Some of the greatest horror films found life in the pages of a book first. The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Shining to name a few. Some say that the movie will never do the book justice (I’m one of them), but occasionally, screenwriters and directors adapt the original stories into visual masterpieces that are so horrifying they fuel the nightmares of generations. In this piece, we will review the story then discuss the differences between the page and the screen and decide which one is the better storyteller.
A word of warning: Spoilers.
In this edition: William Peter Blatty’s Legion vs. The Exorcist III
“Jesus asked the man his name, and he answered, ‘Legion, for we are many.’” – Mark 5:9
15 years after the exorcism of Regan MacNeil, a murderer stalks the streets of Washington D.C; a new killer with an old MO; the same MO of the Gemini, notorious serial killer executed over a decade ago. Now, detective Bill Kinderman tries to find the connection between these new murders while he questions the existence of an entity that would allow such atrocities. When one of his closest friends becomes a victim, Kinderman comes face-to-face with an unexpected familiar face, one he believed died on that fateful night. It appears the ancient evil is back seeking revenge and it’s willing to use any and all resources to exact it.
The story follows Lieutenant Kinderman as he tracks a killer that is using the same modus operandi as an executed serial killer. Kinderman waxes philosophically very often and his messages are missed by his audience more often than not. Through these ramblings, we see inside a mind that questions the existence of a higher power, a God that would allow bad things to happen.
We also get into the head of Dr. Vincent Amfortas, a doctor of Psychiatry for Georgetown General Hospital. Dr. Amfortas struggles after the death of his wife. Through various means, he tries to contact the other side. One of his methods seemingly works. I am not sure when spirit boxes or the Estes method was first used, but this may be one of the first indications that radios could be used to speak to the dead. For those not familiar, the Estes Method or spirit box, uses a radio that rapidly changes stations. Some believe that voices will speak through breaks in frequencies. For a great example of how the Estes Method works check out Hellier. Dr. Amfortas uses this method and believes he hears the voice of his wife among others. Many others. His health and sanity continue to deteriorate due to his obsession with contacting the dead. Could he be the Gemini copycat?
Nope. As it turns out, the Gemini copycat is…the Gemini. His spirit has come back from the grave and has inhabited the body of a familiar character; Father Damien Karras. The same Father Karras that died the night of the MacNeil exorcism. I warned you about spoilers. Seems that the Gemini killer had some unfinished business but needed to carry out some vengeance first. The demons helped the Gemini possess bodies of fellow patients on the Psych floor of Georgetown General, that was how he was able to break out and commit the crimes. He had one target in particular, who he considered the reason for his transgressions, his father. Once he’s gone, and Kinderman admits he believes the Gemini is possessing Karras, the demon returns, and the killings stop.
The Exorcist III
There are some notable changes in the adaptation. First, Dr. Amfortas does not make an appearance in the movie. I thought this was significant since, in his attempting contact with the other side, we see there are, well, legions of voices, spirits, and nasties on the other side. The end is another way the movie vastly differs. Admittedly, the ending of Legion would not have made compelling cinema. We needed visual demons, a final battle between Good and Evil. Enter Father Morning, the churches new exorcist. He looked like Draco Malfoy failed out of Hogwarts and found a home in the Church. Anyway, Father Morning faces off with the demon to painful results. There are some serious flesh-ripping, Hellraiser-esque special effects here. Kinderman tries to come to the rescue but is no match for the Evil. He admits a different belief here, a belief in all things evil. Before he can send Kinderman to the same fate as Father Morning, Demon Karras is distracted, real Karras breaks through for just long enough so Kinderman can put a few slugs into him. Evil vanquished.
Besides this end sequence, the movie holds true to the book. Including the carp. Yes, the carp. Confession time: don’t think I truly appreciated how good Brad Dourif is. He was fantastic in this movie as the Gemini Killer.
I have to give it to Legion. Amfortas’ story created more tension and uncertainty about who the killer was and the back story of the Gemini made it a better story overall. While the acting of George C. Scott and Brad Dourif was amazing, the change of the ending seemed forced. I don’t think it held the same fear and terror of The Exorcist and they tried to jam it all in at the end.
(You can check out our coverage of THAT SCENE from The Exorcist II HERE)
Want more special series? Just search below: