DirectorWilliam Peter Blatty
Release Date(s)1990 (March 28, 2023)
Studio(s)Morgan Creek Productions (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
Despite the fact that The Exorcist was a well-received film (not just with audiences but with people within the film community), the author of the original novel, William Peter Blatty, was never fully satisfied with it since aspects of the film had been compromises between he and director William Friedkin. Blatty later envisioned a sequel that took place outside the universe, but with some of the same characters. After failing to interest Friedkin in returning to direct, he wrote it as a novel entitled Legion. Years later, after Blatty began directing himself, he decided to bring Legion to the screen. The result was The Exorcist III, a film that was not quite what he had envisioned, and also initially dismayed audiences at the time for its approach.
The story of The Exorcist III takes place many years after the events of both the original novel and the film version of The Exorcist, ignoring Exorcist II: The Heretic completely. Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) have remained friends, but when a series of grisly murders begin occurring around the city, Kinderman believes it to be the work of someone who may be imitating the Gemini Killer, a man who was executed for his crimes fifteen years prior. Investigating further, he discovers a familiar face in a padded cell of a local psychiatric hospital, a man who looks like the long-dead Damien Karras (Jason Miller), but is inhabited by the spirit of the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif). Kinderman soon realizes that he’s dealing with a brutal supernatural force, one that only he and Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) can dispatch.
Today, saying that The Exorcist III is more frightening than the original will likely be greeted with “a few boos from the gallery.” The original film consistently tops best-of lists year after year as “the scariest movie ever made,” despite being ripped off and parodied left and right since its release. However subjective it may appear, The Exorcist III is indeed a much darker and more effective film, successfully getting under the skin of its viewers in a way that despite the unease, can’t be turned away from. It’s also one of the best looking horror films that you’re ever likely to come across, partly due to the work of cinematographer Gerry Fisher, who also lensed Wolfen, Highlander, and Blatty’s own The Ninth Configuration. As a result, the visuals and the lack of comfort keep it anchored yet startling to look at. It gets in your head and stays with you for days, long after you’ve seen it. The Exorcist is certainly a masterpiece, but The Exorcist III is a whole other level of horror.
It’s well known that the film wasn’t received well at the time of its release, partly due to the overwhelmingly negative response to Exorcist II: The Heretic. It’s also possible that folks just weren’t looking for something so unsettling. It’s part of the reason why Blatty originally set the story apart from the previous films, having nothing to do with exorcisms, and wanting the film to be titled Legion. However, Morgan Creek, who was financing the project, insisted on calling it The Exorcist III, and once they saw Blatty’s original cut, they were far from satisfied. An additional month of shooting was required to “fix” the film. An exorcism scene and other scenes relating to it were shot and dropped in, which ultimately didn’t sit well with Blatty, for obvious reasons, but it’s the version that was released.
Many years later, the long-sought after Director’s Cut was begged for by fans, which Scream Factory attempted to rectify in 2016 when they released their initial Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, nearly all of the cut footage is currently lost, and all that exists are VHS copies of the film’s dailies and a couple of black and white portions of film negative. Using these pieces, a version was assembled. However, not all of the lost footage is represented here. Some of the coverage in the new cut had to be culled from the theatrical version in order for it to work. Still, most reasonable people will agree that even an assemblage of lower quality footage is better than nothing. Perhaps all of those trims might be found someday and a true Director’s Cut can be created, but for now, this cut gives us a better idea of what Blatty originally had in mind.
In this new version, the differences mostly involve the scenes featuring the Gemini Killer, played by Brad Dourif. They were re-shot later on, including the ending, with Jason Miller, who portrayed Father Karras in the original film. The theatrical version features both Dourif and Miller in the same role, but originally, it was meant to only be Dourif. Most of the other changes are minor scene extensions in three or four places, a slightly different opening, and some excised elements including those involving Father Morning. But the most drastic change is the film’s finale, which no longer contains an exorcism.
Most of the elements are present for us to understand what Blatty was aiming for. However, one might argue that without the footage from the actual negative with final effects and sound, casting judgment upon this cut feels entirely false. The Exorcist III’s soundtrack has always been just as important as its visuals, perhaps even more so. The audio was crafted deliberately with varying choices of design to move viewers in certain directions or make them feel certain ways (take Dourif’s dialogue for example, which is constantly tweaked in pitch and tone throughout his scenes). The lower quality footage doesn’t contain a final mix. It has sound, but not theatrically-mixed sound. All of that said, not only is the ending less satisfying and anticlimactic, but the scenes involving Dourif, on a performance level, are less powerful than those in the final version (although Dourif himself disagrees with that). There’s less energy and personality compared to what we’re already familiar with, which is intense and magnetic by contrast. It’s actually one of the rare cases where changes made by a studio actually might have benefited the film as a whole.
In the scheme of things, The Exorcist III is a bit of a miracle. Giving an author total control over his work to adapt it for the screen could have been a horrible disaster. The fact that anything effective came out of it at all is really saying something about the people who made it. It’s not a perfect film, but more of a wounded masterpiece that had some of the finest surgeons available to patch it up and send it out into the world. It’s a slick, cerebral, and effective horror film.
The Exorcist III was shot by cinematographer Gerry Fisher on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex and Arriflex cameras with Panavision lenses (the Zenith silent hand crank camera seen in the background at the beginning of the film doesn’t count). It was finished photochemically and presented theatrically in aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Scream Factory’s Ultra HD debut of the film features a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release was very much welcome at the time of its release (2016). Their UHD upgrade easily bests it with a superlative presentation, doubling the clarity with amazing sharpness and finer levels of detail. There’s a tightly-knitted grain structure on display with a high birate that sits mostly in the 80 and 90Mbps range. The new color grades allow for richer and more natural hues, dramatically improving contrast with deep blacks and gorgeous shadows. Very mild speckling is on display, but everything appears natural and organic to its source. It’s the definitive presentation of the film going forward.
For audio options, there are English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (the same as the previous Blu-ray) with optional subtitles in English SDH. On both tracks there’s excellent dialogue reproduction, as well as strong sound effects and score. Both are potent mixes with the 5.1 having a bit of an edge with light speaker-to-speaker moments, including ambience and surround movement. There’s also frequent low end activity, giving the soundtrack’s deeper demonic rumblings more power than ever. Some of the overdubs and on-set dialogue is more noticeable, but as is, there’s excellent fidelity all around.
The Exorcist III on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside two 1080p Blu-rays, each containing the Theatrical Version and Director’s Cut. The insert and slipcover feature the original theatrical artwork, and the following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE: UHD (THEATRICAL VERSION)
DISC TWO: BD (THEATRICAL VERSION)
- Vintage Featurette (Upscaled SD – 7:13)
- Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery (HD – 42 in all – 3:37)
- Posters & Lobby Cards Photo Gallery (HD – 67 in all – 5:45)
- Still Gallery (HD – 48 in all – 4:07)
- Trailers (Upscaled SD – 3 in all – 4:55)
- TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 6 in all – 2:25)
- Deleted Scenes, Alternate Takes and Bloopers (HD and Upscaled SD – 7 in all – 5:44)
- Deleted Prologue (HD – 2:44)
- Vintage Interviews (HD and Upscaled SD – 9 in all – 38:35)
- Radio Spots (HD – 5 in all – 3:48)
DISC THREE: BD (DIRECTOR’S CUT)
- Audio Interview with William Peter Blatty and Michael Felsher
- Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III:
- A “Wonderfull” Time (HD – 24:30)
- Signs of the Gemini (HD – 17:42)
- The Devil in the Details (HD – 18:03)
- Music for a Padded Cell (HD – 15:16)
- All This Bleeding (HD – 28:49)
The terrific extras package begins with a brief Vintage Featurette, made during the film’s production. Next are three still galleries containing a total of 157 behind-the-scenes photos, promotional photos, posters, lobby cards, and newspaper clippings. Next are three trailers and six TV spots. The Deleted Scenes are interesting, but not all that necessary to the final film. The most interesting piece of cut material is the Deleted Prologue, which shows the aftermath of Father Karras jumping out the window, and the moment when the Gemini Killer enters his body. The Vintage Interviews, which also feature behind-the-scenes footage, include William Peter Blatty, producer James Robinson, Larry King, C Everett Koop, Ed Flanders, George C. Scott, Grand L. Bush, production designer Leslie Dilley, and Jason Miller. Last are five radio spots.
On the last disc, which contains the Director’s Cut, there’s an audio interview with William Peter Blatty conducted by Michael Felsher, which runs as a commentary for the length of the film. It’s wonderful to have him on record for this release since he’s not interviewed in any of the other modern extras (nor is he still with us). Last is Death, Be Not Proud: The Making of The Exorcist III, which is an excellent five-part documentary by Red Shirt Pictures about the making of the film. It features interviews with producer Carter DeHaven; actors Brad Dourif, Clifford David, and Tracy Thorne; production assistant Kara Reidy; production designer Leslie Dilley; assistant designer Daren Dochterman; illustrator Simon Murton; composer Barry DeVorzon; production manager Ronald Colby; editor Todd Ramsay; effects artists William Forsche, Mike Smithson, and Brian Wade; and actor/body double Charles Powell.
Though many appreciate and even love The Exorcist III today, it had its fair share of troubles due to its strong directorial control, among other things, and was attempting to be a piece of art reaching for an audience that wasn’t made of people who could appreciate it. Time has been kind to it as its now considered a worthy follow-up to the original, even if Blatty never intended it to be such. And with a gorgeous presentation and all-encompassing bonus materials, it’s never been a better time to revisit it. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons