According to IMDB trivia (which is quite often complete bollocks btw), William Peter Blatty *supposedly* originally offered Legion's directorial duties to John Carpenter. Who turned it down (hardly surprising, who'd want to try to follow one of the greatest horror films ever made??). Coming after the extremely dire Exorcist II, Legion performs rather well.
Being a 100% illiterate muthafucker, I've never even read a single Blatty book so have absolutely no idea as to how the text and celluloid outings differ. So I'll be reviewing this as an avid viewer of Friedkin's original film only. I keep hearing rumblings that Blatty is working on a director's cut of this sequel but I'd grown rather impatient in the wait for it. So I picked this up from the States (not literally, my arms are long but not that long) to reassess it after a bit of a hiatus. Impressions? Not bad, not bad at all. I'll certainly say this for the film - it features one of the greatest screen scares of all goddamn time. Yes, I'm serious. Deadly in fact. I'll highlight it in a moment or two.
Plotline wise? Well, it's set 15 years after the original possession events in Georgetown, and we once again encounter Lt. Kinderman (played by George C. Scott in an inspired piece of replacement casting) and Ed Flanders' Father Dyer (a not so inspired replacement). What is especially confusing is an early scene where we observe Kinderman mourning the death of Father Karras by staring at a photo of the two of them sharing hugs and smiles. At one point Kinderman even says this of Karras - "He was my best friend." Hmmm. Last time I watched Exorcist, they only met each other once and they weren't exactly the best of mates! Must be a book to film thing I suppose??
Extremely gruesome murders start to take place. They match the modus operandi of an executed serial killing madman known as The Gemini Killer. The trail of destruction leads Kinderman to the hospital where he discovers something rather surprising, our old pal Damien Karras locked up in a padded cell! Right enough of plots, I wanna discuss the quality of the movie. As long as one looks at this as a sometimes rather schlocky HORROR MOVIE, it's a blast! Don't expect any especially impressive emotional scenes, 'cause you sure won't find any. Whereas the original film was not just a bloody good horror but a great picture in it's own right, the same thing certainly can't be said of this.
Stand out scene has to be an extremely audacious moment that takes a staggering several minutes of waiting before the scare pay off is finally delivered. We observe a jittery nurse (framed in a corridor from a VERY long distance away) reacting to suspicious sounds in a deserted hospital ward. The tension builds and builds until the killer finally strikes as the musical score booms out a massive Halloween 1 style scare chord. Surely one of the greatest horror scenes ever witnessed, this alone makes the film a truly essential purchase for any horror aficionado. I put it up there with the chumline producing Chief Brody suddenly recieving the fright of his life, or dare I even say it, the shower moment in Psycho.
It's well known that the studio freaked when the thought suddenly occurred to 'em, that Blatty had delivered a film called The Exorcist III, without any appearance of an exorcist or exorcism (don't studios read scripts before producing the green light??). So a few changes were insisted upon:
One change made a lot of sense. Namely also recruiting Jason Miller after they decided that an actor from the original should make an appearance. Ya see, Brad Dourif was hired to play Karras. In this altered version of the film, Karras is portrayed by both Miller and a crazed Brad Dourif, and the film often morphs between the two of 'em. Which is kinda fitting since we're supposed to believe that Brad (the Gemini killer) is in control of the priest's body with the unfortunate original tenant still interred inside. Hey, I like that change, it makes absolutely perfect sense and works big time (sorry Blatty).
The change that doesn't work quite so well is the tacked on exorcism before we finally reach the originally planned film conclusion. It's pretty daft stuff, what with snakes, flames, exploding bibles and ripping flesh and it feels badly out of place in this movie. As if it had strolled in from Renny Harlin's prequel instead. But hey, at least us horror fans get a bit more gore in this moment. So worth putting up with the studio's meddling if only to have Jason Miller attached to the project, a piece of continuity that was badly needed imo. A real shame about the o.t.t. exorcism scene though...
Is this as good as Exorcist 1? Are you insane?? Of course not!! But you could do FAR worse and it definetly belongs in any serious genre fan's collection. The dvd is a pretty bare bones shebang but hey, the cheap price reflects that. The disc features a pleasingly strong anamorphic print with only the occassional white speck sometimes making an appearance and it carries an impressive 5.1 surround track. The only extra is a trailer - boo!
Blatty has delivered a well above average shocker which makes truly excellent use of darkness and foreboding shadows, although watching it immediately after the first entry certainly won't do the film any great favours. It remains to be seen as to whether the director's cut is as superior as Mark Kermode (professional reviewer, top bloke and huge Exorcist fan) has hyped it up to be but if Jason Miller doesn't turn up, then sorry, 'cause I'll always be watching this version instead. After Friedkin delivered a truly stonking movie, and Boorman delivered a truly stinking movie, Exorcist III was bound to sit somewhere on the fence in between. And it does.