The Exorcist Legacy – Films on Exorcism and Possession – part I
Reviews of – The Exorcist, The Exorcist II, The Exorcist III, The Exorcist: The Beginning, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, and The AntiChrist…
The Exorcist (1973)
directed by William Friedkin
written by William Peter Blatty
I realize, that for most younger generations watching this, the impact isn’t nearly what it was when it had been released. Previous to this film, special effects in paranormal films were not as physical, usually consisting of a man in make-up and costume, chasing victims through scary castles or science labs. Likewise, there had never been a film that concentrated on the audio aspect as much as this one; audio design and fear inducing sound-effects crafted in the sound studio (including creative vocalizations of voice-over master, Mercedes McCambridge). Lastly, the US population in the early 1970’s was witness to some extreme horrors of their time. Charles Manson and the rise of strange cults, the horrors of the Vietnam War, the impeachment of a President, all shattered the pristine façade of our nation and all contributed to the belief that the devil had a real hand in social matters. Add to that, the Catholic Church was still doing masses in Latin and an air of mystery surrounded their masses. More people attended church every Sunday, prayed at night before bed and followed their religion closely. So, when the devil appeared inside an innocent little girl, in a bedroom of a normal neighborhood, it was terrifying. You have to believe in something in order for this film to affect you – just like you have to believe in the crucifix in order to stop a vampire.
Since then we have seen every effects gag from The Exorcist recopied a hundred times and most times not as good (I can see the wires). When you see someone reveal a magic trick, it’s not as impressive, is it? The horror-comedies, black comedies, and campy horror flicks of the 1980’s gave the horror film a less serious tone, to the point were people rooted for the bad guy, were thrilled at gore effects, and the lacerations, cuts and destruction of the flesh were applauded – rather than considered frightening. I think people these days have little empathy - if it’s not my problem, then it’s not serious. If anybody that has not seen this attempts to watch it, I would recommend you to get this mindset: The little girl in The Exorcist could be your sister, your daughter, your neighbor or your friend. Most of us either don’t believe the devil is real or don’t know if the devil is real – open your mind to the possibility – then watch this film.
The Exorcist II (1977)
The Exorcist II: The Heretic follows Regan as a young teen with psychological and social problems, going through hypnosis to help face her demons. It is entirely dependent on flashbacks and scenes from the original Exorcist film. All the new footage is extremely lame and confusing. The story is convoluted beyond comprehension and you’ll be hard pressed to find an actual plot. Having been freed from the evil entity that possesed her many years ago, she now has to be freed from the memory that lies dormant in her brain? Is that what this film is all about? This film is not made very well and what you end up with is a heaping pile of dung. Avoid it like a possessed teen avoiding a crucifix.
The Exorcist III (1990)
Many people dismissed this film after a disappointing E2 thinking it would be more rehashed ideas and reused footage. But, William Peter Blatty returned as writer and took on the director’s hat to delivery a chilling crime drama/supernatural thriller. The story follows detective, William Kinderman, (George C. Scott) on an investigation into what he thinks is copycat killings with a distinct anti-religious tone to them. What he eventually finds is the body of Damien Carras – the priest who threw himself from the window at the end of The Exorcist, alive despite having been buried some 15 years earlier. Through a series of interrogations he begins to believe what the Damien character says to him; that he is actually the serial killer, The Gemini, who had been killed many years ago, and was now alive in the body of Damien Carras. There is an exorcism at the end of this movie but it is short and it is not the focus of the film. If you go into it not expecting a full-blown Regan-revisited exorcism, then you may enjoy this fantastic film that is more closely styled like Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, with a supernatural bent. Great script, great acting.
Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Directed by Renny Harlin
This version of the prequel was made on decision from Morgan Creek Production executives to rework, refilm, and re-edit, Paul Schrader’s completed ‘Dominion’ prequel, for fear that it would not be successful in its current state. After this release was a box-office flop, they allowed Shrader to release his original version on DVD. See the next review in this series for more about that one. This film finds Father Merrin as a young man who, after witnessing atrocities of Nazi Germany, has lost his faith. However, still considered an expert on religious artifacts and architecture, he is called to Africa by a British funded archaeological expedition to catalog and confirm the artifacts in a long buried church from 500 AD. What he discovers when he gets there is a church built directly on top of a Satanic Altar, where we see the large statue of Pazuzu - the same demon statue seen in The Exorcist. A young native boy enters the dig site and is later possessed, but all is not as it seems. Strange events build around the dig crew and the local native tribe, escalating to the inevitable exorcism in the last ten minutes of the film. If you are looking for a repeat of the original film or something similar, you will be disappointed. I found the film highly interesting and well-written, unfolding slowly and raising tension as you watch. I really felt the influence of evil spreading and ripping the characters lives’ apart. Naturally, we know that Father Merrin finds his faith again. I would say the film was very good. However, since it was in a foreign land, in unfamiliar surroundings, and in situations I will never find myself, it was ultimately less successful at getting me fearful. The original brought the terror into the bedroom of everyone’s home.
This film finds Father Merrin as a young man who, after witnessing atrocities of Nazi Germany, has lost his faith. He is still considered an expert on religious artifacts and architecture and is currently on a dig in Africa. He confirms what is found is a long buried church from 500 AD. One of the tribesmen workers, a teenager, is badly hurt and sent to the infirmary. There he begins to show unusual behavior. Aside from having different cast members for some characters, the film follows the same plot as The Beginning. However, I find this version slow and plodding, to the point of boredom. Merrin does the exorcism and the tension between the British Troops and the Native tribe subsides with little bloodshed – a far cry from the all out battle that ensues in the other version. The teen that is finally exorcised at the end of the film, floats around like a mystic swami rather than a possessed individual. No disrespect to Schrader but I prefer the other version and I would recommend ‘The Beginning’ over ’Dominion’ to those looking for exorcism films.
In my next post where I offer reviews of films that were influenced or even copy-cat plots to arise out of the success of The Exorcist
And for a preview of that future post, I offer the following:
Despite being called another rip-off of The Exorcist, The Antichrist does have original ideas and imagery in it. For one, the story of why this crippled woman is possessed, which comes out when she is hypnotized by a psychiatrist, is that she had been a witch in a past life. There are some bizarre visuals in flashbacks of the ancient rituals including the infamous goat scene which is still shocking and disturbing today. It is not a bad film, but it is deeply rooted in Italian style filmmaking where sometimes, to me, some things are lost in translation. Some of the visuals are fantastic and worth the once through especially for fans of gallio, but I still wouldn’t consider it a great film. However, I do own the film, if that helps your decision of whether to watch it or not.
Not Exorcism Films:
Lorna: The Exorcist (Jesse Franco) (1974)
Lorna: the Exorcist, is not an exorcism movie at all, has no exorcism in it and had its original title changed when released in the US in 1974, to capitalize on the success of The Exorcist.
It is or It isn’t:
House of Exorcism (Micky Lion/Bava) (1974)
This film is actually Mario Bava’s film called, Lisa and the Devil, with added footage and heavy editing to turn the film into an exorcism film – once again to capitalize on the success of The Exorcist. Bava refused to direct the new footage and editing, and the film suffered, becoming incoherent in story and a blatant ride on the coat tails of William Peter Blatly’s infamous film. Lisa and The Devil is a strange but decent movie worth watching. House of Exorcism isn’t.
Tune in to part -II of ‘The Exorcist Legacy – Films on Exorcism and Possession’