THE EXORCIST III
In a decade that has almost entirely inured one to the power of a good scare, William Peter Blatty, in what most cynically predicted would only be another Roman numeral exploitation film, comes in an outside winner, conjuring a series of wild, outlandish theatre-rattling jolts. The dream sequence with George C. Scott moving through Heaven, which is presented as a Grand Central Station of sorts where the dead try to contact the living by radio, to find Ed Flanders with his head stitched on who turns to look at Scott and say Im not dreaming, holds a strong kick. Or the moment where George C. Scott enters the vege ward and the camera pans upwards to show one of the patients scuttling about on the ceiling. However, the scene that makes the entire audience jump is the one that follows a night-duty nurse around the ward as she checks on strange noises she hears. Mostly shot in a single wide-angle down the shaded ward corridor, one is startled out of their seats as she emerges from the room she has just checked, followed in complete silence by an alabaster-white winged figure. The camera suddenly slams into a medium angle up on the figure, revealing it to be one of the headless statues come to life. It is a genuine scare that has a truly fantastique wildness to it, no matter how silly it may seem when one thinks about it afterwards.
This was one of the choicest roles George C. Scott had had in a while. William Peter Blatty equips him with a daft sense of humour, which lights up Scotts rigid Mt Rushmore face in the delivery. Brad Dourif gives a performance that is regrettably playing to the audience. However, Dourif is probably more in control of a role than he has ever seemed before (funny that he has to spend the entire film in a strait-jacket to do so his only other good performance was in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975) and there he was confined to an asylum too). Blatty conjures a considerable chill out from the characters dialogue, describing the joys of killing people and in keeping Karras trapped in his own body, watching as it is made to kill innocents.
It is ironic that the films only failing comes in trying to emulate the current crop of effects-heavy clones. The studio forced a new ending on the film after deciding the one that William Peter Blatty originally shot was too tame. However, it is a surprisingly wimpy display of effects and conversely only ends the film on an anti-climax. The new character of Father Morning, played by Nicol Williamson, added here is poorly developed and unnecessary. Among other things, the studio insisted on a return appearance of a character from The Exorcist, which is why Brad Dourifs scenes are broken up by appearances of Jason Miller, which were added later. The studio also insisted on naming the film The Exorcist III, as opposed to William Peter Blattys preferred title of Legion (1983). In 2016, Blatty released a directors cut of the film, his original version, which is substantially different to the one released by Morgan Creek, although much of the original footage remains lost.
The other Exorcist sequels are Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and the subsequent Exorcist: The Beginning (2004). There is also Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005), the original version of Exorcist: The Beginning made by Paul Schrader that was dumped and reshot by the studio. The Exorcist (2016-8) is a tv series loosely based on the original featuring Geena Davis as a now adult Regan whose own daughter becomes possessed.
William Peter Blattys only other film as a director has been the very strange black comedy The Ninth Configuration/Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane (1980).