“I have dreams… of a rose, and then of falling down a long flight of steps.”
Having read William Peter Blatty’s Legion novel in ’83, it was a must-see film adaptation for me.
Noticed it had been almost a year since paying homage through its opening titles to an underappreciated horror film by an auteur of the genre. And as Halloween is soon to be upon us, perhaps another equally dark piece of devilry should carry the torch for the undervalued. Moreover, another comparable come-to-nothing box office flop when it opened, like here 17 August 1990. Know this only too well as I among the rare few who witnessed it firsthand the very next day in a near empty theatre.
Luckily, both received later reprieves when more viewed what their directors accomplished via home video.
In this case, a sequel to one of greatest and disturbing supernatural horror films of all time, whether you believe in a deity or not. And in truth, at least from my perspective, the only follow-up worth watching in this “franchise.” Color me thoroughly unconvinced with what Warner Bros. studio and director John Boorman heaped upon audiences in ’77, no matter what the Shout! Factory1 or others seem to believe. Sadly, wasted money and saw this crap fest on opening day, too.
Still, though not as lengthy or languid as Prince of Darkness‘, William Peter Blatty’s title sequence for The Exorcist III justly symbolized its original story connection while taking the film in a heady different direction.
On the surface, it starts sedately enough with an orange Potomac sunset greeting the Georgetown University rowing team after the Morgan Creek2 logo appears. What you’d expect at day’s end for the oldest Catholic and Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education in the U.S. Transitioning off river, the shell’s oarsmen soon head home as daylight wanes. Passing a reflective Father Dwyer completing an annual pilgrimage to a well-known stairway3 that marked another passing.
The location’s downward view of those unforgiving stone steps stride to a tired but equally brooding Lt. William Kinderman at home keeping the same memory this night. Familiar, yet what really calls back the fifteen year old tale of a teen’s demonic possession is the night view of those same steps from the more accustomed angle overlaid with a recognizable melody4. Quoting the haunting Tubular Bells at this point, as we’ll see for the film, the score veers on a new tangent.
Singer-songwriter-composer Barry De Vorzon unsettles what would have been the customary recitation of the well-known Oldfield instrumental by morphing the main title cut into his own “Devil’s Trail” piece from this point forward. Setting the rest of the segment, and audience, on edge with gutturally synthesized elements signifying something sinister existing between the notes. Now unearthed and floating amidst the staid Georgetown streets and edifices the movie credits attend.
Arriving at the Holy Trinity Church where Blatty begins to manifest the supernatural upon his visuals and story. Initiating Christian iconography into the frame with the statues that are its reminders of faith. The family of Catholic saints here greeted with an eerie wind bursting in on the church and extracting the eyes of the crucifix to spring open, as if in challenge. Perhaps, not subtle but utterly unexpected, surely. Even as a blood red rose foreshadowed as evil’s calling card.
All a hair-raising preamble to The Exorcist III title appearance, which heralds the sequence’s unforeseen transfiguration. The figurative point of view of someone wandering through the very same streets previewed earlier. Only labored breathing escorts the unsteady narrator taking in the darkness, as a cassocked priest appears to run in the background. A young teen, holding the long-stemmed variety of the flower, previewed in a doorway before his gruesome fate realized this night.
A familiar voice intones the stroller with the above lead quote, informing those who will listen, as the viewer once again reaches the historic steps. Only to have the camera visibly re-imagine what that trip must have looked like, let alone how it bit. The comedy writer-turned novelist5, through DP Gerry Fisher’s lense, forces the audience to reconsider what we think we know about what’s come before6 through some surreal and arresting visuals. Credits readying the ground for what lay ahead.
As if awakened, the filmmaker once more shifts the title sequence to what appears to be a bright new day, but hardly is. As exemplified with a trinity of police helicopters beginning their terrible early morning post-mortem work. The voice of the same Father Dwyer now sermonizing his flock this Ante Meridiem airs over the dreadful task left to the police and his friend Lt. Kinderman to parse. His words in wholly stark contrast to the grisly discovery of the previous night’s hellish vision.
“A light shall shine upon this day, for the Lord has been born onto to us, and he is called wonderful. God, the prince of peace.”
In other words, the entirety of the movie’s credits segment, from start to finish, meant to conduct the audience to this very spot as the director title lands. Where the late Jesuit-trained author-director wished his work (comprising novels and two film adaptations) to be judged upon — the symbolic altar and vestiges of his hopeful beliefs as the horror comes to light7. This as moviegoers only start to realize, when the telltale rose comes into view by the window, Father Dwyer the soon-to-be casualty of it.
- As done with Prince of Darkness, Shout! Factory’s Exorcist III Blu-ray, with its “Legion” director’s cut, is the only one to own — no matter that they thought ‘Heretic’ worthy of the same treatment this year. ↩
- “Morgan Creek decided to call it “The Exorcist III: Legion” even though the screenplay and novel featured no exorcisms whatsoever. After principal photography was completed, the misleading nature of the title was noticed, and the producers determined that additional scenes needed to be written and then added into the film in order to made it a more recognizable sequel of The Exorcist (1973). The last third of the movie had to be entirely redone, with the insertion of a new character, Father Morning, and of an exorcism scene that cost nearly four million dollars.” ~ IMDB ↩
- “The Exorcist” Steps – the stone steps at the corner of Prospect St NW and 36th St NW leading down to M Street NW in Georgetown. Originally built by Capital Traction Company in 1895 during construction of the adjacent Car Barn. ~ Wikipedia ↩
- The only Exorcist sequel to re-use “Tubular Bells” in the film, however briefly. ↩
- Blatty cranked out scripts for hit comedies that included Blake Edwards’s 1964 Pink Panther film, A Shot in the Dark and What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966). ↩
- Or make the case ‘The Heretic’ just never should have been. ↩
- Through the years after The Exorcist‘s release, the author said he never wrote a story of “horror”, but rather of faith. Theological good vs. evil, just written as entertainingly as he could so it wouldn’t put people to sleep. ↩