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Exorcist: The Beginning


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Hell on earth

It was only when Paul Schrader's Exorcist prequel was in the can that things started to go very wrong. He talks to Xan Brooks

Tuesday March 23, 2004

The Guardian

The Internet Movie Database provides a glittering set of credits for Paul Schrader. It lists him as the writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ and the director of American Gigolo, Mishima, Affliction and Auto-Focus.

For good measure, the website adds that he's currently scripting a spy thriller (Cold Shelter) for Miramax and has recently finished directing the Exorcist prequel (Exorcist: The Beginning) for Morgan Creek studios. There's just one problem with these last pictures. Officially they don't exist.

Of the two, Cold Shelter is an obvious phantom. "I was as surprised as anyone," says Schrader, sipping coffee in the bar of his London hotel. "I asked my agent to call Miramax, and they had no idea either."

But the Exorcist prequel is a more unruly ghost. Schrader shot the film last year, screened it for the studio and was summarily fired. Since then, the backers have hired a new team of writers, a new director (Renny Harlin) and made the entire picture (virtually every frame of it) over again. "It's a unique situation, completely unprecedented," he says. "My footnote in movie trivia is assured."

Meanwhile, the making of Exorcist: The Beginning has blossomed into a Hollywood sideshow that threatens to eclipse whatever version finally sees the light of day. The idea was to shoot a story set 30 years before William Friedkin's 1973 classic, pivoting around an exorcism in 1940s Kenya. The director envisaged it as a "character-driven period drama" that steered clear of spinning heads and pea-soup vomit.

For his part, Morgan Creek chairman James Robinson said that he chose the angst-ridden, cerebral creator of Raging Bull and Affliction because "the movie needed someone who didn't do the standard horror-type movie". To all intents, the two seemed in perfect accord. And then all hell broke loose.

As part of his settlement with the studio, Schrader was made to sign a "non-disparagement clause", which presumably means that he can't deride his bosses, let's say, as a bunch of greedy incompetents who ordered one movie and then decided they wanted a different one. "But fortunately that cuts both ways," he adds. "It means they can't say anything bad about me either."

Except that they already have -- in a sneaky, roundabout fashion. During the initial argument, the film's scriptwriter, Caleb Carr, remarked: "The problem with Paul's cut is that it does not deliver the psychological fear we were looking for." On another occasion Carr was quoted as damning the movie as "one of the most inept, amateur, utterly flat excuses for a film that has ever been concocted."

Schrader gives a world-weary smile. "Caleb got jobbed," he says. "After I signed this non-disparagement clause, they [Morgan Creek] brought Caleb back in to rewrite the film. He gave an interview where he slagged me and then they got rid of him." So Morgan Creek was using Carr as their hit man? "Only he didn't know it," says Schrader.

Then there is the rumour that the studio originally attempted to get a new editor, Sheldon Kahn, to overhaul the movie, and that Schrader stormed the editing suite and bodily ejected him. "Well, that's what they used as leverage against me," says Schrader. "I don't think that I fired him, I thought I just demoted him. But maybe Shelly says I fired him."

In the end it was Schrader who got fired (along with three of the original actors). Everyone else decamped to the Cinecetta studios in Rome to make what industry wags have dubbed "the sequel to the prequel of the Exorcist". Harlin (Die Harder) will be credited as director, while Schrader is airbrushed out of existence. Instead of a pungent, slow-burning religious thriller, the new version will feature oodles of gross-out horror.

Bizarrely, Robinson is on record as describing it as "more believable and less cerebral" than the earlier film. Believable in the sense of spinning heads and projectile green vomit, one imagines.

With hindsight, Schrader likens the whole farrago to "a simple case of buyer's remorse. Somebody goes out and buys a Lexus and they come home and say: 'You know what? I should really have bought a Hummer.' So they go out and buy a Hummer. And then they've got a Lexus and a Hummer."

So what happens to the Lexus? "Well, that's where it gets interesting," he chortles. He's heard a rumour that his Exorcist may eventually be released on DVD, although he has yet to get this in writing. He hopes the backers might even go so far as to screen the two films side-by-side and let the audience decide which they like. "In the end it's a revenue stream," he says. "And all revenue streams eventually reach the sea."

Schrader, too, appears to have moved with the flow. He is in town as the swansong speaker at the Orange Word Screenwriters season, which has been running for the past two months at the British Library. While here, he has lined up a business meeting to raise the funds for a script he recently completed but is unwilling to discuss (except to insist that it is not the fictitious Cold Shelter).

In the meantime, he has found time to take in a few movies. He recently saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which he describes as a very different beast to 1988's Last Temptation of Christ. "I thought it was medieval. My guess is that Mel has a problem with the Enlightenment, because his film really does go back to the visceral cult origins of Christianity, and the fervour it has created is more akin to a Gospel tent meeting than a motion picture." He takes a hit of coffee. "I'm just troubled by it. It's a kind of primitive religion that I don't want to return to. It reminds me more of Shiites than it does of Episcopalians."

In the meantime, he manages a decent impression of someone who is not utterly tormented by the hell he's been through. "You can't let it make you bitter," he insists. "It's this business. It's this world. I was talking to Bob Altman the other day, and he said, 'Every time you think that they've fucked you every way they can, guess what? They come up with a new one.'" He brays wheezy laughter.

"The problem with The Exorcist was that I wasn't holding any cards. They paid me for the movie, so they own the movie. It's like if you made this chair and I buy it from you. You want me to sit on the chair, and I want to put it in my fireplace. What are you gonna do?" He grins. "Time to go off and make another chair."

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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8O

Renny Harlin?!?

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
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  • 3 weeks later...

Now for the DVD! The Variety story is for subscribers only, but here's what the BBC has to say:

- - -

Rejected Exorcist 'heads for DVD'

An Exorcist prequel that was rejected for not being gory enough is to come out on DVD alongside a new version that was made to replace it, reports say.

Director Paul Schrader was sacked by Warner Bros after the studio said his prequel left out the blood and guts that made the original film famous.

Renny Harlin was brought in to direct a second version, which is due to reach cinemas later this year.

Both will be released on DVD at the same time, trade paper Variety said.

Substantial costs

The DVD release will go some way towards recouping the substantial cost of shooting Schrader's earlier version.

Footage for Schrader's prequel had been shot in Rome and Morocco, with the cost believed to be in the region of $32m (

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 months later...

Just wondering, has anyone here read William Peter Blatty's original novel? I'm just about finished reading it, and I have to say, it makes for an interesting read -- the film follows the book very, very closely (with just a couple of minor characters and/or subplots trimmed for expediency's sake), but, if anything, the theological elements, and that tension between ancient faith and scientific doubt, actually come through more strongly in the book than they do in the film.

I also find myself wondering how the change in medium (um, no pun intended) might affect the way the story works on its audience. The book is constantly depicting things from the points of view of certain characters -- we are constantly inside the heads of anxious mother Chris MacNeil, doubting Jesuit Damien Karras, and disarmingly casual police officer Lt. Kinderman -- but we never get inside the head of Regan or the demon that possesses her, so we are encouraged to identify with the other characters much, much more than we might identify with the demon. And yet the film cannot take us inside these inner monologues quite so easily -- so when characters sit down with the possessed girl, we view them more or less equally, and the demon kind of overwhelms the scene through the sheer force of its shocking spectacle. At least, that's a theory I'm toying with right now.

More later. In the meantime, it never ceases to intrigue me how popular this film was in its day -- it remains the 9th-highest-grossing film of all time, once figures are adjusted for inflation, and it is quite possible that, at the time of its release in 1973, it was the top-grossing film of all time in raw dollars; it's difficult to say, since the website I link to there includes later re-issues among the grosses, and the only other films in that league at that time were Gone with the Wind and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and all three films have been given fairly wide re-issues at least once since then.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Heh.

In the meantime, I think I've re-discovered something that I once knew but forgot. Turns out Blatty wrote a sequel to The Exorcist -- and then made a film of it -- and I have a hunch he completely ignored the sequel that Warner Brothers had already produced. It's beginning to look like the original story has spawned a whole franchise of alternate timelines or something.

The chronology goes something like this:

1971 -- BOOK -- Blatty publishes The Exorcist.

1973 -- FILM -- Warner Brothers releases William Friedkin's adaptation of The Exorcist, which quickly becomes one of the top three or five films of ALL TIME.

1977 -- FILM -- Warner Brothers releases John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic, which is soon proclaimed the 2nd-worst film of all time by the Medved brothers -- coming in only nine votes behind Plan 9 from Outer Space! -- in their book The Golden Turkey Awards; this film brings back at least two stars from the original film, i.e. Linda Blair and Max von Sydow, the latter of whom plays his character, Fr. Merrin, in flashback sequences because he died in the first film.

1983 -- BOOK -- Blatty publishes Legion, which seems to revolve more around the character of Lt. Kinderman, who was played in the original film by Lee J. Cobb; like the original novel, this one takes place more or less when it is published.

1990 -- FILM -- Warner Brothers releases The Exorcist III, which is written and directed by Blatty and appears to be based on Legion; since Cobb died in 1976, the part of Lt. Kinderman is now played by George C. Scott; and based on the IMDB credits, it seems this film brings back at least one star from the original film, i.e. Jason Miller, whose character, Fr. Karras, seemed to have died at the end of the first film!

2004 -- FILM -- Warner Brothers releases Renny Harlin's Exorcist: The Beginning, while sitting on a similar film directed by Paul Schrader; one or both of these films deal with Fr. Merrin's first encounter with the demon Pazuzu, though I believe this territory was already explored in the second film; this time, Fr. Merrin is played not by Max von Sydow but by Stellan Skarsg

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I suspect that it's telling of the film that the trailer's only real chills come from footage of the original film. Harlin's intercut new footage looks flat and fake by comparison. WB did an inadvertant diservice by mining the original to the degree that they did to promote the new film. I predict lots of teenagers that don't know any better will come out of the prequel disappointed, and with a feeling that the trailer made it look a whole lot scarier than it was, but not sure why.

I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing and comparing both versions of the prequel - should be an interesting and unique film experience.

JiM T

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  • 2 weeks later...

Oh, man. Oy vey. Today I finally went ahead and did my Exorcist marathon; thankfully, a friend of mine who happens to be a big fan of the first film joined me for the second and third films, so I wasn't entirely alone in my suffering.

I took a few notes and I'll get around to posting them in a day or two, when I have time. But I just wanted to get out of my system the fact that I had seen all three films in a row. I still like the original film, a lot. The second one is very, very bad, but so bad that it attains a kind of risible charm -- no, not charm, but at least it gives you a reason to laugh. The third film is better, but in a way that doesn't really invite or allow you to mock it, so it's actually less fun to watch.

I can only imagine what the prequel(s) will be like.

I can't recall the last time I did a marathon like this. Well, okay, I saw all three Lord of the Rings films on the big screen last December, but that event was not planned by me. It is self-planned home-video marathons that I cannot remember doing for some time.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Oh dear, oh dear, almost two weeks have gone by and I still haven't posted my thoughts on the Exorcist sequels. I guess that will have to wait, still, since I first want to post a few comments on the original film and the novel that inspired it.

First, as some of you may know, The Exorcist was reportedly inspired by a real-life exorcism that took place back in the '40s. You may be interested to know, then, that an investigative reporter tracked down the person who was possessed a few years ago, and came to the conclusion that what really happened was a whole lot less sensational than the story Blatty tells. In addition, my understanding is that Blatty's novel and film do what a lot of fictional works do, in the sense that it takes pretty much every phenomenon known to be associated with demonic possession and piles 'em all into a single case, when in actual fact no more than a few of these phenomena ever appear at the same time. (It's what I call the "Memphis Belle effect" -- I don't doubt that every single thing that happens to the WW2 bomber depicted in that film has some sort of historical precedent, but I highly doubt that ALL those things happened on any single bombing run.)

Having said all that, I have to say I don't have a lot to say on the original film that I didn't already say four years ago when the extended edition came out in theatres. I took very few notes when I saw that film two weeks ago; FWIW, I did note that the prologue at the archaeological site is said to have taken place in "Northern Iraq ... near Nineveh," and I also noted that Father Merrin's (Max von Sydow) earlier experience with exorcism, and with the demon Pazuzu (who is named in the novel and in the 1977 sequel but not in the original film itself), is said to have taken place "ten, twelve years ago in Africa" and is said to have lasted "months". I am not entirely clear what connection this Assyrian demon or deity is supposed to have to African tribal religion, or why Merrin would know, upon digging up a small statue of this demon, that the demon would strike again in America, but anyhoo.

The two things that made the biggest impression on me, upon reading the novel, were the pronounced emphasis on death and nihilism, and the extreme lengths to which Father Karras (Jason Miller) -- and, by extension, the Catholic Church -- would go to try to explain away Regan's symptoms in scientific terms, as anything but demonic possession. Both of these things are rather downplayed in the film.

First, the nihilism. Thomas Hibbs's Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld makes some fascinating points about this film (and Hibbs, in his review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, makes the same point I did about Gibson's film following in the footsteps of The Exorcist as it speaks boldly about the inescapable meaning of EVIL to a culture that has lost the ability to speak of ANY kind of meaning). But the sort of nihilism I see in the film is one in which the world is reduced to loud, noisy, mechanistic terms; the machines that pound-pound-clank as they probe Regan's body, and the sounds of jet planes drowning out intimate conversation, all point to a world in which there is no room for Spirit because there is nothing more than Matter. The sort of nihilism addressed in the book, however, is of a somewhat different quality; in the book, we learn that Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) had a son who died at the age of three (before Regan was born, I think), and Chris is haunted by the "terrible clarity" of "irreversible" "non-being" (p. 15). Later Regan asks her mother why people die (pp. 42-43), and when Chris's film director dies, she thinks again of "death and the worm and the void and unspeakable loneliness and stillness, darkness, underneath the sod, with nothing moving, no, no motion..." (p. 130). So there's a definite hope for a reality, and a continuation of personhood, beyond this life that is answered somewhat ironically when the demon comes.

Second, the scientific terms. In the novel, Father Karras puts up a MUCH stronger effort to explain away Regan's symptoms as anything OTHER than demonic possession, even going so far as to suppose that Regan's speaking of Latin might be the result of some sort of telepathic reading of Karras's mind, and even going so far as to suppose that psychokinesis of the sort displayed by Regan may also be explainable in purely scientific terms. It's commendable to see that the Catholic church has, for centuries, gone out of its way not to be hoodwinked by every alleged case of possession that comes its way, but in an age where so MANY things seem explicable or quantifiable in scientific terms, you do begin to wonder how, exactly, the Catholic church can ever take that step of faith and declare that THIS particular item or THAT particular item is a sign of the spiritual world intruding on the physical world, instead of just one more ite, for which the scientists have various theories. (FWIW, Karras even suggests that the possession may just be schizophrenia, and that schizophrenia may be simply the result of the fact that consciousness arises from brain cells and different clusters of brain cells have different tasks and sometimes the dominant cluster gives way to one of the ordinarily subordinate clusters (p. 213) -- and one does begin to wonder where the theological notion of "personhood" may fit in here.)

The book has some other interesting elements, too, that were left out of the film or differed with the film in some small way.

First, it's made explicit that Regan herself is the one who desecrated the Catholic churches in the Georgetown area -- it was never entirely clear to me, based on the film alone, whether it was she who had done this or whether there was some never-seen coven which might have been motivated by the demon's arrival in that neighbourhood, and part of my confusion on this point was owed to the fact that the demon's activity seems virtually confined to her bedroom (the major exception to this being the scene where Regan is hypnotized by the psychiatrist and the demon possesses her and grabs him by the testicles -- but if the psychiatrist hadn't done anything, the demon might not have appeared). But the book gives us a close-enough look at Lt. Kinderman's investigation into Dennings' death, so that we know what he knows, which is that all the evidence points to Regan being the one who desecrated the churches, perhaps while "sleepwalking".

Second, there is a Catholic "seeress" who attends Chris's party early in the story and gets odd vibes around Regan (pp. 59, 62-63, 68, 71, 74-77, 170). Here's how she explains it: "'I don't know what you think of me,' she said, speaking slowly. 'Many people associate me with spiritualism. But that's wrong. Yes, I think I have a gift,' she continued quietly. 'But it isn't occult. In fact, to me it seems natural; perfectly natural. Being a Catholic, I believe that we all have a foot in two worlds. The one that we're conscious of is time. But now and then a freak like me gets a flash from the other foot; and that one, I think ... is in eternity. Well, eternity has no time. There the future is present. So now and again when I feel that other foot, I believe that I get to see the future. Who knows? Maybe not. Maybe all of it's coincidence.' She shrugged. 'But I think I do. And if that's so, why, I still say it's natural, you see. But now the occult...' She paused, picking words. 'The occult is something different. I've stayed away from that. I think dabbling with that can be dangerous. And that includes fooling around with a Ouija board.' . . . It could all be suggestion. But in story after story that I've heard about s

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Indepth and excellent insights, as usual, Peter. Makes me want to go out and read the novel, and perhaps revisit the film. It is still, to me, the most frightening film I've ever seen.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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Thanks, Anders. Yeah, the film actually sticks very closely to the novel -- the film doesn't really add anything, it just streamlines the story in places -- so reading the book is like getting the bigger picture as to what is going on in that film.

Now, how about moving on to Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). What a goofy film (though I don't know that I would say it was the second-worst film of all time, second only to Plan 9 from Outer Space, as the Medved brothers' Golden Turkey Awards did). This sequel gets the original film wrong in just about every possible way.

First, the relationship between science and spirituality. The first film pounded away at the idea that we were living in an overly mechanistic age, that we desperately needed to recover a sense of spirituality that went BEYOND the machines and the rationalism of our times. So, naturally, the second film revolves, in part, around a machine that can read people's minds and enable them to read each others' minds and thus come in contact with the demons within them. The fact that this machine appears to consist of nothing more than a couple of headbands, some wires, and a pulsing lightbulb doesn't help matters any -- in fact, when you consider how brutal and almost documentary-like the first film's exploration of medical technology was, it's strange to see the second film go in such a silly sci-fi direction, with the tackiest of special effects.

Second, the relationship between humans and animals. The demon in the first film makes animal noises and twists Regan's body into animal shapes to undermine her humanity; this is even more pronounced in the book than it is in the film, I think, and I think it's significant that one of the scenes restored to the original film in the extended "writer's cut" (as opposed to "director's cut") is the scene in which Father Merrin says the point of the demon's attack is to make us "see ourselves as animal and ugly." But the second film, I think, blurs the line between animal and human, especially in the case of an African "healer" named Kokumo (James Earl Jones), who wears animal hides and is revealed to be the FIRST person exorcised by Merrin, roughly a dozen years before the first film took place.

Third, this film tries to fill in gaps that the first film wisely left unfilled. First, there is the African exorcism (and because Max von Sydow wore so much make-up to look older in the first film, here, in the flashbacks, he is allowed to look more or less like his normal self). Second, we actually SEE how Merrin died, and the dull framing of the shot -- Merrin standing on the far left, demon-possessed Regan wagging her tongue at the far right -- is completely lacking in menace or terror or what have you, even though the sets and the costumes all look identical to how we saw them in the first film. (This contrast in tone between the first two films is especially pronounced if you watch them back-to-back!)

I would add that one of the brilliant things about the original novel was the way it left BOTH of the priests' deaths somewhat mysterious, and while I can understand that the first film wanted us to identify with Father Karras and to know more about the reasons for his passing, I would say it was wise of the first film to leave Father Merrin's death more of a mystery, since he was always a somewhat mysterious character anyway. The second film, on the other hand, doesn't want there to be any mystery at all. (It will be interesting to see how Exorcist: The Beginning handles Merrin's early years, and to see whether any mystery is left in THAT film's portrayal of Merrin, and to see just how badly it contradicts Exorcist II: The Heretic in the continuity department.)

It is tempting to suppose that this film was inspired, to some degree, by The Omen, which came out one year earlier; it has some of that film's cheesy prophecy fulfillments and the like (such as the scene in which someone happens to see a priest battling a fire, and the flames behind his head, when seen from that particular point of view, look EXACTLY like the flames surrounding the face of a priest in a picture sketched by another character). Three of the actors from the original film came back for the sequel -- Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, and Kitty Winn -- and while I've already talked about von Sydow, and while I'll get to Blair in a minute, it seems to me that the Kitty Winn character is the most Omen-ish here. Kitty Winn plays Sharon, a woman who works for Chris MacNeil, and who doesn't get a whole lot of attention in the first film but is described in the novel as something of a spiritual flake. (From pp. 26-27: "'Gee, it's time for me to meditate, Chris,' [sharon] said. Chris looked at her narrowly with muted exasperation. In the last six months, she had watched her secretary suddenly turn 'seeker after serenity.' It had started in Los Angeles with self-hypnosis, which then yielded to Buddhistic chanting. During the last few weeks that Sharon was quartered in the room upstairs, the house had reeked of incense, and lifeless dronings of 'Nam myoho renge kyo' ('See, you just keep on chanting that, Chris, just that, and you get your wish, you get everything you want...') were heard at unlikely and untimely hours, usually when Chris was studying her lines. 'You can turn on TV,' Sharon had generously told her employer on one of these occasions. 'It's fine. I can chant when there's all kinds of noise. It won't bother me a bit.' Now it was transcendental meditation.") Ellen Burstyn, who won an Oscar in 1975 for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, wisely decided not to be part of this sequel, so Sharon appears in the film as someone who looks after Regan while Chris is off shooting a film somewhere. And there is a moment at the end of the sequel when Sharon does something unexpected which seems to suggest that she is one of the devil's agents or something -- it's the sort of twist ending that I might have expected from one of the Omen films, but not from any film claiming to be a follow-up to The Exorcist.

Like I said, Linda Blair is back, too, but whereas in the first film she was a normal girl with the sort of melancholic disposition that you might expect of any child whose parents have just split up, in the second film she's just a bubble-headed teenager who, when asked by a young girl why she is seeing a psychiatrist, replies perkily, "I was possessed by a demon! Oh, it's okay, he's gone now!" The psychiatrist in question, BTW, is played by Louise Fletcher, who had just won an Oscar in 1976 for One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest -- she should have followed Burstyn's example and stayed away from this one.

The other major player in this film is Richard Burton (a Golden Turkey Awards winner for 'Lifetime Achievement Award: The Worst Actor of All Time'), fresh off his second divorce from Elizabeth Taylor. Burton plays yet another priest who doubts his faith, one who has been assigned to investigate the death of Father Merrin to make sure there is nothing about it that might embarrass the Church. Along the way, he partakes of that mind-reading machine and witnesses the death of Merrin, after which he utters the wonderfully cheesy line (made even more wonderfully cheesy by his delivery of it), "It was horrible. Utterly horrible. And fascinating." Those three sentences could sum up this entire film, actually.

Let's see, what haven't I mentioned yet? (1) The premise behind this film is that Merrin believed we were on the verge of a new phase in human evolution, a phase that would see the rise of "healers" -- and, as Merrin asks himself, "Does great goodness draw evil upon itself?" In other words, both Regan and Kokumo are part of that cutting edge in human evolution, and that is why they were both possessed -- so, once again, an aspect of the first film that was left mysterious is explained in the second film, and in a way that reeks of bad writing. (2) There are some goofy close-ups of locusts in flight; I believe one of these scenes is preceded by a semi-possessed Regan telling Burton's character, "Come, fly the teeth of the wind. Share my wings." (3) The scenes of tribal Africa are among the hokiest, dumbest-looking fake outdoors shots since the original Star Trek. (4) John Boorman directed this film, and the friend with whom I watched it tells me this is why there seems to be a more pronounced emphasis on breasts in this film, both naked (in the case of the one African woman) and clothed (in the case of the psychiatrist, whose "heart" is stroked by Regan and the demon at the same time in an admittedly impressive double-exposure shot; and in the case of, well, Regan, who is frequently framed in ways that accentuate her figure, and who is first seen bouncing cheerily at a tapdancing audition -- and oh, yes, she WILL have a demon-inspired fainting spell while tap-dancing 'The Lullaby of Broadway' in front of an audience). (5) The cardinal who gives Burton's character his job is played by Paul Henreid, i.e. Casablanca's Victor Laszlo, in his very last screen role.

There's probably more, but I think I've exhausted my notes, and then some. I'll get to the third film later.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Oh, weird. I just checked the IMDB's full page for Exorcist II: The Heretic, and it says there that the film also features early appearences by 12-year-old Dana Plato (Diff'rent Strokes) and 6-year-old Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy), the latter of whom presumably plays Louise Fletcher's daughter.

File this film away and impress your friends with useless 'Six Degrees of Separation' trivia!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Critics will have to pay again

For the second weekend in a row, the film regarded as most likely to win the box office crown will not be screened for critics. Warner Bros. has decided not to subject the prequel The Exorcist: The Beginning to first-day reviews, which the studio apparently felt were likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Fox did the same last week with Alien Vs. Predator, which, as it turned out, exceeded box-office predictions. Reporting on the studios' decision to dispense with screenings for critics for the two films, New York Daily News movie critic Jack Mathews observed today (Wednesday): "The decision not to have advance screenings is invariably a reflection of how the studios feel their movies will be reviewed, and Fox was dead-on in assuming AvP would get slammed. Moviegoers eager to see the prequel to The Exorcist are hereby warned."

- - -

Hey, at least Warner gave me a ticket to the Thursday-night screening! That's more than I can say for Fox, which kept critics away from AVP's Thursday-night screening.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Hmm, I wonder if this means my Thursday screening is cancelled? pinch.gif Figures.

Before you continue your reviews and get to Exorcist III, Peter, you might be interested to know (if you didn't already) that Blatty may have a say with a director's cut of the film. From captainhowdy.com:

"MORGAN CREEK CONFIRMS:

BLATTY ON-BOARD FOR LEGION V2 DVD!!

Fresh on the heels of recent E:TB prequel news, long-time CaptainHowdy.com supporter Greg Mielcarz from Morgan Creek has dropped an exclusive bombshell on the Exorcist Fan Forums!

After reading through our forum and seeing how eager Exorcist fans were for a Legion v2 DVD feature Blatty's original cut, Greg shot Mr. Blatty an email.

Two hours later Greg got a call from an enthusiastic Blatty: "YESS!!!!!!!!!"

Footage will be dug up, restored and die-hard Exorcist fans will get to see Legion how Blatty intended. The Director's Cut Legion DVD IS HAPPENING, it would seem! Obviously this is breaking news and will develop over the coming days/weeks. CaptainHowdy.com will keep you completely posted on developments. is breaking first!

I really liked the original III but thought the ending exorcism was a needless gore-fest. Blatty certainly felt this way but the film wouldn't be released unless he added it. I hope Blatty gets his way and loses the scene altogether. It looks like

it's a firm possibility!

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Kent wrote:

: Hmm, I wonder if this means my Thursday screening is cancelled?

I wouldn't think so -- it's not unusual in cases like this to have promotional screenings the night immediately before the film opens, which is usually too late for critics to write anything up for the Friday-morning papers. Most films have screenings no later than the Wednesday before, though -- at least, that's how it's worked in my neck of the woods for years.

: Before you continue your reviews and get to Exorcist III, Peter, you might be

: interested to know (if you didn't already) that Blatty may have a say with a

: director's cut of the film.

Wow, so there will be two versions of every film in this series except for the second one (though even there, the DVD included an "alternate opening" which I, alas, was unable to check out due to problems with my player's remote).

A sick, twisted, perverse part of me is beginning to wonder if I would actually snap up an Alien Quadrilogy-style boxed set of these films if it were ever offered.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Footage will be dug up, restored and die-hard Exorcist fans will get to see Legion how Blatty intended. The Director's Cut Legion DVD IS HAPPENING, it would seem! Obviously this is breaking news and will develop over the coming days/weeks. CaptainHowdy.com will keep you completely posted on developments. is breaking first!

This could be very exciting indeed. Mark Kermode (British critic and Exorcist devotee who wrote the rather excellent BFI guide to the film) has often referred to the Blatty but of Exorcist III as the greatest sequel ever made. I'm not sure if Kermode has actually *seen* this cut of the film so it could well be his hyperbole, but it is clear there is a real discrepency between the film bearing Exorcist III's name and the film Blatty intended to make.

Phil.

"We live as if the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be." - Angel

"We don't do perms!" - Trevor and Simon

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Just spoke to my wife. She said she received the tickets and the screening is on. You were right, Peter. biggrin.gif She said her contact also sent her an Exorcist:The Beginning baseball cap. Then she let me know that if I wore it she wouldn't be seen with me. That lead her to deciding not to bring the darn thing home at all! My wife; geez! Can't live with her, can't live without her. wink.gif

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First, as some of you may know, The Exorcist was reportedly inspired by a real-life exorcism that took place back in the '40s. You may be interested to know, then, that an investigative reporter tracked down the person who was possessed a few years ago, and came to the conclusion that what really happened was a whole lot less sensational than the story Blatty tells. In addition, my understanding is that Blatty's novel and film do what a lot of fictional works do, in the sense that it takes pretty much every phenomenon known to be associated with demonic possession and piles 'em all into a single case, when in actual fact no more than a few of these phenomena ever appear at the same time.

I don't think Blatty ever denied that. He stated he changed things, partially because one of the preists involved asked him to change things so as to protect the kid's identity.

I have never seen Blatty make any claim that this was close to the original story, but rather that there was a specific true life event that piqued his curiousity. Nightmare on Elm Street was inspired by an actual series of events. But that doesn't mean they are claiming that is what actually happened. Blatty used a jumping off point-as many authors do-in a real story...but the book and film were works of fiction. This has never been denied by Blatty or Freidkin.

"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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I am a very bad journalist. For weeks now, I have had a library copy of William Peter Blatty's Legion (1983) in my possession, and despite the looming arrival of a new Exorcist movie, I have not found the motivation within myself to read more than 50 pages or so of this 269-page novel. Ah well. Since the preview screening for Exorcist: The Beginning is just a few hours away, I might as well wrap up my comments on the first three films and post a few thoughts on The Exorcist III (1990), which Blatty himself directed from his own screenplay based on Legion.

For some reason I find myself thinking of The Godfather Part III. As with that film, so with The Exorcist III -- both films were released in 1990, and both films were third chapters in franchises that had seen parts one and two come out way back in the 1970s. As I said in an earlier post, I found The Exorcist III to be better-made than Exorcist II: The Heretic, which of course isn't saying much really, but oddly enough, I did not find the third film as much fun to watch as the second -- while the second film is so bad it's mesmerizing, the third film takes itself seriously and, apart from one or two really good scenes, is pretty dull; despite some tedious and seemingly endless monologues by the villain, the film doesn't even begin to address the intriguing "problem of evil" issues that are laid out very explicitly in the opening pages of Legion (and again in the epilogue to that novel -- yes, I did peek, but only after seeing the film).

Even stranger, The Exorcist III begins on a note that implicitly evokes the second and much-maligned entry in this series. Just as Exorcist II ends with a plague of locusts streaming through Regan's bedroom door, The Exorcist III begins with a plague of locusts (or some such insects) streaming into a church -- and while the Jesus on a crucifix opens his wooden eyes, no less. Pretty chintzy, really, especially for a film that deliberately avoids any explicit reference to its predecessor.

Nothing in The Exorcist III explicitly contradicts Exorcist II: The Heretic, actually. The second film followed the MacNeil household and fleshed out Father Merrin's back story, but the third film is about a murder mystery that is being investigated by Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott, filling in for the late Lee J. Cobb), and which ultimately leads back to Father Karras (Jason Miller). That's right, rumours of Father Karras's death after the first film may have been exaggerated -- while it seems he really did die, it also seems that his body has been taken over by the spirit of a long-dead serial murderer (Brad "Wormtongue" Dourif); this body is now kept in a straightjacket in a lunatic asylum, but the killer occasionally possesses other asylum inmates as well as commits murders through their hands. And the particular victims this killer targets are people who were associated with the demonic possession which Fathers Merrin and Karras gave their lives to end.

Some strange continuity problems here. First, chronology; Blatty's first novel came out in 1971, the sequel in 1983, and the characters explicitly state that 12 years have gone by; however, the first film came out in 1973, and the third film in 1990, but the characters explicitly state that 15 years have gone by, and Father Karras's tombstone says he died in 1975, instead. Similarly, one of the murder victims is a person whose MOTHER is said to have been involved in the Regan case, as the person who examined the tape with Regan speaking in reverse; but in the first film, it is a MAN who examines the tape. Small details, perhaps, but that just makes their unnecessarily revisionistic nature stand out all the more. More seriously, Kinderman tells someone that Father Karras was his "best friend", which is ridiculous -- I can appreciate that the new film might need to play up Kinderman's connection to Karras in order to make Kinderman CARE more about the case, and thus to increase our OWN personal emotional investment in the story, but the fact is, the two characters barely met each other in the first film, and I wouldn't even call them "friends", much less "best friends".

I actually haven't got much else to say about this film. There is a dream sequence here which pales, BIG time, in comparison to the dream sequences in the original film; the fact that it features a cameo by Fabio doesn't help, either. I think we also catch a glimpse of a statue that looks like The Joker -- which must have been especially distracting when this film first came out, so soon after Tim Burton's Batman (1989).

Oh, and a couple other pop-culture references, courtesy of the IMDB: When Dourif's character is asked how he gets in and of the asylum, he replies, "It's child's play" -- which is cute, since Dourif has provided the voice of Chucky ever since the first Child's Play came out in 1988. Similarly, the university president says his favorite movie is The Fly (but which version?) ... and the actor who plays him, Lee Richardson, had appeared in The Fly II (1988).

So, one FANTASTIC film, one hilariously BAD film, and one boringly kind-of-okay film. It will be interesting to see where the new film(s) fit on this spectrum.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Saw Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) tonight. It's definitely different from all the OTHER films bearing the name of Blatty's novel. Call this one Exorcist: The Epic, I guess -- it's got battling armies, Nazi flashbacks, references to ecclesiastical history, vast ancient CGI fields of crucified bodies, etc.

And yet, for a film with such epic ambitions, it also feels very "small". For one thing, the visual effects and digital colour grading look pretty rushed and low-rent, which I guess is to be expected when your film was produced on a tight budget to replace another film that the studio decided to shelve. For another, whereas the symptoms of demonic possession kept escalating and escalating over the course of the original film, they are almost nowhere to be seen here -- and a very late plot twist reveals why.

But are plot twists of that sort really what The Exorcist is all about? The original film was more existential, more of a mood piece, more of a zeitgeist flick, more about the ongoing tension between (for lack of better words) materialism and spiritualism, than about the fate of any particular individual; in one sense, it doesn't really matter whether the demon is cast out of Regan, because the POINT of the film is that the arrival of the demon has the ironic effect of producing faith and goodness on the part of certain other characters; whereas the new film very much hinges on comic-book heroics, where it is all-important that a demon be cast out NOW!

Not surprisingly, this film completely ignores and revises Exorcist II: The Heretic's contribution to the continuity of this franchise, but it also abandons certain bits of continuity laid down in The Exorcist, too; I might have missed a more precise date in the subtitles while jotting something down, but the entire thing takes place sometime between World War II and the end of King George's reign, so between 1945 and 1952, yet it appears to depict the events that were alluded to in the first film that happened "ten, twelve years ago" and thus should have happened between 1961 and 1965. (1961 would be 12 years before the 1973 film, and 1965 would be 10 years before the date of Father Karras's death as given in the 1990 film.) The first film also said that Merrin's earlier exorcism took "months", but here it's over in an evening -- and without the sort of patience or strain or resilience that you see in the first film, where the exorcism was ultimately achieved at the expense of two priests' lives.

Still, all that said, there ARE a few nice nods to the original film. And even the references to the Holocaust might be indebted somehow to the references at the beginning of Blatty's novel.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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My review, admittedly written in a bit of a rush.

It always feels weird to see the editors put photos of various characters next to my story, when I never actually refer to those characters in the review. If I had been addressing the plot elements more explicitly, instead of the theme, then of course I would have talked about a whole bunch of characters, but I didn't see the need to be so detail-specific. Ah well.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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My review, admittedly written in a bit of a rush.

I like your discussion questions...especially the one referencing The Screwtape Letters. Particularly the point where demons are said to desire that we obsessively think about them. A few ministries that I know come to mind...

I saw the original movie and the Special Edition (w/the spider crawl on the stairs). IMHO, those films did nothing but cause a nation to fear Satan and loathe God. I still can't get over the fact that in preparation for spiritual warfare, we see Father Karras having a drink at a bar! So much for consecrating yourself...

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utzworld wrote:

: IMHO, those films did nothing but cause a nation to fear Satan and loathe God.

Loathe God, really? Care to flesh this out? I have always enjoyed Max von Sydow's performance as Father Merrin, a truly loving person who is also a truly faithful person, and who stands up well to the demon's attacks. (I think this is even MORE obvious when you consider that Blatty begins the final section of the book -- the section in which Merrin makes his appearance -- with that quote from St. Paul which says, "He who abides in love, abides in God, and God in him....") I'm sure the fact that von Sydow played Jesus just eight years before also played a part in his casting!

Incidentally, the IMDB points out that Stellan Skarsgard is 53 years old, whereas Max von Sydow was 44 when the first film came out -- yet Skarsgard is supposed to be playing a younger version of von Sydow! Of course, von Sydow wore old-age make-up in the first film; in the second film, which came out when von Sydow was 48, he played more or less his own age in the flashbacks, which supposedly take place at the same time that the new film takes place. (One slight problem HERE is that the new film takes place in the late 1940s, when it ought to be taking place in the early 1960s; if Father Merrin is the same age as Skarsgard in the new film, then he would have to be at least 80 years old in the first film -- 80 years old, and still digging up ancient Assyrian sites and battling demons!)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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utzworld wrote:

: IMHO, those films did nothing but cause a nation to fear Satan and loathe God.

Loathe God, really? Care to flesh this out?

Okay...that was a bit strong. Let me "flesh it out" as you say.

Whenever anyone talks about "The Exorcist", Satan gets all the coverage and publicity. All they see is the devil. To me, the film presented Satan as the ultimate in terror and ultimately presented God/Jesus as powerless.

Let's look at the (original) ending: Father Merrin dies and Father Karras angrily invites the demons to enter him and then he jumps...not falls...out of a window to his death. IMHO, that's not exactly presenting the Lord as victorious over the power of Satan.

Yeah, it's a Hollywood film that must have it's share of thrills and chills. But I still wish that the writer/filmmakers had spent time showing the SPIRITUAL preparation of both Father Merrin and Father Karras. As Christ said, "cases like these require prayer and fasting"...but, then again, that's boring! More pea soup!!! tongue.gif

So the demon comes out of the little girl...but he pretty much takes two more with him. As I said before, that doesn't exactly present The Almighty as having the power to save.

This may not make audiences "loathe God", but I don't see how, after all the head spinning, pea soup hurling, and the notorious "crucifix as a sex toy" scene, it can draw anyone closer to Him, either.

But...then again...that's MHO!

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