Tom Doty Times Columnist
March 28, 2014
In 1973, William Friedkin stunned audiences with his adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s popular novel, “The Exorcist.” It was a major achievement that put horror back on the map and dragged it out of the drive-ins and into the hands of major studios. The big wigs knew they had a winner.
Sequels were green-lit (four so far) and each one was second-guessed by the bone-headed studio executives who took control of the films, ordered changes, and proceeded to ruin every sequel to this phenomenal hit. “Exorcist 2” landed the director of “Deliverance” but his film was taken away and re-cut to become the single worst sequel in movie history.
Then came this film, which was followed by part four. Four was a huge debacle. The studio ordered so many changes a new director was brought in to remake the film from the ground up, resulting in two versions of part 4. This development did not lead to double profits, however, and each film went into the red.
Before the boondoggle that was part 4 happened, Blatty decided he had an idea for a sequel. It would focus on Lt. Kinderman (played by Lee J. Cobb in the original film). The studio read Blatty’s script and decided not to do it. Hmm. They didn’t realize he was the guy who created the franchise?
Eventually a company came along (Morgan Creek) that was willing to bankroll Blatty’s script (which he had since turned into a book titled “Legion,” figuring at least that was safe from producers’ hands). Based on how well Blatty had done with his first directing gig (“The Ninth Configuration”) they gave him the budget he wanted and let him make his film.
The film stuck close to the book (big surprise) and followed Kinderman as he worked a case involving a baffling series of murders. Each killing is gorier than the previous one and hints at a religious angle. A man is captured and he claims to house an army of evil souls which include that of San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer as well as Father Karras, who was sucked into this being after leaping to his death in the first film .
The studio saw the final cut and decided they didn’t like it. Big surprise, I know. They wanted it to be more like the first film, so they forced Blatty to shoot a new ending, which they even ponied up 4 million bucks to do. Blatty hastily rewrote his finale, adding two new characters, including a priest and a cameo by Jason Miller, reprising his role as Karras. Now the film had an ending to mirror the first and all would be well. Uh-huh.
The new stuff was totally different than the tone of the film. Now you had a serial killer film that ended like an exorcist movie. It didn’t work and the studio lost a bundle.
The good news is that an internet guru re-cut the movie and changed it back to a semblance of the novel. Check this version out on YouTube and you are in for a treat. Then sign the online petition to re-cut the movie. It might get us the original film back.
This sort of campaign worked for Clive Barker’s “Night Breed.” In fact, the director’s cut of that film will hit DVD this summer including 40 minutes of footage that the studio cut. Once again the culprit was Morgan Creek.
See Blatty’s film in its current version and you will still have a great time. George C. Scott does a fine job as Kinderman and he is well matched by Brad Douriff as the killer. Miller is OK in his brief scenes, as is Nichol Williamson, as the last-minute exorcist. But the real treat is the infamous hospital scene (which exists, uncut, in the version you can buy or rent on DVD. It’s a great moment in pure terror.
Best line: “This time, you are going to lose.”
1990, rated R.