Films that time forgot: The Exorcist III (1990)

by Martyn Conterio on 22/01/2013

The Exorcist III

The Exorcist III was released worldwide across the summer and autumn of 1990 and into the winter of 1991. Directed by William Peter Blatty, the film did solid business at the global box office – $39 million dollars from an $11 million budget.

Based on the novel Legion (1983), also by Blatty, The Exorcist III picked up fifteen years after Father Karras (Jason Miller) took a tumble down those iconic Georgetown steps. It ignored completely events depicted in John Boorman’s poorly received sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).

Blatty had no interest in the further development of characters and the demonic-possession scenario found in his novel and the subsequent smash-hit 1973 screen adaptation, memorably directed by William Friedkin. In Mark Kermode’s Fangoria article (Issue #122, May 1993), that detailed the third picture’s production and post-production woes, the director/screenwriter/novelist recalled the eventual spark of inspiration:

“Father John Nicola told me of this psychiatrist friend who had become interested in possession after seeing this episode. This man was in a disturbed ward at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, when into a room came a man in a business suit. And pandemonium broke out: screaming patients shouting obscenities, banging on the bedsteads … all of which stopped when the man left the room. It later transpired the man was a priest in civvies, carrying the communion in his top pocket. So I thought, what about dealing with a demon in a hospital who moves from one empty shattered psyche to another?”

After several false starts and a change of studio (the film was distributed by Twentieth Century Fox and produced by Morgan Creek), the go-ahead was given. Soon enough the suits clashed with Blatty over the picture’s cerebral, philosophical angle – and the fact there was no exorcism. The script’s witty dialogue did not sit well, either. After all, what’s funny about the epic battle between God and Satan’s minions?

Lt. Kindermann, a peripheral character in the original film (but not the book), is now an aging detective (played by George C. Scott) on the case of a vicious serial murderer who has a penchant for perverse theatricality: he mutilates corpses with cryptically staged, albeit, clear blasphemous symbolism. Is this the work of the dreaded Gemini Killer? The modus operandi is spookily familiar to the Georgetown police department. Just one more thing (as Columbo would say): the Gemini Killer has been presumed dead for fifteen years.

Kindermann is the classic existentialist figure struggling with what little faith he has left. Father Dyer (played by Ed Flanders) is the true believer. The two verbally spar through the film each with a retort for the other or comic remark on theology or the nature of belief systems. Kindermann is unsure whether the Gemini Killer is really back from the dead. And how does all this link to the demise of the saintly Father Karras? (Jason Miller).

The Exorcist III is a low-key gem. Instead of reemploying William Friedkin’s documentary style tactics, Blatty chose to build atmosphere and creeping fear from a different, though equally stylised, techniques. The film would be, essentially, a whodunit with fantastical overtones. That was how it was conceived, anyway.

As mentioned, producers were not happy with Blatty’s lo-fi approach. “Where’s the exorcism?” they very well must have asked.(There wasn’t one.) Under pressure, Blatty was forced to provide the obligatory ‘money shot’ in order to appease his paymasters and not disappoint the audience.

The ceremony – a completely unnecessary moment – sees a character named Father Morning (actor Nicol Williamson looks a bit like Max von Sydow) suddenly face off against the spirit of the Gemini Killer. It is utterly at odds with the nature of the material and the careful scares delivered by Blatty. (Including a much-celebrated sequence set in a hospital corridor.)

The critical reaction to The Exorcist III was mixed. Robert Firsching of The New York Times – and a fan – commented: “The Exorcist III is heavy on dialogue, but contains some fine performances and some chilling moments, particularly the haunting opening in a Georgetown church.”

The venerable Kim Newman wasn’t so persuaded by Blatty’s film and claimed in his review for Empire that the “major fault in [The] Exorcist III is the house-of-cards plot that is constantly collapsing.”

There is a book in the works, The Evolution Of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III: From Concept To Novel To Screen, that will detail the film’s history. (It could be a series given what happened to Paul Schrader’s doomed attempt, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, 2005).

In 2012 a ‘fan’ re-edited the picture to remove the studio-imposed scenes and put the finished result on the internet. Blatty has expressed, in the past, an interest in re-editing the movie himself, but Morgan Creek have either destroyed the excised footage or the reels are sat alone – perhaps humming with supernatural force à la Raiders of the Lost Ark – in the darkened depths of an archive.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Spicediver April 6, 2013 at 05:46

Thanks for unearthing an unjustly forgotton gem, Martyn!

I am the said editor of the alternative Legion fanedit you mention. If you like Exorcist III, I think you’ll enjoy my re-edit too. My aim was to recreate the main story arc of the lost director’s cut, based on descriptions of the storyline given in interviews by Blatty, Brad Dourif and others.

I also studied an early version of the Legion script published in paperback. But the actual Legion shooting script – which has a different ending among other changes – is not published and has never been seen by myself or anyone I know. So to an extent I had to guess its contents.

You can find out a more about the project here:

And the trailer is here:



Martyn Conterio April 27, 2013 at 09:51

Thanks for the reply. And the links.


Jared T. April 26, 2013 at 16:58

Thanks for the article and thanks as well to Spicediver.

No film is due critical reconsideration more than Exorcist 3 in my opinion. I think it was totally misunderstood at the time and remains marginalized sadly. I won’t go into what makes the film so great as if you are here you are probably well aware of the merit of the film, from razor sharp witty dialogue to universally great performances.

I think its fantastic that we have a fan edited version now. I would like nothing more in film than to see Legion in its original form. The Magnificent Ambersons is a good comparison to Exorcist 3, as unlikely as it may sound. With both films one gets the impression they are watching something very special but not complete, which ultimately makes watching them a frustrating experience. But In both cases it is a commendation to the work and a hint toward the original article that although butchered the films come out as engaging as they are. With Legion There is also a sad tendency to look down on it as the Exorcist 3…. merely due to it being a third outing. I totally agree with Blatty that the film should have been titled Legion for reasons of integrity and commercial viability.

The main reason I leave my comment is to gather any idea/s on how we can convince or even pressure for a full release of the original cut of Exorcist known as Legion. I do not believe for a split second that the original cut is forever lost or destroyed. I doubt even if the unreleased raw footage is lost. It is just far easier for the studio to say this when it costs them time and money to unearth old film. I am convinced that the time and money needed to locate the footage would be well worth the money and acclaim that would be received in exchange. I am convinced the restoration and release of the original Legion would be a profitable enterprise. The novel Legion remains popular and a release of the film could coincide with a new print run of the book. Yes most of the film will have been seen before in a different form but this did not stop the release of Dominion ( the far far better Exorcist prequel) after the release of Exorcist The Beginning. Legion might fare a great deal better than Dominion did in a limited release capacity as it has been thirteen years since Exorcist 3 graced cinema screens.

The place to start is in continuing to garner interest in Legion, which is why Spicediver’s edit is so important. As far as I am aware Blatty continues to express an interest in releasing Legion. If we continue to work at convincing the studio the release is worth both their time and money then we could well have two great films from one great novel ! We will always have the flawed masterpiece that Exorcist 3 is but Legion deserves to be released and deserves to be the final word on the Exorcist series.

Before hopeful commercial release can anybody point me towards where to get hold of a copy of Legion or are all original copies now lost as well / locked in the studio vault? I believe Mark Kermode has seen the original Legion, I have written to him to see if he can confirm this and the circumstances under which he came to see it.

Please feel free to email me in regard to any thoughts about the film , how to get hold of the original edit, how to publicize Legion generally etc. Many Thanks.



Spicediver April 27, 2013 at 00:48


Look on my Legion fanedit Project page at and you’ll find links to various published articles about the making of the film, including interviews with William Peter Blatty and Brad Dourif.

It is possible that head of Morgan Creek studios James P Robinson and/or one or more of his current or past executives either:

1. Do know where the directors cut test print is and have made sure it will never be found, for petty political reasons.
2. Have willfully destroyed this print of the film and given the convenient excuse that it can’t be found.

Or maybe the directors cut really lost by Morgan Creek. Blatty himself has given up asking the studio about it. He is now 85 years old, after all.

The rough cut of Legion that Mark Kermode saw around 1990 was, I understand, a videotape that was screened at Blatty’s house for his friends/guests. If that tape still exists, Blatty has certainly never mentioned it. Presumedly that rough cut was then polished for the public test screening, and that’s the cut that either lies in cans of film somewhere or truly has been lost/destroyed.

I doubt Mark Kermode will answer your letter – he gets too much fanmail to bother and also rarely replies to posts on his blog. Full marks to you for your enthusiasm tho!


Jared T. April 28, 2013 at 09:29

Thanks a great deal for your reply. Thanks for sharing, you certainly know a great deal more than me about the issue. Its sad it appears that Legion might well be lost forever. I’m still cynical of the studio reasons. Frankly I’d cut my right arm off for a copy of the work print screened to Kermode! I will get in touch as it seems at the moment your edit is the best we have, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging manner, thanks so much for the effort you have dedicated to the film. Please keep me up to date on any further news on the matter….I saw Dominion again the other day and I think I can see why Blatty rated it so highly, I think it is clearly influenced directly and a direct reply to Exorcist 3. The first half is stronger than the second but I still find it an interesting film and a sincere attempt to dovetail with Blatty’s work.


Matthew Marsillo May 14, 2013 at 03:42

I am a big Exorcist fan of all the movies even the low rating Exorcist II: The Heretic And both Exorcist Prequels!! While I am not saying I like what happens in the story I really do find it both fascinating and intriguing!!! I am a praticing Roman Catholic so I really connect with the religions and spiritual thems of all of the movies!!! I for one am so frustrated about this whole situation!!! I guaratnee everybody that James G. Robinson still knows where the original negatives are for the lost footage and why he will not just give them back to William Peter Blatty and let him re edit and restore the original movie is beyond my comprehension!!! Also Erk Myers is still working on his book which most likely will not be released at least until a couple of more years so all of us true Legion/Exorcist Fans still have to wait patiently to see our dream version of the original edit!!!! Why Morgan Creek Studios even did this in the first place is beyond me but I feel it would be beneficial for them also to re release the original director’s cut of Legion along with The Exorcist III in a dual DVD pack like they did with both Exorcist Version Prequels!!!! From a marketing standpoint this would be so ludicrative for all parties involved and a nice thank you to William Peter Blatty for making such a great followup to his original masterpiece!!!! God bless and hopefully the real cut will be available soon!!!


Brian Keene March 20, 2014 at 14:09

Excellent write-up on a seminal — and too often overlooked — horror classic. I’ve always felt 3 (even with the odious studio-mandated additions) is the best film in the series.


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