“Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer cheer each other up on the anniversary of the death of their mutual friend, Father Damien Karras, by going to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the local theater in Georgetown, near Washington D.C. But there’s no cheering Kinderman while a particularly cruel and gruesome serial killer is at large. His murders, which involve torture, decapitation and the desecration of religious icons, is bad enough; but they also resemble those of the Gemini Killer, who has been dead for fifteen years.” (courtesy IMDB)
Would you believe that William Peter Blatty, creator of one of the most frightening novels (and subsequent film) in history, was once considered one of America’s most original comedy writers? Way back in 1960, Blatty published his novel Which Way To Mecca Jack? which dealt humorously with both his early life and his work at the US Information Agency, followed by John Goldfarb Please Come Home, I Billy Shakespeare, and Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane. It was at this point that Blatty began a fruitful collaboration with director Blake Edwards writing comedies such as A Shot In The Dark (1964), What Did You Do In The War Daddy? (1966), Gunn (1967) and Darling Lili (1970). Blatty also worked on non-Edwards comedies such as The Man From The Diners Club (1963), Promise Her Anything (1965) and The Great Bank Robbery (1969). Blatty also contributed scripts to the anthology television series Insight which, despite being produced by a Christian organisation, had some incredibly good morality tales as good as anything from The Twilight Zone.
The phenomenal success of The Exorcist changed all that. A bestseller, the novel was adapted into a controversial film in 1973 directed by William Friedkin, and produced and written by Blatty. The ten million dollar film earned Warner Brothers more than a hundred million dollars, ten Oscar nominations and two wins, including Best Screenplay. “I don’t think of The Exorcist as a horror tale at all,” Blatty once told me. “It’s frightening but quite real. Its power to frighten derives from its credibility. And there was the unavoidable obscenity of The Exorcist. Newsweek, in its review of the novel, said The Exorcist is obscene in the highest possible sense. It restores the proper meaning to the word ‘Obscenity’, which was to make you aware of that, it’s laudable. So one never reveled – hopefully – in the vulgarity in the film, because it was set in its proper context. Something not to be desired.”
In 1977 Warner Brothers paid for the rights to proceed with a sequel without Blatty, the result being The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) directed by John Boorman, which Blatty suggested they should have called it Son Of Exorcist and promote it as a comedy. Meanwhile Blatty adapted his own novel Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane into the cult film The Ninth Configuration (1980). Although not a horror film, The Ninth Configuration wrestles with the question of faith raised in The Exorcist (1973): “In a world so filled with violence and horror, how can a man believe in a benevolent God?” In an entertaining and dramatic context, Blatty provides a possible answer which, however, raises another question: “If God exists, why allow such evil?”
Answering this question would provide the premise of Legion, a screenplay Blatty translated into a bestselling novel in 1983 when he encountered difficulties getting a green-light for a film version. Seven years later, Legion (which Blatty describes as the true sequel to The Exorcist) finally made it to the screen under the expanded title The Exorcist III: Legion (1990). Written and directed by Blatty and starring George C. Scott as police Lieutenant William Kinderman (replacing the late Lee J. Cobb) who investigates a gruesome murder case bearing an uncanny resemblance to the work of a serial murderer who died fifteen years before. Brad Dourif portrays the long-dead Gemini Killer, and Jason Miller returned as Father Damien Karras, who plunged from a window at the conclusion of the first film. I was fortunate enough to make Mr. Blatty’s acquaintance while at the after-party, and had the opportunity to have a brief word about his second and final experience as director:
“I didn’t want to do it at the time. Warner Brothers asked me if I would write a sequel, because I didn’t have an idea. When I finally got an idea, naturally, I was quite eager to put it on film. The Exorcist and Legion – I’m speaking of the novels – slap them back-to-back, they make one story. They’re one book. In The Exorcist, questions were raised regarding God’s providence and goodness, and the problem of evil in the world. There weren’t a lot of answers, you’ll notice. We certainly came to believe in the power of evil, if not evil personified. In Legion the novel, there is a presentation of a possible solution to the problem of evil with which I can certainly find – if you grant my premises – no fault. It preserves the goodness of God, while not denying evil or trying to eliminate it by simply referring to it as ‘an absence of perfection.’ None of that is translated to the screen, because the theory is a bit complex.”
“Kinderman remains a character obsessed by the problem of evil. He finds no solution to it. Although the film is intended as pure entertainment, what I did was pose his problem as basically one of, ‘Is there a spiritual world? Is there an afterlife? Is it possible we live forever?’ That he comes to believe by the time the film is over. Beyond that, I couldn’t take it. There will be an exorcism, but it’s not what we’re building to throughout the body of the film. It’s not the full third act, but it is part of the resolution. Quite frankly, at the time we were shooting principal photography, I hadn’t dreamed up the scene yet nor the effects. So I said, ‘Until I think of the right thing, it’s not in the picture.’ I’m trying for effects we’ve never seen before, not the usual. We’re spending a lot of money – a lot – over four million dollars. We’re going to repeat nothing that was in The Exorcist. The scene will be infinitely shorter – it will be compacted into a very brief period of time, so the effects will come at you like dum-dum bullets, and one of them is quite wild, I must say. They’re all different, but one I find personally terrifying.”
“I think many people will be surprised. They’re going to see a different aspect to George C. Scott – extremely vulnerable – it’s quite a spirited performance. I expect he’ll be nominated – this time I hope he accepts if he wins.” Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite as planned. Although the film won a Saturn Award from the Academy Of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror for Best Writing, George C. Scott was not so lucky, being nominated for Worst Actor at the Golden Raspberry Awards – and he couldn’t even win that. It’s with this thought in mind I’ll profusely thank Fear magazine issue #18 for assisting me in my research this week, and ask you to join me again next week so I can poke you in the mind’s eye with another pointed stick from the faggot formerly known as Hollywoodland for…Horror News! Toodles!