Book vs. Movie: Legion/The Exorcist III

I haven’t been much of a frequent contributor to the Syndicate website for the last couple months and the reason for that isn’t anything nefarious, I’ve just been preoccupied with wrapping up a big project I’ve been working on for over two years and it has taken up more of my time than I initially estimated. Sorry about that. I love the Syndicate and enjoy getting a chance to write and interact with an awesome group of people.

That being said, I want to continue with my book vs movie series. This time I want to discuss the book Legion, which became the film Exorcist III.

William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, who was very vocal about his displeasure with The Exorcist II: The Heretic, decided to take the helm and write the screenplay and direct the third installment in the series.

I hate summaries, but since everyone probably isn’t as familiar with this book and movie as they are with the first one, I’ll give it a go: Ritualistic murders are happening in the neighborhood where over a decade ago, a young priest was thrown down a flight of infamous stairs, ending a series of bizarre events somehow linked to the young daughter of an aging movie star. Detective Kinderman, who appears in The Exorcist, is at the center of this story as he tries to figure out how a serial killer known as the Gemini, who has been long dead, has seemingly returned to life and continued his spree. His quest for answers leads him to a mental institution where a strange catatonic man with unknown origins, known only as Tommy Sunlight, has been locked away for years. The man bears a striking resemblance to an old friend of Kinderman’s, Father Karras, the very priest who was thought to have died at the bottom of those aforementioned stairs.

Blatty will never be my favorite writer, and this book is a bit of a convoluted mess. There’s way too much going on here. The Exorcist was succesful because it was a simple, straightforward story that taps into a common source of fear: the devil. Here we have dead serial killers, body jumping, Father Karras somehow alive with a stranger’s corpse in his coffin… it has its moments, but Blatty went too far afield for this novel to even compare with The Exorcist. The only relationship between the two books is tangential. It’s telling that he didn’t title the book Exorcist Two, most likely because there is no exorcism (they throw one into the movie to rectify this small matter).

The biggest problem with the novel is its protagonist, Detective Kinderman. Any horror is overshadowed by the unceasing musings of the elderly gumshoe. Too much page space is spent on his internal monologue where he contemplates the nature of good and evil, and the role God occupies in the universe. His conversations with other characters border on the absurd; let’s just say that in reality this man would not remain a detective for long, no matter how many cases he solves. He was in the first book, not a big presence, but an integral part of the story, but even there he overstayed his welcome. His thoughts and meditations on theology are interesting and sometimes he hits upon very interesting theories with regard to humanity, creation, and the sentience of nature, but that’s not why we’re here. The real meat of the story takes place in the book’s second half, as if Blatty was writing and realized if he didn’t get a move on he would end up a higher page count than Moby Dick. But the result is a rushed sheaf of pages that don’t ellicit any feelings of dread or horror from the reader. You feel like a guest who has overstayed their welcome at a party and Blatty is the bemused host, pushing you through the door. The climax of the novel, I feel, is rather anticlimactic and the denouement is more of Kinderman’s philosophical musings.

The movie is more plot driven, but just as much of a mess as the book. It’s a good looking flick, beautiful in some shots, but atmospherics are really all it has going for it. There is one big scare that I’m not going to ruin for anybody who hasn’t seen the movie and may want to, but it’s just not up to snuff with the original. But nobody should have been expecting this or any film to compete with a classic like The Exorcist. The issue here is that Blatty’s novel was too shaky of a work to base a movie on and he could have stood to have some helping polishing this screenplay, but it’s clear that he wanted control of the franchise he created and, for better or worse, this was his baby. And even though they banked (or tried to) on The Exorcist name, this really isn’t a sequel; the steaming pile that was Exorcist II is more of a true successor to the original, in that it follows the main character and hearkens back to the events of the first film. Brad Dourif’s performance is a bright spot in the movie, and I would suggest any horror fan check it out just to watch him.

I can’t really say which is the stonger work here, the book or the movie… both are flawed, but gun to my head, I would say the movie is better than the book. I wish it held its own against the original, though; it’s just a “blah” kind of film. I remember being terrified watching The Exorcist when I was a kid, and it was the one book my mother every expressly forbid me to read (I read it anyway, and it scared the hell out of me, too). Maybe it’s just because I was raised Catholic and all of themes of The Exorcist play off that. There’s nothing universally frightening about Legion/The Exorcist III to have the same kind of impact as the original.

If you want to check out The Exorcist III, it’s available on Amazon Prime and DVD or Blu-Ray.

If you want to read Legion, it is available for download through Kindle. If you’re looking for a print copy, you’ll have to look for second-hand, I think it’s currently out of print .

About Brian White 31 Articles
I am a lifelong horror junkie, musician, and writer. I recently published my first collection of poetry, Shadow Land, which is available on Amazon. I'm 38 years old and I live in Canton, Ohio.