The Exorcist III is a much-maligned film. Some love it and some hate it. I happen to really like it, almost as much as The Exorcist, which is one of my all-time favorites. It is totally different with a different feel than the original and first sequel. There is a sick and dark sense of humor present throughout. A serial killer thought to be dead has come back. The murders end up having a connection to the possessed girl Reagan from 1973. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, even though I enjoy the film and have for years, you can tell something is missing because the plot, at times, can be all over the place. It can seem like two different directors worked on this movie, each focusing on what they wanted, and then slopped it all together. This is not far from what happened. The story of the production of The Exorcist III is almost as interesting as the movie itself. William Peter Blatty sought to adapt his novel Legion into a standalone film. I read it a few years ago. This work is loosely connected to The Exorcist, which he also wrote (and wrote the screenplay for the movie as well). Here, Blatty would become the director of his own book-turned-movie. However, Morgan Creek Studios had other ideas. What went on was a total war between director and studio. While Morgan Creek won the battle like the production companies always do, there really was no winner in the end.
Originally to be titled Legion, the studio immediately fought to make this the second sequel (behind The Heretic) in the Exorcist saga. That was mistake number one. Blatty warned that because the initial sequel bombed at the box office so horrifically, to name this movie The Exorcist III would be a huge marketing blunder. He was right. The studio wanted a commercial film, something that did not need to be artistic or creative. They wanted to make money. Due to this mindset, that also meant the addition of an exorcism scene when none exists in the novel because they felt, “How can you have a movie titled The Exorcist III and not have an exorcism in it?” The title was then changed to The Exorcist III: Legion, before the word “Legion” was dropped altogether. This was another error since the book had sold millions of copies (and is an exhilarating read, I might add). At this point, the film was either finished or near completion. The studio demanded re-shoots and scene deletions to accommodate new scenes, one which would be the exorcism in the finale. Blatty told them this would completely throw off the plot and make it too far-fetched. He was right again. The exorcism scene, though pretty good considering its last-minute filming and inclusion, looks and feels tacked on. Its as if Blatty said, “You wanted it, so here ya go!” and slapped it on. The character Patient X was also changed to Father Karras from the first film (this is never said, but the character is played by Jason Miller). This Patient X is also played by Brad Douriff during some scenes. I don’t want to explain why in case you have never seen it.
In the end, the studio got what it wanted and Blatty was furious with the finished product. The structure of his true film was “left on the cutting room floor” as they say. In recent years, he had been very vocal about how his intended film was much different and better than what was released. Several attempts on his behalf and also from fans were fruitless when they contacted Morgan Creek Studios to see about getting a director’s cut. They were not met with refusal, but something even worse: “We lost the footage”. So, there it was. Blatty’s true vision would be lost forever. The only remnants remaining are some production stills you can rummage through online and a few split-second clips in one of the original theatrical trailers. But now it appears this footage, miraculously, may have been found.
Back in December, horror blog Destroy the Brain did a little investigating into a series of Tweets made by Morgan Creek in reference to fans asking about the director’s cut. They were more cryptic than anything, but strange in a way that it really does seem they are working on something. More credible is a brief interview posted with a Blatty fan site where the author apparently says that they are working on, in his words, “my cut”. If the interview is real and that information comes from Blatty himself, then we have no reason to doubt its release. But, to play Devil’s Advocate, this wouldn’t be the first time fans have been tipped off and left disappointed by a fan blog through no fault of anyone except hope, plain and simple. A lot has to happen behind the scenes before such a product can come to fruition.
Readers of this blog may remember that back in 2010 I broke the news of the highly anticipated director’s cut release of Gods and Generals. Due to covering the release for many months, becoming the go-to online destination for information, and gaining inside information from my work interviewing several actors, crew members, and the director himself, I was able to see just how long the process is. It may even be harder here because we do not know the condition of the lost film and whether all of it survived. The old footage not only has to be added, but in this case, some scenes may be removed by Blatty (who is now 88). After that, they must check for cohesion and if the story makes sense due to all the odds and ends. Finally, the color and sound must be adjusted to ensure the entire movie flows before being transferred digitally for DVD and Blu Ray. Then comes graphic design, advertising, production of the discs/cases, and any additional memorabilia.
The Tweets that Destroy the Brain references go as far back as September. They personally got a hold of it last month. If things have been in motion that long and this is really happening, I see no reason why an October 2016 release would not be out of the question. That’s just me speculating—we would need official word. If anyone with first-hand knowledge of the situation reads this blog and would like to reach out to me so we can get to the bottom of this, please let me know. For now, we just have to wait and see.
The Exorcist III stars George C. Scott as Detective Kinderman (replacing Lee J. Cobb), Ed Flanders, Scott Wilson, and Nicol Williamson. It contains blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos by Samuel L. Jackson, Fabio, C. Everett Koop, Larry King, and Patrick Ewing. Veteran character actress Colleen Dewhurst provided the voice of Satan.