William Peter Blatty, 1990
Starring: George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Brad Dourif
This completely ignores the ridiculous Exorcist II and is supposed to occur fifteen years after The Exorcist. Lieutenant Kinderman - the fairly whimsical, cinema obsessed detective who appeared in a few scenes of The Exorcist - returns to investigate a chilling new string of murders in the Georgetown area of D.C. The bodies are found mutilated, with a finger missing and a symbol carved into the palm, some are decapitated or crucified, and numerous anti-Christian elements are included. Kinderman is particularly concerned, because the murderers mimic the work of a serial killer known as the Gemini. But the Gemini was executed 15 years ago.
Kinderman shares this information with his best friend, Father Dyer (Father Karras’s close friend from The Exorcist). Soon a priest is killed, followed by Father Dyer, and the devastated Kinderman is at a loss when each crime scene shows the same modus operandi, but different sets of finger prints. More elements emerge proving that the killer knew intimate details of the Gemini killings never shared with the public. The head of psychiatry at the hospital, Dr. Temple, brings Kinderman to meet an amnesia victim known as Patient X. He became violent and was committed to the isolated ward, and he has recently admitted to being the Gemini Killer. Kinderman is unnerved about how much he resembles Father Karras and they begin a series of disturbing conversations. Soon after, bodies begin to pile up in the hospital. Temple commits suicide, a nurse dies, and Kinderman’s own daughter is nearly killed. Kinderman increasingly believes that Patient X is responsible, but will he find out the truth before someone else is gruesomely murdered?
Written and directed by the author and producer of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, Blatty had planned to make his own follow up to The Exorcist after that debacle that was Exorcist II: The Heretic. The project languished so long in development, that he gave up and wrote a novel, Legion. It was successful enough that Blatty was encouraged to write a script for the film adaptation of Legion and eventually took the opportunity to direct the film himself. Legion was meant to be a stand alone film, though the novel is technically a sequel to The Exorcist and has some reoccurring characters.
Both Dyer and Kinderman appeared in The Exorcist, but were replaced by different actors here: the commanding and unforgettable George C. Scott and the likable Ed Flanders (Salem’s Lot). The trio is rounded out by the excellent and creepy Brad Dourif, who imparts quite a lot of personality into the role of Patient X/the Gemini Killer/Pazuzu/Father Karras. Kinderman’s wife is played by Zohra Lampert (Let’s Scare Jessica to Death) and there is a particularly weird dream sequence with cameos from a number of famous faces, including Fabio as an angel, Larry King, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Legion is far better than it has any right to be and while some critics seem to consider this better than The Exorcist or its sequel (an obvious choice), it certainly had a lot working against it. Some of the dialogue is rough, unbelievable, or pretentious, and there are a number of confusing elements. Though these eventually work themselves out by the conclusion, the studio’s interference did not to do the film any favors. For starters, the title was initially Legion, but the studio changed it to Exorcist III: Legion. While Patient X was supposed to be played only by Dourif, shots of Jason Miller were added, which is pretty confusing the first time you see the film, as the two actors switch back and forth for the same role.
The most egregious addition is the inclusion of an exorcism towards the end of the film. There’s a random character, Father Morning (Nicol Williamson) who looks oddly like Max von Sydow and has no real introduction in the film. He simply shows up, performs an exorcism, and gets his ass kicked by Pazuzu. Scott enters to perform the original ending: shooting Patient X in the head.
Film critic and historian Mark Kermode has been trying to find an original director’s cut with the missing footage, as he did with Ken Russell’s The Devils, but so far to no avail. Regardless, Legion is a surprisingly good film. It includes possession of elderly dementia patients, serial killings, gravity-defying crawling, plenty of gore and heresy, and a brutal looking murder weapon. There are a number of Lynchian elements to the film and while I was at first skeptical of Blatty serving as the director, he does an excellent job and has some truly odd, unsettling visuals. There is also one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. It’s a quick, weird moment, but it’s incredibly effective. Watch it here if you dare. I’m looking forward to eventually watching Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration, which shares a number of actors in common with this film.
Legion comes highly recommended. I’m reviewing The Exorcist Complete Anthology collection, which includes the original version of The Exorcist and the director’s cut, Exorcist II: Heretic, Exorcist III: Legion, and the two prequels, Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. There are also numerous special features.