Legion 1990 ****

a great, remarkably restrained horror film with one stand-out sequence in particular

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….



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  1. I really like this film. From the commentary I got that Blatty originally wrote comedy which is why some of those early scenes between cop and priest are so funny. Rubbish ending, but a whole bunch of interesting things going on in here.

  2. Excellent thoughts on this one. I really didn’t know that Ewing starred in this one. Who would’ve believed that? I’m definitely glad to hear that it’s not one that is solely focused on jump scares though. Those are usually the horror movies that flop for me. 😮

    • Starred might be the wrong word, but let’s just say that there’s only one role that he could have played here! Lots of mood and weighty dialogue here, worth seeking out as something different from the horror norm.

  3. I would say it was Shanghaied in: although there are settings and character that re-appear, it’s not a conventional sequel. The title of the book was Legion, and the film should have gone with the same. Never found The Exorcist scary, but this one has a few truly unnerving moments, handle with caution! This is more theological than popcorn…

  4. if Legion was a book, was it an actual sequel to the Exorcist, or just kind of shanghaied into this movie?

    I’m thinking about trying to read the Exorcist, as I know that I couldn’t handle the movie…

  5. I felt like I was plugged into an electrical socket, despite knowing exactly what was coming…knowing it required a basketball star helps explain a little, but it’s still uncanny stuff!

  6. Yeah, that hospital scene is done so well. Because they stay with the fixed camera position for so long and then go for the sudden zoom? The music blaring in? The killer’s stride? It shouldn’t be a jump scare because you know something is coming, and yet it works every time.

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