Movie

The Beginning Deserved To Be Exorcised From the Franchise

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The Exorcist is being reborn as a franchise this year with a new trilogy being kicked off with The Exorcist: Believer soon. Where is the bar set for Exorcist sequels though?

Arguably there’s only been one very good follow-up to William Friedkin’s 1973 classic. That would be 1990’s The Exorcist III: Legion, which was directed by the original story’s author, William Peter Blatty. The others? Quite a bit worse. The Exorcist II: Heretic is among the biggest gaps in quality between sequels you’ll find in the horror genre (and that’s no small feat), but the fourth film basically killed off The Exorcist as a franchise for a long time.

Released on this day in 2004, Exorcist: The Beginning is a film so bad they had to make it again as God (well, Paul Schrader) intended. Intended as the first encounter of Max Von Sydow’s Father Lankester Merrin with the demon Pazuzu in his youth, here younger Merrin is played by Stellan Skarsgard (amusingly older than Sydow was for the original Exorcist) and the story focuses on a post-WWII era where Merrin takes a sabbatical to recover from the horrors of war. During an archeological excavation in East Africa, he helps uncover a Byzantine church that sets off a chain of events that will end with a confrontation between Merrin and the demon.

Paul Schrader was initially at the helm for the movie, and actually sent a finished version of the film, but the studio was unhappy it was lacking in the bloody violence backers had expected and the end result was Schrader getting kicked off and Deep Blue Sea director Renny Harlin coming in to replace him.

Forgive Us, Oh Schrader

Credit: Morgan Creek

Schrader had already made it clear his version of this film was not about gore but more of a psychological horror, but that fell on deaf ears it seems. With Harlin in place, the plan was to reshoot pretty much the whole thing with the same cast. The consensus amongst the cast was against this, and the result was characters were either replaced wholesale with another actor or cut from the story entirely.

When Harlin’s film unsurprisingly ended up being a disaster, the studio went back to Schrader’s version and released that in 2005 as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. The reception wasn’t a lot better, and now there were two different takes on the same subject. It’s quite fascinating that this entire franchise is subject to different versions, visions, and cuts for each film, but this is undoubtedly the wildest example.

That would be the last film in the Exorcist series for 18 years, but in the meantime, there was an underseen and underappreciated television show and an atmospheric VR game.

Time will tell if David Gordon Green can make The Exorcist relevant again with The Exorcist Believer and its sequels, but it surely can’t go quite as badly as it did for The Beginning which nearly spelled the end.

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