On October 25h Shout Factory become legends when they release the once considered lost Director’s Cut of The Exorcist III, a version of the film horror fans have been clamoring for since its release in 1990.
William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original The Exorcist novel and screenplay, directed the third film in the franchise that had been completely retooled by Morgan Creek. While most of the original footage was lost, a VHS workprint has been discovered that carries a lot of the footage, including much of Blatty’s vision for the film. Shout Factory’s release boasts the original title, Legion, as well as a new assembly of the film that includes said shots from the discovered VHS. So while it’s not 100% Blatty’s original vision, it’s allegedly close.
What’s so interesting about juxtaposing the two cuts is knowing that Legion is Blatty’s direct sequel to The Exorcist. Legion feels intimately connected to the 1973 classic, while the theatrical cut is an action-packed quasi-sequel that forces connections to William Friedkin’s adaptation. It’s strange, I know.
But here’s what you really want to know: just how different are the two cuts? Well, in regards to footage, there’s not a huge change. In fact, the biggest alterations come near the finale and tonally affect the entire film’s aesthetics.
First, and most profound, is Brad Dourif‘s full performance as the Gemini Killer. In the theatrical cut much of Dourif’s scenes are cut out and instead intertwined with Jason Miller returning as Father Karras (aka Patient X). As much as I enjoy Miller’s performance, Dourif’s was on another level. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as the removal of Miller only elevates the realism of Legion. In this Director’s Cut, the audience wonders, is this truly the Gemini Killer or just a madman who knows intimate details of the murders? While it becomes increasingly clear that there’s a demonic presence at work, there’s no flash or pizzaz like in the theatrical cut to take the audience out of the moment.
Furthering this conversation, the hugely intimate moment with Dourif changes the finale, as there’s no exorcism. Instead, Kinderman (George C. Scott) makes a similar sacrifice as Father Karras, which brings the story full circle, while also grounding it in the roots of the original story. It’s also much more unnerving, while the theatrical cut feels more directed at the early 1990’s audience.
Is one better than the other? Not really. They’re really just different takes on the same story. Blatty has even openly stated that he thinks the final version is a better one, although it’s hard to take anything away from his true vision that’s shockingly more visceral.
Personally, I’d watch whatever version I’m in the mood for. One will deliver all of the crazy gory effects and land some punches, while the other will get under your skin and leave you with a knot in the pit of your stomach. I do believe that the Director’s Cut is a true sequel and should be watched immediately after a viewing of The Exorcist, while the theatrical cut will remain one of the most interesting and fun horror sequels of all time.
Get the full details on the Shout Factory release by clicking here.