Ignore the production controversies behind The Exorcist III. This movie still shines as an example of superior horror storytelling.
* This review focuses on the original cinematic release of The Exorcist III. Not the 2016 Scream Factory Collector’s Edition.
The Exorcist III has an ugly controversy behind it. In a classic example of artistic freedom versus commercial dictation, producers weren’t thrilled by director William Peter Blatty’s cut. They also notoriously demanded an climatic exorcism scene. In fact, I read somewhere that Blatty, who also wrote the original Exorcist story, didn’t even want for this to carry the Exorcist brand. This resulted in the movie having a distinctive possessed feel. Blatty’s creepier, subdued original, and the flashy get-out-of-him-you-beast portion dominating the end.
I preferred Blatty’s portion. This was exemplary proof of the power of narration, spiced by delightful moments of genuine terror. With the most infamous of the latter being that wide-angle, hospital corridor scene. To be fair, the exorcism scene wasn’t that awful too. If one considers a pea-soup spewing Linda Blair to be iconic of cinema, what’s so wrong with this one? Its real problem, so to speak, is no more than the fact it felt incongruous to the preceding story. It felt like a reshoot. A little less hysterical would have been better.
Objectively, this ending could perhaps be the better way to conclude The Exorcist III too. Blatty’s original novel, Legion, was very much a thoughtful dissertation on the nature of evil. One that ended with a grey, disquieting anti-climax. While I’m sure the talents of cinema could weave a great ending with this, I think most audiences then and now would prefer something a little more visual. I mean, how many people would want to watch a movie about evil with no spectacular showdown at the end? In that sense, I feel Blatty’s original tale is best suited only for the written medium.
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