The Exorcist III
|The Exorcist III|
Video release poster
|Directed by||William Peter Blatty|
|Produced by||Carter DeHaven
James G. Robinson
|Screenplay by||William Peter Blatty|
|Starring||George C. Scott
|Music by||Barry Devorzon|
|Editing by||Peter Lee Thompson
|Studio||Morgan Creek Productions|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Release dates||October 1989
(Italy) (MIFED Film Market)|
|Running time||110 minutes|
The Exorcist III is a 1990 American supernatural horror film written and directed by William Peter Blatty. It is the third installment of The Exorcist series and a film adaptation of Blatty's novel, Legion (1983). The film stars George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Scott Wilson and Brad Dourif. This is the only Exorcist film not to be distributed theatrically by Warner Bros., though Warner Bros. has gained distribution rights since.
Set fifteen years after the original film (and ignoring the events of Exorcist II: The Heretic), the film centers around a character from the first film, the philosophical Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, who is investigating a baffling series of murders in Georgetown that appear to have a satanic motive behind them and furthermore have all the hallmarks of "The Gemini", a deceased serial killer. Blatty based aspects of the Gemini Killer on the real life Zodiac Killer, who, in a January 1974 letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, had praised the original Exorcist film as "the best saterical [sic] comedy that I have ever seen."
The film was originally titled Legion, but was changed to The Exorcist III by the studio executives of Morgan Creek Productions to be more commercial. The film itself was also drastically altered in post-production with re-shoots imposed by Morgan Creek Productions, who demanded the last-minute addition of an exorcism sequence for the climax of the film.  The final version differed from Blatty's vision. Blatty has since expressed desire to go back and reconstruct his original film; however, all of the cut footage is reported to be lost.
The film begins with the point of view of someone wandering through the streets of Georgetown, a voice informing us "I have dreams... of a rose... and of falling down a long flight of stairs". The point of view shows a warning of evil about to arrive later that night at a church. Demonic growls are heard, leaves and other street trash suddenly come flying into the church as a crucifix comes to life. It then cuts to Lieutenant William F. Kinderman (George C. Scott) at a crime scene, where a 12-year-old boy named Thomas Kintry has been murdered.
Kinderman takes his friend, a priest named Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), out to see their mutually favorite film It's a Wonderful Life. Kinderman later relates the gruesome details of the murder of the young boy he was investigating that morning, including his crucifixion. Another murder soon takes place; a priest found decapitated in a church. Dyer is shortly hospitalized and found murdered the next day, with the words "IT'S A WONDERFULL LIFE" written on a wall in Dyer's blood.
At each murder scene, the fingerprints at the crime scenes do not match up, indicating a different person was responsible for each. Kinderman tells hospital staff the reason for his unease: fifteen years ago the vicious serial killer, "The Gemini" (Brad Dourif), was executed; with every victim he cut off the right index finger and carved the Zodiac sign of Gemini into the palm of their left hand. Kinderman noticed the hands of the three new victims and verified that the Gemini's sign has been there. The Gemini Killer also always used an extra "L" in his notes sent to the media, such as "usefull" or "carefull". Furthermore, to filter out false confessions, the original Gemini Killer's true mutilations were kept a secret by the Richmond police's homicide department; the newspapers were made to wrongfully report that the left middle finger was severed and that the Gemini sign was carved on the back of the victim.
Kinderman visits the head of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Temple (Scott Wilson), who relates the history of a man in Cell 11, that he was found wandering aimlessly fifteen years ago with amnesia. The man was locked up, catatonic up until recently when he began to be violent and claim to be the Gemini Killer. Kinderman sees that the patient resembles his dead friend, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). However the patient brags of being the Gemini Killer, expressing ignorance over who Father Karras is, and boasts of killing Father Dyer.
The next morning, a nurse and Dr. Temple are found dead. Kinderman returns to see the patient in Cell 11, who claims to be the Gemini Killer's spirit, revealing that after his execution his soul entered Karras's dying body. The demon Pazuzu, who had possessed the girl Regan MacNeil, was furious at being pushed out of the child's body and is exacting its revenge by putting the soul of the Gemini Killer into the body of Father Karras. Each evening, the soul of the Gemini leaves the body of Karras and possesses the elderly people with senile dementia elsewhere in the hospital and uses them to commit the murders. The Gemini Killer also reveals to have forced Dr. Temple to bring Kinderman to him or he would suffer in unspeakable ways — Temple believed his apparent bluff. However, he couldn't take the pressure, and so as a result he committed suicide.
The Gemini possesses an old woman, who makes a failed attempt to murder Julie, Kinderman's daughter. The possessed patient attacks Kinderman, but the attack abruptly ends when a priest, Father Paul Morning (Nicol Williamson), enters the corridor leading to cell 11 and attempts an exorcism on the patient. It goes wrong when Pazuzu intervenes, taking over the patient's body, and the priest is all but slain. Kinderman arrives in time and attempts to euthanise Karras after finding the body of the priest, only to be hurled into the wall by the possessed Karras. Father Morning manages to briefly regain consciousness and tells Karras "Damien. Fight him." Karras regains his free will briefly and cries to Kinderman "Bill, now, shoot now, kill me now!". Kinderman fires his revolver several times, hitting Karras in the chest, fatally wounding him. The Gemini is now gone, and Karras is finally free. With weak breaths, he says "We won, Bill, now free me". Kinderman puts his revolver against Karras' head and fires.
The film ends with Kinderman standing over Karras' grave.
- George C. Scott as Kinderman
- Ed Flanders as Father Dyer
- Brad Dourif as The Gemini Killer
- Scott Wilson as Dr. Temple
- Nancy Fish as Nurse Allerton
- Nicol Williamson as Father Morning
- Jason Miller as Patient X/Damien
- Barbara Baxley as Shirley
- Grand L. Bush as Sgt. Atkins
- Harry Carey Jr. as Father Kanavan
- George Dicenzo as Stedman
- Tyra Ferrell as Nurse Blaine
- Lois Foraker as Nurse Merrin
- Don Gordon as Ryan
- Mary Jackson as Mrs Clelia
- Zohra Lampert as Mary Kinderman
- Ken Lerner as Dr. Freedman
- Viveca Lindfors as Nurse X
- Lee Richardson as University President
- Samuel L. Jackson as Blind Dream Man
William Peter Blatty, although initially having no desire to write a sequel to The Exorcist, eventually came up with a story titled Legion, featuring Lieutenant Kinderman, a prominent character in the original Exorcist novel (though played a minor role in the eventual film), as the central protagonist. Blatty conceived Legion as a feature film with William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, attached to direct. Despite the critical and commercial failure of the previous sequel, Warner Bros. were keen to proceed with Blatty and Friedkin's plans for another Exorcist film. Blatty said that "Everybody wanted Exorcist III... I hadn't written the script but I had the story in my head and Billy [Friedkin] loved it." However, Friedkin soon left the project due to conflicting opinions between him and Blatty on the film.
The project went into development hell and Blatty wrote Legion into a novel instead; published in 1983, it was a bestseller. Blatty then decided to turn the book back into a screenplay. Film companies Morgan Creek and Carolco both wanted to make the film; Blatty decided upon Morgan Creek after Carolco suggested the idea of a grown-up Regan MacNeil giving birth to possessed twins. Blatty offered directorial responsibilities to John Carpenter who liked his script. However, Carpenter backed out when it became clear that Blatty really wanted to direct the movie himself. As per the stipulations for his deal with Morgan Creek, Blatty was to direct the movie himself, and it was to be filmed on location in Georgetown. Carolco would instead do a parody of the original Exorcist, titled Repossessed (see below)
The central role of Lieutenant Kinderman had to be recast as Lee J. Cobb, who played the part in The Exorcist, had died in 1976. Oscar-winner George C. Scott signed up for the role, impressed by Blatty's screenplay: "It’s a horror film and much more... It's a real drama, intricately crafted, with offbeat interesting characters, and that's what makes it genuinely frightening."
Several cast members from Blatty's previous film, The Ninth Configuration (1980), appear in The Exorcist III; Jason Miller, reprising the role of Father Damien Karras from The Exorcist (billed only as "Patient X" in the end credits); Ed Flanders, taking on the role of Father Dyer previously played by William O'Malley; Nicol Williamson and Scott Wilson.
With an $11 million budget, the tentatively-titled Exorcist: Legion was shot on location in Georgetown for eight weeks in mid-1989. Additional interior filming then took place in DEG Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. Blatty completed principal photography of the film on time, and only slightly over budget. However, four months later, Morgan Creek informed Blatty that a new ending had to be shot. Blatty said that “James Robinson, the owner of the company, his secretary had insisted to him that this has nothing to do with The Exorcist. There had to be an exorcism.” 20th Century Fox ponied up an additional $4-million in post-production - to film an effects-laden exorcism sequence featuring Nicol Williamson as Father Morning, a character added just for the new climax and Blatty had to make the best of it in the narrative while racing to complete the film. Blatty confirmed that when the possessed Karras speaks in an asexual voice, saying, "I must save my son, the Gemini," that this in fact is either a returned Pazuzu or, as Blatty put it, "Old Scratch himself" taking control. This ties in to the revelation earlier in the film that the Gemini was sent into Karras' body as revenge for the Regan MacNeil exorcism. The altered voice in the climax is deliberately similar to that of Mercedes McCambridge, who was the un-credited demon in The Exorcist, and the role is essayed in The Exorcist III by Colleen Dewhurst, who was uncredited (in real life, actress Dewhurst was twice married to, and twice divorced from, actor George C. Scott).
One shot missing from the re-filmed climax - but which features in the trailer - shows Karras/the Gemini "morphing" through a variety of faces. It was left out of the film because Blatty wasn't happy with the special effects work.
On the climactic exorcism scene, Blatty later said, "It's alright, but it's utterly unnecessary and it changes the character of the piece.” Although at the time, Blatty told the press that he was happy to re-shoot the film’s ending and have the story climax with a frenzy of special effects, the truth is that this compromise was forced on him, against his wishes:
“The original story that I sold [Morgan Creek] (and that I shot) ended with Kinderman blowing away Patient X. There was no exorcism. But it was a Mexican stand-off between me and the studio. I was entitled to one preview, then they could go and do what they wanted with the picture. They gave me a preview but it was the lowest end preview audience I have ever seen in my life. They dragged in zombies from Haiti to watch this film. It was unbelievable. But I decided, better I should do it than anyone else. I foolishly thought: I can do a good exorcism, I’ll turn this pig’s ear into a silk purse. So I did it.”
Working on the film, Brad Dourif recalls "We all felt really bad about it. But Blatty tried to do his best under very difficult circumstances. And I remember George C. Scott saying that the folks would only be satisfied if Madonna came out and sang a song at the end!" Dourif feels that "The original version was a hell of a lot purer and I liked it much more. As it stands now, it's a mediocre film. There are parts that have no right to be there.
The execution-style ending that Blatty pitched to the studio - which was in the shooting script and actually filmed - differs radically from the ending of both the novel and the first screenplay adaption developed from the novel. The novel ends with the Gemini Killer summoning Kinderman to his cell for a final speech and then willingly dropping dead after his cruel and hated father, a Christian evangelist, dies a natural death from heart attack. As his motive for killing was always to shame his father, the Gemini's reason for remaining on earth no longer exists and he kills Karras in order to leave his host body. In Blatty's original screenplay adaptation, the ending is similar to the novel, except that the Gemini's death is not self-induced but forced supernaturally and suddenly by the death of his father. In both novel and early screenplay, the Gemini's motives for his murders are also given further context via a long series of flashbacks which portray his and his brother's childhood and their relationship with their alcoholic, abusive father.
The Exorcist III first released in October, 1989 in the MIFED Film Market and then opened in 1,288 theaters in the United States on August 17, 1990. Unlike its predecessors, it was distributed by 20th Century Fox instead of Warner Bros. (though some distribution rights would later revert to WB). The film was released only a month before the Exorcist parody, Repossessed, starring Linda Blair and Leslie Nielsen. Blair claimed that Exorcist III was rush-released ahead of Repossessed, hijacking the latter's publicity and forcing the comedy to be released a month later than was originally intended.
The Exorcist III initially received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes reports 55% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based on 31 reviews, with a rating of 5.4/10. British film critic Mark Kermode called it "a restrained, haunting chiller which stimulates the adrenalin and intellect alike" and New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby said "The Exorcist III is a better and funnier (intentionally) movie than either of its predecessors", while PEOPLE Magazine's Ralph Novak began his review with, "As a movie writer-director, William Peter Blatty is like David's Lynch's good twin. He is eccentric, original, funny and daring, but he also has a sense of taste, pace and restraint. Which is by way of saying that this is one of the shrewdest, wittiest, most intense and most satisfying horror movies ever made." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave a negative review, stating "If Part II sequels are generally disappointing, Part IIIs are often much, much worse. It can seem as if nothing is going on in them except dim murmurings about the original movie — murmurings that mostly remind you of what isn't being delivered" and called The Exorcist III "an ash-gray disaster [that] has the feel of a nightmare catechism lesson, or a horror movie made by a depressed monk." It was "Entertainment Weekly" that years later cited the film as the "#8 scariest movie ever made."
In the British magazine Empire, film critic Kim Newman claimed that "The major fault in Exorcist III is the house-of-cards plot that is constantly collapsing." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called The Exorcist III "a handsome, classy art film" that "doesn't completely work but offers much more than countless, less ambitious films."
The Exorcist III earned $9,312,219 in its opening weekend and grossed a total of $26,098,824 in North America and $39,024,251 worldwide. Blatty attributed its poor box office performance to the title imposed by Morgan Creek, having always intended for the film to retain the title of the novel. During development and production, the film went under various titles, including The Exorcist: 1990. Morgan Creek and Fox insisted on including the word Exorcist in the title, which producer Carter DeHaven and Blatty protested against:
“I begged them when they were considering titles not to name it Exorcist anything, because Exorcist II was a disaster beyond imagination. You can’t call it Exorcist III because people will shun the box office. But they went and named it Exorcist III, then they called me after the third week when we were beginning to fade at the box office and they said ‘We’ll tell you the reason, it’s gonna hurt, you’re not gonna like this – the reason is Exorcist II.’ I couldn’t believe it! They had total amnesia about my warnings!”
In 1991, the film won a Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA, for Best Writing (William Peter Blatty) and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif) and Best Horror Film. George C. Scott was also nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor, but lost to Andrew Dice Clay for The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.
Despite his misgivings about the studio-imposed reshoots, Blatty however is proud of the finished version of Exorcist III, having said “It’s still a superior film. And in my opinion, and excuse me if I utter heresy here, but for me it’s a more frightening film than The Exorcist." Nevertheless, Blatty had hoped to recover the deleted footage from the Morgan Creek vaults so that he might re-assemble the original cut of the film which he said was "rather different" from what was released, and a version of the film which fans of the Exorcist series have been clamouring for. In 2007, Blatty's wife reported on a fan site that "My husband tells me that it is Morgan Creek's claim that they have lost all the footage, including an alternate opening scene in which Kinderman views the body of Karras in the morgue, right after his fall down the steps." Although, Mark Kermode has stated that the search for the missing footage is "ongoing".
In March 2011 a fanedit called "Legion" appeared on the internet, credited to a fan using the pseudonym Spicediver, which removed all exorcism elements and recreated the main story arc of the director's cut without the use of any lost footage. In 2012 cast member Brad Dourif agreed to present a screening of the fanedit at the Mad Monster Party horror convention held in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 25. Dourif introduced the film and did a Q&A session with the audience afterwards.
An upcoming book titled The Evolution Of William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist III: From Concept To Novel To Screen by author Erik Kristopher Myers will purportedly reveal the story behind the film's development, and publish never-before-seen images, the original script, studio notes, various drafts of the story as it has evolved, and interviews with Blatty, Brad Dourif, Mark Kermode, John Carpenter, and many others associated with the film. Myers in an interview said that The Exorcist III "has sort of turned into horror genre’s equivalent of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, in that it was originally a very classy film that the studio hacked apart and turned into a commercial piece [...] I'm basically trying to chronicle how a film can get away from the author and be transformed into a purely commercial product."
- Fangoria #94 (July 1990)
- "The Exorcist III Info, Trailers, and Reviews at MovieTome". Movietome.com. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
- "Zodiac Killer : The Letters - 01-29-1974". SFGate (San Francisco Chronicle). 2 December 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
- Fangoria #122 (May 1993)
- The Exorcist: Out of the Shadows (Omnibus Press, 1999)
- Blatty, William Peter (1998). Classic Screenplays: The Exorcist & Legion. Faber & Faber.
- The Exorcist III at Rotten Tomatoes.
- Awards for The Exorcist III at the Internet Movie Database