are being killed in ritualistic fashion – brutally so – with heads removed, blood drained, and bloody messages that are aimed squarely at Kinderman. The murder’s m.o. is reminiscent of the Gemini Killer, but he died fifteen years ago in the electric chair… right?

Kinderman finds some solace in spending time with his good friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), which in horror speak means that guy is going to die right about… now. Bill has his men check out the fingerprints left at the crime scenes and is stunned to find each set is different. Multiple killers? Kinderman’s investigation leads him to a mental ward run by Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson), who introduces Bill to an unknown patient, Patient X, kept in Cell 11. When Kinderman meets the man he’s rendered speechless – he looks exactly like Father Karras, who supposedly perished long ago. Or is he actually the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), who is also dead? Thanks to the magic of studio mandated reshoots, he’s both, and it’s going to take an exorcism from a just-introduced character, Father Morning (Nicol Williamson), to put an end to all this Satanic misery.

Despite all the very clear studio tinkering and tweaking, The Exorcist III is by no means a bad film; it just doesn’t live up to the glory of the original, which, to be fair, could never have happened. The plot of this film is practically a backdrop to the real meat of the story, which is a character drama focused squarely on Bill Kinderman and his relationship with faith and the belief in a higher power. Bill spends most of the film concerned and befuddled by the apparent return of the Gemini Killer, unsure how someone could be mimicking that should-be-dead killer’s exact modus operandi, right down to details police never released. Once Bill gets his answer, in the form of a slightly confusing confession from Patient X, the movie switches gears to a spook chase, with Kinderman trying to thwart the Gemini’s murderous spree. Bill is a man of little faith, with no belief in the tenets of the bible. As the film progresses, and the works of Satan are made clear, his atheistic foundation is shaken to the core. Strangely, though, as in most of these films the other team never materializes in any tangible fashion; it is only Old Scratch and his lackeys who show up to the party.

With so much of the film playing out like a police procedural, not much time is devoted to thrills and chills. Except, you know, for that scene; the one legit jump scare that many horror fans consistently point to as one of horror’s best. Blatty’s inexperience as a director does show through in this film but this one shot, which is composed in such a way to really build up the tension, is expertly crafted.

Any weight gain on Lt. Kinderman’s part in the ensuing fifteen years since The Exorcist can easily be explained, since the role was taken over from the deceased Lee J. Cobb by George C Scott, who has been known to season his scripts before chewing them up with panache. This is one of those seamless switches – rare in films – where the actor taking over a part is such a perfect fit you hardly notice. Scott is a recurring time bomb, waiting for precise moments to explode with intense ferocity – “It is not in the file! It is NOT!” – before sealing himself back up and waiting for another moment to burst. His dedication to the material and conviction with which he reads his lines are a big part of this film’s achievements. A boilerplate cop actor in his place might’ve made this a real snoozer.

The film’s major additions – re: the reshoots – mostly come during the third act. Mostly. Keen-eyed viewers should be able to tell where these additions begin, which is right around when new character Father Morning is introduced. From there on, the film gets to the titular promise of an exorcism. And, really, who cares if it’s tacked on? The sequence is one of the best in the film, incongruous as it may feel, thanks to some gruesome FX work and a stronger sense of horror than any preceding scenes. There are certain expectations when a movie has Exorcist in the title and the new third act fulfills the promise.

The film’s new 2K scan is a strong effort, more or less on par with the disc included in WB’s “The Exorcist Anthology” collection, with the 1.85:1 1080p image showcasing an organic grain field, fine details, solid color saturation, and strong black levels. Minor details are particularly impressive, allowing tiny details of the Georgetown streets, Kinderman’s suits, and ornate religious iconography to shine through with excellent clarity. There are a few moments when some of these elements are variable and the image loses a bit of stability, but overall this is highly impressive.

As far as the Director’s Cut goes, this is a hybrid cut using pieces from the new Blu-ray spliced together with tape footage. I personally think this was the wrong way to go, as the massive jumps in quality – sometimes for a single scene lasting a few seconds – are too jarring. It would have been best to include the DC with consistent footage quality so that cut can speak for itself. This way, it’s like you’re watching two differing cuts simultaneously and, for me, it was tough to get through.

The English DTS-HD MA track comes in both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround sound flavors. There is a bit of an echo effect heard at times, and I also detected some sporadic ringing to a few scenes. Dialogue is generally clear and discernible, though sometimes words ending with an “s” have a slight hiss to them. Composer Barry DeVorzon’s score sounds excellent, making more use of the rear channels than anything else heard on the track. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

A “Vintage Featurette” – This is your standard studio EPK, providing a good overview of the film.

There are three photo galleries: “Behind-the-Scenes”, “Posters & Lobby Cards”, and “Still Gallery”.

Two trailers and six TV spots, all in HD, are included here.

A reel called “Deleted Scene, Alternate Takes & Bloopers” features soe odds and ends, while the film’s deleted prologue, which also appears as the opening to the DC, can also be found here.

Several vintage interviews with the principal cast & crew are also included.

DISC TWO: Director’s Cut

There is an audio interview with writer/director William Peter Blatty that has been edited and laid over the film, acting as a quasi-commentary.

“A “Wonderfull” Time” – A handful of the film’s actors and crew sit down to discuss the impact of the first film, how much they hated the second, and how the third came together. Dourif makes mention of how Scott could be intimidating on set, because he was known for doing one take and nailing it.

“Signs of the Gemini” – Brad Dourif is the focus here, as he discusses the turmoil on set, having the essentially re-do his entire performance and greatly preferring the way he acted the first time around. It’s both informative and bittersweet.

“The Devil in the Details” – The film’s production design team is interviewed, touching upon all that fun stuff production designers are responsible for on a set.

“Music for a Padded Cell” – Composer Barry DeVorzon talks about crafting the score for this highly anticipated horror sequel.

“All This Bleeding” – Here’s the best of the new feature lot, with heavy discussion concerning the studio-ordered reshoots, the additional gore scenes, Miller’s uncredited stunt double and many more interesting tidbits.

Special Features:

DISC ONE: The Exorcist III (Theatrical Cut)

  • New 2K scan of the inter-positive
  • Vintage featurette
  • Deleted Scene/Alternate Takes/Bloopers
  • Deleted Prologue
  • Vintage interviews (featuring behind-the-scenes footage) with writer/director William Peter Blatty, George C. Scott, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Grand L. Bush, executive producer James G. Robinson, production designer Leslie Dilley, Larry King and C. Everett Koop
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Photo Galleries

DISC TWO: Legion (Original Director’s Cut) 105 minutes

  • NEW Audio interview with writer/director William Peter Blatty
  • NEW A “Wonderfull” Time – interviews with producer Carter DeHaven, actors Clifford David and Tracy Thorne and production assistant Kara Reidy
  • NEW Signs of the Gemini – an interview with Brad Dourif
  • NEW The Devil in the Details – interview with production designer Leslie Dilley, assistant designer Daren Dochterman and illustrator Simon Murton
  • NEW Music for a Padded Cell – an interview with composer Barry DeVorzon
  • NEW All This Bleeding – a look at the re-shoot and makeup effects with production manager Ronald Colby, editor Todd Ramsay, effects artists William Forsche, Mike Smithson, Brian Wade and actor/body double Charles Powell

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Anthony Arrigo

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