I’m going with the USA alternative title on this one. There’s something about the third part of horror film franchises; usually, the first sequel has mis-fired in some way, and the third film has the tricky task of re-hiring original talent and getting things back on track. I’m fond of Omen III, and Halloween III, but in my heart of heart, I know that they’re both deeply silly movies. But William Peter Blatty’s return to the universe featured in The Exorcist is a deadly serious film, adapted from his 1983 bestseller Legion. Re-edited with a crudely stuck-on exorcism scene at the end, it’s not a particularly satisfying Exorcist film, but it is a great, remarkably restrained horror film with one stand-out sequence in particular.
Blatty had previously reworked his novel Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane into the film The Ninth Configuration, an anarchic mix of horror, sci-fi and black humour set in a remote military mental asylum. The director/writer was clearly interested in something other than jump scares and scary faces in the dark, and rooted his horror in a clash between superstition and modernity. Legion is cut from a similar thematic cloth; George C Scott gives a titanic performance as Lt Kinderman, played by Lee J Cobb in the original film. He’s a cop on a Georgetown beat, on the track on a serial killer with a truly macabre style. Bodies are found with gold ingots rammed through their eye-holes, or hospital patients are drained of every drop of blood, all deposited neatly in plastic cups on their bedside cabinet. Kinderman recognises the modus operandi as being that of the Gemini killer case, but his visits to a local hospital to see Patient X raise some theological problems; at times Patient X appears to be the Gemini killer (Brad Dourif) and at others, Kinderman’s friend Father Karras (Jason Miller), from the original Friedkin movie.
There is a director’s cut of Legion, but there’s also plenty of evidence of studio interference in the 1990 version. The strategy of cross-cutting to Nicol Williamson’s priest seems to suggest an eternity of warming up on the side-lines; it’s clear his character is a sop to the studio who wanted a big blood-and-thunder finale. There’s a smattering of other shonky moments (Samuel L Jackson! Fabio!), but also a plethora of terrific dialogue and atmosphere. The world-weary Kinderman is a great lead, and his opening monologue is a fantastic doom-laden, we’re-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket rant that Network’s Howard Beale would enjoy. The details of the killings lend proceedings a surreal, apocalyptic feel, as does a mad dream sequence, and the long interrogation scenes between Kinderman and the Gemini Killer are engrossing, a superior upgrade on the intense scenes with Regan in the first film.
And notably, for a film that largely avoids on-screen violence, there is that one scene…arguably one of the best in the history of horror. Basketball star Patrick Ewing plays a key role, and the moment is heavily foreshadowed by Kinderman’s discussions about some new hospital equipment, a spring loaded set of metal shears. ‘What happened to the old ones?’ Kinderman asks, and Blatty reveals their fate in a tense, utterly surreal scene that still electrifies on repeat viewings. Legion isn’t a satisfying sequel, but it a thoughtful, intelligent and alarming original horror story; just take a deep breath when the nurse starts doing her rounds….