Been working my way through the EXORCIST series, from the 1973 original through to the recent release of LEGION, the EXORCIST III re-edit from Shout Factory. As I got more and more into the series, I felt like I had to write something down.
This is just my thoughts on the individual films, and then the series as a whole.
*MILDish SPOILERS WITHIN*
THE EXORCIST (1973, William Friedkin)
I always struggled with the power this film had on a first viewing when I was about 18/19. It never struck me at the time at how powerful it actually was. I just remembered at being annoyed that I had seen it before in the SCARY MOVIE films, and the scares weren’t scary.
I was wrong. After a decade away, and an actual education, a rewatch just cements that this is a fucking masterpiece. There is so much there to unpack. The idea of losing faith, losing family, whether religion is actually legitimate still in the 1970s. William Friedkin directed the hell out of this. It could’ve been a cheap schlock movie, but this is a serious, tense thriller/horror film. The score is iconic, and sets you right in the mood. This is a powerful film, and deserves respect.
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977, John Boorman)
Oh dear, how the mighty have fallen. In one fell swoop Warner Bros. (not pointing the finger at John Boorman) pretty much undid THE EXORCIST. It needed 13 years and a proper book sequel to recover. A cash-in made by a director that couldn’t care less of the first film, Linda Blair is so misused that in my opinion she would’ve been better off not doing the film. It is a travesty that Warners made this. The plot makes little sense, there are hallucinatory sequences that have little thematic thread, and just seem to wildly swing the film from one extreme to the other. The sequences in africa (which are clearly shot at a Warners backlot), are kinda racist, and James Earl Jones is in a giant locust suit, because the Bible maybe? I wrote a Twitter thread about how sufferable this was, and came to the conclusion that if you were to watch a 1977 Horror film about a Psychic girl, watch CATHY’S CURSE. At least that has a reason to be insane.
THE EXORCIST III (1990, William Peter Blatty)
The only sequel to THE EXORCIST. THE EXORCIST III is a fantastic psychological horror, with George C. Scott killing it. It doesn’t even attempt to follow what came before, it just does its own thing. The switch between Jason Marris as Karris to Brad Dourif (on top form) as the Gemini Killer in the cells is so good, it could’ve been hackneyed and jarring, but it works so well. I could talk for at least an hour about this film, but I just want to write about THAT jump-scare. No score, no show-off edits or camera moves, Blatty just lets the scene play. A full 5 minute sequence with a lengthy long-shot oner, it releases the tension at just the right moment, then because you aren’t expecting anything it then hits. It comes out of literally nowhere, and the cut is *chefs kiss*. Highly recommended as the only sequel to THE EXORCIST you should watch.
THE EXORCIST III: LEGION (1990, William Peter Blatty)
A ‘Directors Cut’ with a caveat. The only way for the original footage to exist in this recut was for the VHS dailies to be inserted. A jarring visual effect to get used to but, this is a preservation of a directors original vision. The end result is a film that has more Brad Dourif, a more interesting connection to the original, and a better ending. I do recommend watching this, but only after watching the theatrical release. I honestly think you’d get more out of the viewing that way.
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004, Renny Harlin)
There is an absurd story behind how we ended up with 2 EXORCIST sequels within a year of each other. Both directed by great filmmakers, yet totally the opposite of one another. EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING is the reshot version of the film Morgan Creek and Warner Bros. were afraid to release because they feared it was ‘too cerebral and thoughtful’ for audiences. This could be a fun schlock version of the mythos, Harlin is known to do that (DEEP BLUE SEA anyone?), but it just comes across as boring. Theres a little Indiana Jones in there which is distracting, and the final reveal and CGI effects are poorly done. This is unfocussed and dull.
DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (2005, Paul Schrader)
And then they release this one. Because the other failed critically and commercially, so why the hell not. Honestly, it is a miracle studios actually make money. Paul Schrader’s effort is slightly better (not really saying much), the edit reveals actual motivations behind characters rather than the half-assed cross cutting of its predecessor. It is more focussed, leaner, and actually gives Stellen Skarsgard something to do rather than be a plot device. The CGI Hyenas are slightly better looking, and there is some interesting Christianity mythos that does attempt to explain where Father Merrin was coming from in the original. It isn’t good, but it isn’t bad either. Just felt like a TV movie.
Comparing THE EXORCIST and its sequels to other multi-sequel Horror franchise like, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is unfair. For one, the are many, many more sequels for those three. And two, they have all received recent big-screen reboots. I know, there was an EXORCIST TV show that aired on FOX for two seasons, but the fact the big franchise name of ‘THE EXORCIST’ cannot be brought to the big screen again in a meaningful way is telling for how damaging the 2004 and 2005 films were. One day I will watch the TV series and report back (perhaps at the same time I end up finishing TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES).
Maybe after some time away, there may be a chance for a ‘legacy-quel’ of the series. Like how the 2018 HALLOWEEN film ignores everything bar the 1970 original. The issue there with this series is that it undoes the hardwork of THE EXORCIST III, which for my mind is a sequel truly deserving of its name. There is something interesting to be dug at with the idea of faith in the 21st century, and with most of the films having sequences/whole plots dealing with Africa/Asia there is a case to be made of the themes being more timely than ever. Especially given our current political and religious era.
Thats where the series differs from those other 3 franchises. There is a history there to be explored. The idea of Empires, Christianity, political idealogies, and faith, all of them much more grounded than just a ‘killer on the loose’ and a ‘Final Girl’.
It is sad that William Peter Blatty died in 2017, I feel that if one were to go again with the series you would need his imput to do it right. Or at least someone with the respect to do THE EXORCIST and THE EXORCIST III justice.