As most fans realize, the Exorcist III movie went through several iterations, some at writer-director William P. Blatty’s, and some at Morgan Creek Studios’, hand. Therefore there has been considerable controversy about the finished film – as well as a “director’s cut” recently released by Scream Factory. A fair amount of confusion abounds, and it may be helpful to examine some of the issues.
Damien Karras died at the end of the original story and film – so why is he back in Exorcist III?
In Exorcist III’s initiating novel, Legion, Karras himself is not back. Instead, the vengeful demon from the original story has planted the soul of executed serial killer James Vennamun (“the Gemini Killer”) into Karras’ dying body. Actor Brad Dourif played Karras’ resuscitated corpse as animated by the Gemini.
However, Morgan Creek demanded that Blatty rewrite/reshoot the film to include an exorcist and exorcism. Nicol Williamson played the exorcist, Fr. Paul Morning. In the meantime, Jason Miller, who had played Karras in the original film, became available for playing the Karras part in Exorcist III.
Blatty decided on the solution: he would make the real Karras occupy the reanimated corpse along with the Gemini’s soul. This made Karras, the former rescuer of Regan MacNeil, himself the object of rescue, in which Detective William Kinderman and Fr. Paul Morning join forces. This change also had the effect of “upping the ante”, because now Karras is actually present, and needs to be freed from the grip of the demon and the Gemini.
That is why Karras is back in the story, and why Jason Miller is back as the real Karras, whose ascending soul was captured by the demon at the end of the original story and replaced into his dying body.
Who attacked Nurse Amy Keating in the hospital corridor?
In this classic scene of horror cinema, Keating is ambushed by a surgical-shears-wielding figure draped in white cloths. Contrary to one opinion, this figure is not the Gemini, and much less is it the decapitated Christ statue, come to incomprehensible life, that is shown earlier in the film. Rather, it is merely one of the hospital patients whom the Gemini possesses and uses to kill and mutilate during his Georgetown crime spree.
Is Karras possessed, and if so, by whom?
Karras is not possessed. He is imprisoned in his old body and forced to intimately witness what the Gemini, with whom he is paired inside that body, does “with this body – with this body in particular”. As the Gemini explains, the demon, who Karras “expelled from the body of a child”, has arranged “a scandal for all men who seek faith”, the scandal being that the saintly priest has been forced to return as an unwilling agent of the demon-and-Gemini. Moreover, the demon directs Vennamun to kill Karras’ old friends and associates who were somehow involved in the Regan MacNeil case; and the demon also permits Vennamun to continue his crime spree from fifteen years earlier, in which he killed victims whose names started with the letter “K” (in revenge against his hateful father, Karl Vennamun). To all this horror, Karras is present, and impotent.
Although Karras is not possessed – (again, he is only a kind of prisoner under duress) – nonetheless, he is trapped in his body and needs to be liberated and sent heavenward as he was at the end of the original story. In addition, the demon, who is pulling the strings behind the scenes, needs to be overcome, and the Gemini/Vennamun needs to be expelled. Hence, Fr. Morning begins an exorcism to vanquish the demon, expel the Gemini, and liberate Karras. Shortly after, Kinderman arrives on the scene and contributes his own efforts toward this goal.
Other issues remain, but they will wait for later.