Since the late eighties Morgan Creek productions have dabbled with multiple genres whilst pursuing box office success. At times, they have been successful with such populist movies as Young Guns and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. However, for every film that proved financially viable there were often two more that failed to gain an audience. Yet, despite having the business acumen to commission the best writing and directing talent available, co-founders James G. Robinson and Joe Roth have often been at odds with such creative individuals, resulting in many troubled productions. Horror writer and director Clive Barker endured an arduous experience while making Nightbreed, which was based upon his own novella. It was such a negative experience, resulting in a movie that was far from his initial vision, that Barker effectively quit film making. A similar experience befell William Peter Blatty when he was given an opportunity to film a direct sequel to The Exorcist based upon his novel Legion.
I first saw The Exorcist III in 1990 at horror movie festival, prior to its UK release. There was a discussion before the screening regarding the major alterations that the studio had been forced upon the director. Upon viewing the theatrical edition, it became very apparent where narrative changes had been made and the entire final act suffered a tonal change and an utterly redundant exorcism sequence. It was clear that there was a better movie struggling to get out but Morgan Creek productions had simply wanted to pursue as broad an audience as possible. Thus, subtlety and intelligence were replaced by spectacle and gore. As the movie was subsequently released across multiple territories, critics universally reflected similar sentiments. The film failed financially and went down in cinematic history as a curious misfire in a troubled franchise.
After years of internet speculation by writer and director William Peter Blatty, a restored edition of The Exorcist III has finally been released by Scream Factory. The Blu-ray Collector’s Edition features a 2K scan of the original theatrical print of the movie as well as a director’s cut, retitled Legion. This new version is far closer to Blatty’s original vision and loses most of the re-shot material including the climatic exorcism conducted by Father Morning (Nicol Williamson). Sadly, the missing footage could not be found in the archives and so the Blu-ray producer Cliff MacMillan had to find alternative sources. “We turned to VHS tapes of the film’s dailies to assemble the director’s cut. However, even some of that footage was incomplete, so scenes from the theatrical re-shoot were used to fill in the gaps. This director’s cut is a composite of varying footage quality from the best available sources”. However irrespective of these technical obstacles, Legion is still a radically different movie to The Exorcist III and is compelling viewing even in this presentation.
What becomes apparent whenever watching any of Blatty’s movies is that he has a knack for dialogue. Legion is no exception. The banter between Lt. William F. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) is extremely dry and witty, verging on the Chandleresque at times. It also establishes their deep friendship which is pivotal to the plot. New material further embellishes this aspect of the film. Legion now avoids obviously telegraphed unpleasantries and chooses to focus more upon a narrative driven disquiet. Alternative takes are used of Brad Dourif performance which alters his portrayal of the Gemini Killer. It is subsequently far subtler and brooding. Jason Miller is also now absent as Father Karras. Some of the heavy-handed dream sequences relating to the murdered child Thomas Kintry have also been deleted. The ending is now far more abrupt and devoid of any spectacle. It’s feels tonally more in tune with the rest of the film and has a greater impact.
Overall this new cut of the movie is more succinct and less strident. The minimalist shocks and lack of effects work lends a greater focus upon the themes of the story. This is essentially a theological thriller, rather than a Grand Guignol. Legion is a superior movie altogether when compared to its theatrical counterpart and a superior sequel to The Exorcist per se. Despite some cast changes it follows on from the original movie quite logically. Given the difficulty in reassembling this cut of the movie and the overall indifference of Morgan Creek, the current version of Legion is the best we are likely to see. As such it should appeal to all serious horror fans who enjoy character driven and cerebral entertainment. It also offers an interesting opportunity for aficionados of film restoration.