• 08-02-2005, 12:49 AM
    Lexmark3200
    A DVD REVIEW: WILLIAM PETER BLATTY'S THE EXORCIST III (Warner Brothers/Morgan Creek)
    "......and Jesus spoke to the man who was possessed and asked him 'what is your name?'.....and he answered 'Legion.....for we are many......'"

    BOY, is this an utterly confusing film. And this is coming from a diehard fan of the original and, consequently, a fan of the entire franchise. The actual full-length theatrical title for the picture is William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist III but the picture was known from a Morgan Creek marketing standpoint as simply The Exorcist III --- and if that wasnt misleading enough, the first WORKING title for this film was Exorcist III: Legion which is based on the novel Legion, written by the man responsible for the original Exorcist William Peter Blatty......got all that?

    Now, lets get something out of the way early on: forget the travesty John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic was ever made because it is simply one of the worst films ever made and, quite frankly, does nothing for the franchise but make the connection between the Father Merrin character and the "demon" "Pazuzu" that possessed Linda Blair in the first film even more confusing --- and forget Richard Burton's awful acting and the fact that the film just does not make ANY sense with plots revolving around James Earl Jones as a grasshoper witch doctor in Africa and Burton as a priest trying to help a post-possessed Blair using fictitional "mind control" strap-on devices; I mean the whole thing was just HORRENDOUSLY STUPID, and there was a reason: the 1973 original shocker was such a tremendous success, Warner Brothers figured the public would be willing to accept ANYTHING as a sequel. And so ANYTHING was what we got.

    Fifteen or so years had passed between the release of William Friedkin's motion picture version of The Exorcist and the year 1990 brought about the corporate suits at Warner Brothers' Morgan Creek division showing interest in William Peter Blatty's follow-up novel to The Exorcist titled Legion. Blatty was actually interested in taking over the direction helm for the project to bring his novel to closer realization after the fallouts which occurred between him and William Friedkin during the creative process of The Exorcist; most of all, though, the studio seemed desperate to release a TRUE sequel to the first film, exploring not the death of the Father Merrin character (investigated in Exorcist II and Merrin's HISTORY explored in Exorcist: The Beginning) but instead continuing the story of the Father Damien Karras character (played by Jason Miller in the first film) based on Blatty's novel and screenplay. The result was a film that is simply impossible to define, genre wise, because its not really horror, but its not really mystery nor thriller --- but it seems to be all three wrapped into one, much unlike the vile, relentless, downright morally shocking original film which didnt hesitate to announce what it was --- with a backdrop of the loss of faith thrown into the plot.

    I dont even know where to begin with trying to explain Blatty's film version of his novel; it seems, inexplicably really, that Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller, who reprises his role as the priest in The Exorcist III) survived his suicide fall at the end of the first film once he's possessed by this demon "Pazuzu" (or is it the Devil himself? NEVER made clear in any of these films) which possessed Linda Blair and was brought out of her in the final exorcism scene of the original. How is this explained by Blatty? Well, from what I can recall after reading the Legion novel years ago, he tries to explain this by suggesting that this demon --- or the Devil --- has kept Karras' brain functioning for fifteen years and he was wandering around the Georgetown area "possessed" and half in/half out of amnesia and a catatonic state until he is picked up by the police and sent to a local hospital's disturbed ward.....but what never made sense is, didnt ANYONE know this was Damien Karras? Wouldnt there have been some blood or lacerations on his body and face from that fall? How could he have been walking around for fifteen years until finally being "found" by the police or someone? He was dressed like a priest, obviously, so wouldnt have someone found some ID on him while he was "wondering" around the C&O Canal outside Keybridge and known this was Damien Karras who was supposed to have crashed from Linda Blair's bedroom window and tumbled to his death, which made local news interest for years? None of these areas are explained by Blatty, and the film tries to figure this out in an even more confusing method, but I can remember a part of the book where Blatty suggests that someone else was actually buried in Karras' grave --- and Karras was indeed "wandering around" until he is hospitalized fifteen years down the road. Believe me: it was confusing.

    Enter William Peter Blatty's film version of his own novel, which has the late George C. Scott in the lead role as William Kinderman, the homicide detective played by Lee J. Cobb in the first film, who was also best friends with Karras. It is now fifteen years later in Georgetown, and Karras' memory still haunts Kinderman and Father Joseph Dyer (Ed Flanders), another good friend of Karras'. Each year on the day of Karras' death, these two men get together to console each other because they both approach depression around that time of the year. The beginning of the film finds Scott's Kinderman character investigating multiple homicides popping up in the Georgetown area......homicides that match EXACTLY the profile of a Gemini Killer muder spree which happened years ago --- the only problem is, the Gemini Killer has been dead for years, put to death in the electric chair right around the time Damien Karras was jumping to his death after drawing the Devil out of Linda Blair in 1973. As Kinderman continues to investigate these deaths, which begin to multiply almost daily, there is an uncanny connection to the events which lead to Karras' death --- especially when his investigation leads him to a local hospital where all the clues seem to point and he looks in on a man locked in an isolation chamber in the hospital's disturbed ward......a man who looks unmistakably like Damien Karras.

    Im not going to give too many plot spoilers away here incase there is anyone in here that is even remotely interested in renting and/or buying this DVD after reading the review if they have not already; but it would be difficult to even sum this plot up in words because its just so damn confusing. Kinderman's investigation leads him to this "patient" who is locked inside this isolation chamber, where conversations with this man who looks just like his friend Damien Karras (again, played by Jason Miller) reveal that he knows details of the Gemini Killer murders....details that were never printed in the papers and which only Richmond Homicide, a premier division of the police, knew about. Inbetween these strange conversations with this "patient," our perspective of the conversation, as viewers, changes, as we are shown the face of the actual Gemini Killer --- but George C Scott is seeing the face of Damien Karras. Now, here come the plot holes I had problems with.....if this Kinderman's best friend, shouldnt he have been at Karras' funeral? How can he question whether or not this is actually Karras sitting in front of him with a straight jacket on in this disturbed ward? Blatty would try to explain that someone else was accidentally buried in Karras' coffin at his funeral --- but Im just not buying that.

    Most of the picture remains a muder mystery type chiller, with Kinderman chasing a seemingly endless killing spree in the exact style of the dead Gemini Killer while getting clues to future murders by this mysterious figure who talks to him in the hospital who looks like his friend Damien Karras and brags about being responsible for the murders even though he's locked in this cell; fans of this highly underrated TRUE sequel to the original film (and they ARE out there; I know and am friends with at least three, LOL) try to sum up this plot like this: that Karras and the Gemini Killer apparently have had their souls combined through Karras' body, which has been kept "animated" by this demon --- or the Devil --- which possessed Linda Blair in the first film and this demon (or the Devil) is actually jumping out of this body to possess catatonic patients in the hospital to murder people close to Kinderman and the people involved in the exorcism from the first picture in the style of the Gemini Killer. It apparently seems this is a big revenge plot by the Devil (or Pazuzu) in return for being "cast out" of Linda Blair by a priest in the first film, but now that this demon was actually inside Karras before he killed himself, Karras now must "watch" as the Gemini Killer's spirit kills his own friends and innocent people because their two spirits are sharing his body....thanks to the Devil (or, you know who....). I'll let you decide if thats what you think is happening in this film if you choose to actually visit, revisit or purchase this disc.

    Blatty's original cut of this picture was a straight-on psychological thriller, with no intention of bringing any real gore or demonic possession themes to the table, believe it or not, as was the road his novel Legion followed. Unfortunately, as they did with Paul Scraeder's version of Exorcist: Dominion, the corporate know it alls at Morgan Creek and Warner Brothers felt the film didnt contain an essential ingredient to the core of an Exorcist franchise film: an actual demonic, gory exorcism itself, and so Blatty went back and added the final exorcism-on-Karras scene to the end of his first version --- and while shocking and satisfying for an Exorcist fan due to all the familiar Linda Blair-like demon wheezing and groaning from this demon Pazuzu, this final scene just feels disconnected from the rest of the picture. It starts as a who-dun-it cop thriller with a twist of religious investigation related to the events of the first Exorcist but suddenly, in the last twenty minutes, turns into a special effects-ladened, quite gory priest vs. Devil vs. policeman piece that simply feels like a completely different film. But, as a fan of this franchise, I enjoyed it --- as confusing and illogical as it was. Take a crack at William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist III --- or better yet, try and track down his novel Legion, and tell me what you make of this if you're so inclined after reading and/or viewing.

    Housed in one of Warner's terrible snapper case packages, the DVD version of The Exorcist III comes pretty much stripped, save for a quick theatrical trailer, proclaiming the original title of this release: Exorcist III: Legion.

    VIDEO SPECIFICATIONS:
    WIDESCREEN VERSION PRESENTED IN A "MATTED" WIDESCREEN FORMAT PRESERVING THE ASPECT RATIO OF ITS ORIGINAL THEATRICAL EXHIBITION, ENHANCED FOR WIDESCREEN TVs

    No aspect ratio labeling, as per usual Warner Brothers marketing fare, making me guess, due to the fact that there was no letterboxing on my overscanned screen, that this was a 1:85:1 transfer (hence the "matted" reference). It was hard to judge this one.....while there were no problems per se, the transfer didnt look all that good, either; blacks didnt look rich enough with much shadowing going on in darker sequences and there was an evident VERY SLIGHT grain running through parts of the presentation --- but not all. There were times the transfer seemed to "jump back to life" with fleshtones becoming more apparently lifelike when character close-ups appeared, yet the quality dipped back into uncertaintly during other scenes, mainly darker ones. To sum, I would say an average transfer effort from Warner/Morgan Creek on this one. Given the popularity factor of this title, however (no matter how many little clusters of aforementioned fans out there there are), dont expect any remastering work here in any kind of Special Edition --- although, now on second thought, I MAY have read somewhere on DVD rumor sites I frequent, that there may in fact be some kind of special edition treatment coming for this title.....but dont quote me, please.

    AUDIO SPECIFICATIONS:
    SOUNDTRACK REMASTERED IN DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1, FRENCH DOLBY SURROUND

    I dont know which master prints Warner was working off of in order to "remaster" this soundtrack for 5.1, because as far as my information tells me, this was the only disc available for this title (unless there is a laser disc version floating around, which I wouldnt be aware of), but the audio seems all over the place on this mix. To begin with, there is a purposeful distortion in the mix, making characters sound shrill and hollow at times when voices are raised ---- notably George C. Scott's. He does a bit of yelling in this film, and his voice is not that cleanly rendered as he raises his decibel levels through the center channel. Then, there is the problem of the directionality of that center channel......it seems as if during the retweaking of this soundtrack for 5.1, as WB claims, some details were missed such as possessed characters' voices booming out of the front channels and then suddenly snapping back into the center as if there was an accidental "bleeding effect"; this happens primarily during the final exorcism scene where the demon's voice seems to be coming from the entire front soundstage instead of just from the center channel --- as well as the priest's who is performing the exorcism (Nicol Williamson) --- but this may have been intentional for effect by the engineers; hard to ascertain.

    The mix is lively when called upon, but is by no means thunderous; aside from the intentional distortion in the soundtrack, some parts of the film --- specifically dialogue driven sequences which make up most of this presentation --- can get downright quiet and required me to battle with my Onkyo's volume on the remote throughout the whole run, forcing me to crank up lower dialogue and then drop the level when a shocking "stunner" of audio came crashing on, causing the purposely distorted track to seem even more shrill and raw. It was hard to find a comfortable, stable level --- which I have found with almost every viewing of this title over the years watching it with friends who enjoyed it and were also fans.

    Surround usage was limited, but was there to support rainfall and storm sequences, and those loud, aforementioned "stinger" shocks which can take you from a horrendously quiet passage of the film --- even silent --- and suddenly make you jump off your couch and out of the sweet spot as the "stinger" crashes through the speakers all around you to support the shocking action onscreen. I was also able to make out where quality of the center channel speech presentation and delivery came and went; good examples were where Brad Douriff (playing the Gemini Killer) would be speaking to George C Scott's character in the isolation cell and the characteristics of the dialogue changed as if the audio had been looped from another source; there were times background hiss was apparent through the center channel almost as loud as the dialogue itself --- and then it was suddenly gone, as if you could almost HEAR as the engineers reworked this soundtrack for 5.1.

    All in all, a mix that gets the job done for a mainly, believe it or not, dialogue driven, primarily psychologically stirring "possession" film. As I have found with so many other Warner Brothers back catalog titles, the dialogue seems to be in competition here with the remainder of the mix and get downright soft in spots --- but, at the same time, it gets clear and distinct during other moments making for a most uneven final product.

    On a more positive note, there was a continuous, numbing delivery of LFE on the track which made my room rattle more than a few times, kicking in during "demonically suggested" passages; there is no doubt your sub will get a workout with this Dolby mix, if you can believe that after all the "un-eveness" I speak of in the previous paragraphs.

    Do yourself a favor.....if you enjoyed the psychologically disturbing first 1973 shocker from William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin, and wish to see a genuine continuation of that story, give Warner Brothers/Morgan Creek's Exorcist III a spin in your player and tell me what you think.....

    Just dont wish those pesky demons into yourself as Karras made the mistake of doing at the end of the original film because we all know where that leads......

    Thanks for reading, friends, and enjoy!