It’s been a long time since I watched William Peter Blatty’s direct his adaptation of his own novel, Legion. After a reshot ending to include an exorcism that didn’t exist in the original novel or screenplay, we are left with an uneven film that does a poor job to illustrate Blatty’s nature as a storyteller.
George C. Scott takes on the role of the police lieutenant, Kinderman (played by Lee J. Cobb in the original film), who is still haunted by those steps in Georgetown, and the loss of his friend, Father Damien Karras ( Jason Miller, reprising his role) following that famed exorcism.
Fifteen years on, in 1990, Kinderman is troubled by what seems to be a reappearance of a serial killer known as the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif) and known to be dead. As bodies related to Reagan’s (Linda Blair) exorcism begin to pile up, all with the Gemini signature (which is only spoken about on screen, the film has relatively little gore, until one sequence in the reshot ending) and Kinderman must confront the impossible conclusion that somehow Gemini is still alive.
His investigation leads him to a hospital, and a secluded, isolated ward, where a patient resides. A patient that looks impossibly like Karras, but may be something more dangerous.
Blatty’s efforts lack Friedkin’s subtlety and knowledge, and his use of sound, while trying to emulate its predecessor, flounders almost to the point of camp without intending to. What may work good in text, doesn’t always translate to the screen, and while there are some well-orchestrated moments, including a shot of a horrific grinning, knife-wielding statue, other things aren’t quite as impressive.
While less can be more, the film needed to show more of the brutality of the kills that the Gemini Killer delivers, and perhaps pulled back a little on some of the imagery that littered the last third of the film. I’m referring specifically to the exorcism conducted by Father Morning (Nicol Williamson), a character created specifically for the rewritten third act. His visions, as well as those of Kinderman in the climax seem a little over the top, and less frightening than the director intended.
There’s no real wrestling with faith or belief in this one, no matter what Kinderman says (and as an aside, it’s like Scott is acting in a completely different film – he’s all fire and brimstone in his delivery, while those around him seem to simply be delivering their lines). Dourif could easily hold his own with Scott, but there’s some post done on his voice that I feel detracts from what may have been a real menacing performance, though it would be hard to take anyone’s discussion of the other side, and the others, and the master, seriously within the film’s context. I couldn’t buy into it.
There is apparently a director’s cut out there with some restored footage, that I haven’t seen yet, that could conceivably improve on what could have been a really good film. In fact, if it had ejected The Exorcist title, and simply told it’s own confrontation with evil, that may have worked better. That being said, I do like the fact that the film was about trying to free Karras’ soul, and Kinderman’s loss.
Still, it was interesting to revisit this one, you know, so you didn’t have to.