"The Exorcist 3 (1990/Blu-ray/Scream Factory)" Review

In 1990, William Peter Blatty – author of the original source material that served as the basis for William Friedkin’s masterpiece of sheer celluloid terror, THE EXORCIST – set out to adapt one of his own novels for the screen. 1983’s LEGION was an intriguing hodgepodge of serial killer mystery-thriller and straight-up possession horror; the latter being only appropriate seeing as the novel was conceived as a sequel to THE EXORCIST itself.

 The film, shot under the same title as its source material, was retitled to THE EXORIST III when the studio, Morgan Creek Productions, found that what had been completed was not as close to the original film as they’d have liked and forked up an additional four million for Blatty to direct a tacked on effects-heavy exorcism climax. Critical reception was not initially so kind, though over time, the film has become something of a cult item; so much so that in 2016, Scream Factory released a 2-disc Collector’s Edition set (on both DVD and Blu-Ray) complete with a reassembled “Director’s Cut”. But is this the final word on this controversial third installment in one of the genre’s most reputable franchises or does the story remain to be continued? Let’s jump into the autopsy and find out.
Set once again in Georgetown, the story opens on the anniversary of the death of Father Karras (Jason Miller), the ill-fated priest who previously took his own life in order to save Regan MacNeil’s in THE EXORCIST. After a young boy is found gruesomely crucified (as well as decapitated) by the river, police lieutenant William Kinderman (George C. Scott) pays his friend Father Dyer (Ed Flanders) a visit – they’ve both made it their duty every year, on this day, to cheer up one another as they mourn for their mutual acquaintance. The strange, morbid events of the day give it a particularly sour flavor, and they hardly stop there. A priest is soon found decapitated as well, and Father Dyer is soon next on the list.
This is all thought to be the handiwork of a serial murderer dubbed “The Gemini Killer”, who cuts off the right index finger of all his victims and then carves the Zodiac sign of his namesake into the palms of their hands. Seeing as the man thought to be the killer was found and executed years prior, this is particularly odd. A patient in one of the local psychiatric wards, a Mr. James Venamun (Brad Dourif) claims to be the Gemini Killer in the flesh, though his connections to relevant parties may extend beyond the aforementioned maniac. Kinderman takes it upon himself to tempt the spirit world, which leads to a seemingly never-ending but mostly compelling sequence of possessions, false alarms, and of course more murders.
THE EXORCIST III obviously has a lot on its plate, but Blatty handles the majority of it majestically. Georgetown is once again rendered as a land of macabre, surrealistic opportunity, as the director is clearly far more interested in spurts of absolute phantasmagoria amidst a consistent air of subtle dread than materializing his fears. The performances are top notch across the board, with Scott finding a balance between chaos and order and Dourif being simply magnificent, the latter accepting the hefty weight of a truly multi-dimensional and complicated performance like a pro. Every scene between the two performers is nothing short of spellbinding – it isn’t much of a stretch to think that an entire feature of these lengthy conversations would be equally as entertaining as what we ultimately got here.
The film is genuinely creepy, with more than a couple memorable set pieces (the hallway sequence with the nurse and the security guards being a real stand-out) to its name, and it’s smart when it wants to be to boot. It’s a slow burn, but it’s worth the time as well as the intellectual effort that it takes to get to the point at which momentum begins to rise. Unfortunately, this is when the studio-enforced material begins to rear its ugly head, and it’s almost critically debilitating. It threatens to derail the honest grace of what came before, but is thankfully redeemed by what very well might be one of the most chilling and resonant final lines in any genre film.
The material excised from Blatty’s own cut of the film was long thought to be lost, but in 2016, Scream Factory announced they were working with the writer/director to bring his original vision – or as close as they could get to it – to the general public with this fan-pleasing release. For the film’s many admirers, this will be the main draw of the set; but let it be known, what’s been recovered here was sourced from VHS-quality dailies. I personally prefer the theatrical version, as the new material is interesting but might have been of better service as a stand-alone featurette. Of course, you don’t get the most problematic aspects of the film’s final act here, but the quality is so inconsistent that it throws off the mood of the piece, and not in the way that Blatty might have intended. It is nevertheless a welcome addition to the package.
Aside from the Director’s Cut, this release sports a handsome new 2K scan of the Theatrical version of the film and a wealth of featurettes both old and new. Everything from the former category can be found on disc one whereas the new interviews, along with the newly assembled cut, are on disc two. A vintage featurette, collection of interviews (running over half an hour), deleted scenes, and the usual TV Spots and Photo Gallery just about round it out; and then on disc two, we get a feature commentary by Blatty himself as well as a genuinely insightful documentary in five parts (which runs over an hour and a half, accumulatively). Clearly there is a lot to dig into here, and thus fans of the film should be very pleased.
THE EXORIST III looks and sounds better than ever before for Scream Factory’s snazzy release, giving enthusiasts enough bang for their buck and then some with a treasure trove of bonus content that might heighten even the most fervent detractor’s opinion of the film. It remains a soiled masterpiece if there ever was one, at least in its theatrical form; an excellent piece of smart, genre-bending cinema that a money-minded studio unfortunately chose to tamper with. If it’s true that we may never see Blatty’s actual, complete Director’s Cut – and that’s looking more and more likely as the years go by – then this will have to do; and by no means is this reviewer complaining. This is an important release, packed with thoroughly entertaining insights, and it could very well be one of the year’s finest.

-Ryan Marshall

Director: William Peter Blatty
Lead Actor/Actress:
Genre: Horror
Blu-ray Release Year: 2016
Theatrical Release Year: 1990
Time Length: 110 mins./105 mins. (Director's Cut)
Rating: R/NR
Region Code: Region A
Release Company: Scream Factory
Website: www.shoutfactory.com