Monthly Archives: September 2012

Exorcist III: Legion – changes I would make

Legion is the only true Exorcist sequel, penned and directed by the author, William Peter Blatty. The film is different in several essentials from its parent novel, Legion. Blatty’s first screenplay was closer to the book, whose story assumed – as did The Exorcist before it – that the virtuous Fr. Damien Karras went on to his heavenly reward after having taken a demon into himself, thus saving the life of the possessed Regan MacNeil. However, Morgan Creek Studios demanded a re-write from Blatty, one that would include an exorcism which would supposedly justify the “Exorcist” of the title. Thus Blatty re-wrote the screenplay, brought poor Fr. Karras “back” from the heaven he had attained in the Exorcist and Legion novels, and stuffed him into his own resuscitated corpse, along with the soul of the dead but still vicious Gemini Killer – who uses Karras’ body to commit atrocities while Karras, trapped inside and helpless, is forced to look on helplessly. This unconventional but creative device is Blatty’s way of working in an exorcism, one which is now aimed at casting out two spirits – one back to hell where it belonged, the other into the heaven out of which it had been cheated. I’m a big fan of the film, yet I haven’t entirely lost my head: for me it remains a guilty pleasure. Having said that, however, there follows a series of items that I would – if I were Cinematic God – change, add or delete.

(Obviously, this post will probably appeal mostly to fans of the film.)

1. Better-establish the Fr. Paul Morning character, who is “the Exorcist” of this story. Let Kinderman’s phone call to Morning at Georgetown actually result in a personal meeting of the two characters. Nothing long or drawn-out. Perhaps Morning mentioning the nature of possession as he experienced it in the Philippines, and, if not stretching too much, mentioning a personal acquaintanceship with The Exorcist’s Fr. Merrin, or at least familiarity with Merrin’s stature, along with Morning’s special insights into Merrin’s “death by exorcism” in the first film.

2. Drop the “distracted Kinderman waiting for the hospital elevator” … while ignoring the decapitated bust of Christ sitting not four feet away from where he’s standing.
Instead, show Kinderman getting into the elevator, slowly pan in reverse down the hallway, show the elevator doors closing, still panning backwards, turn a corridor corner … and then show the Christ bust, which was all the time out of Kinderman’s line of sight, thus exonerating the detective of not noticing it. As currently shot, the scene makes the sharp-as-a-tack Kinderman look remarkably unobservant, even though we are to understand that he’s “very distracted”.

3. Drop the “Alice delivers the university president’s speech” scene, with its no-payoff “scares”, especially the silly morphing of statuary. Instead, keep the “stopped clock pendulum” as a resonance to Merrin’s observation of a clock stopping in the original film; keep the demonic giggle and “Regan whisper”; show the office door opening on its own, with Kinderman and the priest-president looking at it warily; then have Kinderman get up, firmly close the door, and get on with his possession-themed conversation with the president. This would prevent the literally show-stopping,  narrative-killing scene with “Alice”, yet preserve the sense of a “close-by demonic presence”.

4. Eliminate the opening credits entirely, or miniaturize them FOR THE CRUCIAL PURPOSE of CLEARLY revealing the “Running Priest” whose cassock-clothed figure runs twice across the street as the camera slowly moves in toward the MacNeil house and the top of the Hitchcock Steps. The Running Priest is an extremely chilling figure, resonating as it does with the cassock-wearing Damien Karras’ death that occurred very close to the very house that the camera is showing us.  Smaller, or deleted, credits would show both the mysterious priest, and the old familiar MacNeil house. It is unfortunate that many viewers miss both priest and house because of these distractingly large credits.

5. Early on, Dyer is saying Mass. His liturgical citation, however, is strictly from the Advent (pre-Christmas) liturgy and the film is obviously shot in the Spring, so an appropriate – say, post-Easter – liturgy should be read.

6. Drop the “menacing” lion growls from the soundtrack. They are cheap, distracting, and un-scary.

7. Begin the film, as originally planned, with the “dead” Fr. Karras at the bottom of the Steps, just as in the original film. Show Ed Flanders as Karras’ friend, Fr. Joe Dyer giving Karras absolution, just as in the first film. Makeup/cgi could make Flanders look younger in this scene. The scene would not even necessitate Miller’s presence, since in the first film, Miller-Karras’ face is not clearly visible, as it is angled in such a way to be out of the viewers’ sight. Thus an inexpensive stand-in or body double could be used for this flashback scene of the younger Karras’ dying moments. Ditto with loading him into the ambulance, his face conventionally sheet-covered – an extra /body double could “handle the part” perfectly.

Then – also as originally planned – have Kinderman in the autopsy room to say, “Goodbye, Damien”. For continuity’s sake, have GC Scott wearing Lee J Cobb’s hat and trenchcoat from the original scene in Regan’s room immediately after Karras’ fatal leap.
And, yes, give Scott Cobb’s moustache – which, along with the hat, could be dropped for the sequel’s action that takes place 15 years later. People’s styles change over time, but I would keep hat, coat, and moustache for that one beginning, establishing/resonating scene, which would solidly anchor and revive the audience’s memories of,  and feelings about, the original film. And again, there is no need to show Karras’ face in this autopsy table shot. We already “know” who it is who is supposed to be lying on the slab. I.e. just hang on to the same extra who was used at the base of the Steps and in the ambulance.

8. Drop the two silly “nuns in the hospital corridor” – one of whom is wearing a really ridiculous – pre-Vatican II – piece of headgear, shades of The Flying Nun; and another who indulges in incomprehensible hand gestures and head shaking. This is neither funny nor creepy, and adds nothing to plot advancement.

9. This would be considered heresy by some fans, but: Lengthen the slapped-together, controversial exorcism scene so that it doesn’t feel so much like a tack-on. Make it more psychologically than physically damaging to exorcist Morning (whom we now know much better as a person from his earlier interview with Kinderman).
Show how the demon wants to rip Morning’s soul even more than damage his body. Drop the “hellish” fires/flames and the Big Snakes (cobras) but keep the Little Snakes. Let Morning be flung against the cell wall with such force that he passes out – but do not, as is currently shown – throw him to the ceiling and peel off his skin.

10. Keep Williamson-Morning in the cell at all times – remember, in this fantasy re-working, we have all the time we need and all the money necessary to pay for Williamson’s complete presence. People notice that Morning disappears from the cell during the demon’s torment of Kinderman. A little more time and money can allow us to see Williamson laying unconscious on the cell floor even while Kinderman is pinned to the wall.
Then, as filmed, we can see “God’s Light Beam” awaken the stricken Morning, who raises his crucifix to Karras and encourages him to “Fight, fight him, Damien”. This penultimate effort exhausts Morning, who falls back into unconsciousness, but it releases Scott-Kinderman from his “wall crucifixion” long enough to “free” Damien via bullet-mercy.

11. Just before Kinderman’s lethal, final gunshot, perhaps we can give Miller-Karras better lines, e.g., “Oh … Bill … thank you … we’ve won. [long, deep sigh] … ‘Save your servant, who trusts in You, my God’ … Release me now, Bill. Send me home.” Then the final gunshot. Damien passes into the reward the vengeful demon had been cheating him out of for these past 15 years.

12. Make the final scene clear that old Brother Fain’s body, which Gemini-Karras had “traded” by putting it in Karras’ coffin while Gemini-Karras ran free, has indeed been found and removed … and that Damien Karras’ body has finally been properly put to rest. That is, let the viewer know that this scene of Kinderman and Adkins standing over the grave really does mean that this is Karras’ real, final burial.
Some think that the scene represents opening the grave to test the “Fain Exchange” theory, but this does not give closure. I much prefer to think of it as placing the seal of eternal peace on the beloved memory of Damien Karras, with the two cops being the only laity there to honor him,  with the university president and a smattering of Jesuits looking on to witness Damien being laid to rest.

There are other modifications I would make to this quirky little gem of a film, but the ones I’ve outlined here would satisfy me greatly.

Science vs. the Creator

A recent news flap concerns the issue of science “doing away with God”. Unfortunately, the God to be done away with is just the same old Judeo-Christian creating-god, and the current debate suffers from the limitations of that definition.

The whole question, issue, and idea that science can do away with God is predicated on the precarious assumption that, for God to exist at all, God must be a creator. This notion is a Western prejudice forced on us by our Judeo-Christian cultural background.

It is possible that God does not exist.

Alternatively, it is equally possible that God does exist, but is not a creator. This is the simple consideration that virtually no one, and no debate, takes into their view and into their God-talk.

“God is real, but is not, has never been, and will never be, a creator” states my position. Those who insist that God must be a creator are like someone saying, “Either the moon is made of green cheese, or it doesn’t exist”. But of course, God can exist,  but all the while not being a creator. Non-believers, as much as believers, have permitted this Western image of a creating sky-father to dominate, even permeate, their thinking.

Hence comes the idea that science can dispense, is dispensing, or soon will dispense with God … God as a creator of matter, that is.

First, science has never needed the creator hypothesis. The recent news flap on which this thread is based is really old news. Science does not posit or deal with the supernatural in any way. God was never a useful hypothesis for modern science. (And how could God, by most definitions a supernatural, non-material entity, be the object of science to begin with?)

It’s not a matter of science disposing with the idea of a creator.
It’s a matter of science never having needed the hypothesis to begin with.

Second, any claim that the universe issues from a supernatural deity is doomed from the start, because the claim inextricably entangles God-as-creator with the existence, function, and maintenance of the physical universe. Past experience shows the stupidity of that, as the fate of “the God of the Gaps” has shown.

As long as any material thing or process in, or about, the universe, is claimed to be tied to a deity, that deity is automatically threatened with extinction based on the next scientific discovery that eliminates any supposed divine connection to the universe. Any few remaining claims of a universe-spawning deity are wholly dependent on scientific developments which in time may, and probably will, decimate such claims.

To insist that God is a creator is at the same time to insist that God is bound up with material functions, a claim which at the same time risks the eventuality that God may be kicked out of cosmological speculation entirely. “Creatorists” – i.e.,  those who claim that God is a creator – run the risk of the utter annihilation of their God-concept, pending ever-increasing scientific progress. What a stupid – even an unkind – thing to do to the “Being” they claim to love and worship: to expose “Him” to annihilation by binding “Him” to material processes which are entirely within the domain of science.

Hence, as a non-creatorist panentheist (not to be confused with pantheist), my God-definition omits any notion of God-as-creator (and hence of intervener), and I predict that the God-debate would move to a more intelligible level if only the “God is a creator by definition” thesis could be eliminated from the discussion.