Monday, March 2, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Exorcist

I love The Exorcist.
Yeah, I guess that means you can call me old school but I love that movie. Its definitely in my top ten horror films of all time. Its one of those films that I can pop into the PS3 at any time...which has proven a little annoying to the hubby since now I know this movie by heart. I know a lot of younger horror fans really don't see what the big deal is with The Exorcist. And looking at it by today standards, it can be considered pretty tame. But as a person who was born in the 70's and as a Catholic (Well, Catholic Lite. Not quite Catholic enough.) this movie still gives me the heebies even after the 200th viewing.
Unfortunately AND fortunately The Exorcist spawned two sequels and two prequels. I consider The Exorcist to be one of those magical movies. It was a film that had all the right elements. Great acting, great screenplay, great source material, and a fearless director is what put this movie in a special breed of horror that is reserved for films like The Shining and Let the Right One In. So trying to duplicate it is pretty close to impossible. Do I think any of the movies equal the original? Not really, no. But I have to say two out of the four are pretty darn good. Yeah...I was as surprised as you are.

Lets Start with The Bad...

Exorcist II: The Heretic
Well, this movie works for a good drunken horror film night for sure. The movie is generally about Linda Blair's Regan having grown up and SURPRISE! The demon decides to come back and fuck with her again. It has some unintentionally hilarious moments such as Linda Blair trying to be sexily demon possessed, that very bizarre hypno mirror light machine do-hicky, and Richard Burton saying Pazuzu so much that it should be made into a drinking game. I love camp and bad horror films but since I have such a love for the original, well, it just doesn't do it for me. Exorcist II: The Heretic is a product of the studio machine. You can just picture the meeting for this movie:
"We'll do a sequel! But we'll make it SEXY!"
"Yeah! Sexy!"
"Yeah! Linda can sex it all up! And we'll put some more action in it. The Exorcist needs some more action. How about Locusts!?"
"Oh! And the Demon should have a name! I mean we should make it a character and all! Get into its skin! Market some dolls to the kids!"
"I got a great name! Pazuzu!"
"Perfect! Kids will LOVE it!"

I will admit, the locust scene is pretty fun to watch, but the whole movie leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I would say more about it but...well...there really isn't a whole lot to say. Most of it is ridiculous and what isn't is so unmemorable that I can barely write about it. I don't hate it but I really don't love it either. But one thing it did give us; that great Futurama episode were Dr. Farnsworth howled "PAZUUUUZUUUUU!" to call back his beloved pet demon.
I may revisit this movie after a pint of rum.

Exorcist: The Beginning
This movie makes me angry...violently angry. We're talking Jeepers Creepers rage here. I remember planning to catch it in the theaters. Luckily, my brother in law (who is also an Exorcist fan) stopped me. And I'm so glad he did. I ended up renting it for a buck from Blockbuster months later out of curiosity. I believe they found me on top of a clock tower with a cross bow and several hostages after the viewing. Stac managed to talk me down via cell phone with promises of rainbow bunnies and chocolate covered hugs. I don't want to think about the aftermath if I had seen it in the theater.
The movie is suppose to cover Father Merrin's younger years when he performed his first exorcism on a young boy in Africa. Or so that's what the original Exorcist said happened. In this movie there really isn't a little boy and Father Merrin is a priest in the same way you can call Paris Hilton a good role model for the kiddies.
A little background on the prequel of the Exorcist. This movie was in development Hell. It went through several directors and writers before it was finally written by William Wishing and directed by Paul Schrader. But during a studio viewing the powers that be apparently though that it needed more sex and violence (see above discussion in Exorcist II) and tossed him off the project. In comes Renny Harlin who has done such prestigious films like Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea, and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane to direct. Because if one thing the Exorcist is known for, its its thrilling action sequences, sharks, and Andrew Dice Clay.
Now the new screenwriter, Alexi Hawley apparently likes to write by braille because I seriously doubt he even saw the original Exorcist at all. The continuity with the original film is non existent, the characters are completely off mark, and the story makes no sense what so ever. You can practically see poor Stellan Skarsgard as Father Merrin rolling his eyes with every line delivery. Combine all that with an unnecessary opening shot of a bunch of CGI guys crucified upside down and the need to make Father Merrin Indiana Jones, complete with putting on a Fedora and walking off into the sunset and this is the perfect movie to induce rage in me.
If anyone ever happens to run into any studio execs who worked on this film, please hit them....with a cast iron skillet...then feed them to rabid monkeys...then laugh at them.

NOW on to the good...

Exorcist III: Legion
You may all pick your jaws off the floor now. Seriously, this movie was actually GOOD. Exorcist III: Legion is much more on par with the original, not only with its tone, but with its storyline as well. The movie picks up years after the original film and follows Kinderman running into Father Karris's body possessed by something nasty. That nasty is brilliantly portrayed by one of my all time favorite creepy men, Brad Dourif. The demon popped itself back in Karris's body and brought it back to life just because it enjoyed the irony....that's pretty fucked up.
The movie is a lot like the original with its build up being very character driven. A good deal of the movie is spent between Kinderman (now played by George C. Scott) and the Gemini Killer Demon (Dourif) talking...or actually Dourif talking and Scott looking genuinely freaked out. That is interspersed with crazy old people, freaky dream sequences, and a little old lady crawling on the ceiling. The movie is directed by William Peter Blatty, the writer of The Exorcist novel. I believe this was his first film. And while it does suffer from first time director clumsiness in places, the movie itself is extremely well done. I'd say the weakest part is the ending exorcism scene. The original scrip did not end with an exorcism. But the studio felt that if you're going to name a film Exorcist III, you better damn well have an exorcism in there! Though its not a bad scene, it does feel a bit tacked on. But a priest getting his skin ripped off and George C. Scott giving a great speech about how he now believes in evil keeps it entertaining.
I'd have to say the best part of the movie is what is called "The white sheet scene". I believe this scene was featured in Bravo's Even Scarier Movie Moments. What is so masterful about that scene isn't the scare but the build up. The long lingering shot, the silence of the room, the mundane activities that seem to go on and on and yet you're positive something is going to happen. So positive that you start grinding your teeth while waiting.
It's not as brilliant as the original but it is a well crafted film worth watching.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
I must not have been the only one on a clock tower after watching Exorcist: The Beginning. Because shortly after it was released on DVD, Dominion was released. Dominion is the original prequel directed by Paul Schrader before the studio infected it with their film herpes. Schrader actually shot and cut the complete film together before the studio decided to scrap it. And its a much more in depth, exciting, and meaningful ride than the original prequel ever was.
Once again, we follow the beginning years of Father Merrin but unlike Exorcist: The Beginning, Father Merrin is in character. He is still a priest, but struggling with his faith after a horrible tragedy that he took part in when the Nazi's invaded his town in Europe. The movie feels more like a World War II drama with supernatural elements more than a horror film. But then, to make an Exorcist film you need to have a drama at heart to build the horror off of. I never realized what a butcher job the original prequel was until I saw Dominion. There were some great stories, subplots, and wonderful acting cut from the film. Some of the great characters that were lost include Father Francis a young optimistic priest who is the antithesis of Father Karris in the original movie, CheChe the possessed boy in question, and Sargent Major a hard British Sargent who starts to go off the deep end. You also get to see Stellan Skarsgard's wonderful performance as Father Merrin which was lost in the re cut prequel. The whole film is extremely tense. There is tension between the African natives and the Christian missionaries, tension between the local tribes and the British soldiers, tension between the locals and the outcast CheChe, as well as tension between Father Merrin and his slipping faith in his religion. This in turn effects the viewer and you feel completely wound up as you watch the movie. It can be slow moving at times but it never gets boring. The films major short comings are a really bad score which sounds like it was recorded on a Casio keyboard, and its God awful CGI. But I chalk both up to the fact that the film was never 100% completed and both those elements were slapped on for the DVD release. I can overlook that but for those who cannot stand bad CGI, beware.
Once again, its not as good as the original and actually I don't think its as good as Exorcist III. But its a movie that does justice to the character of Father Merrin and its worth the watch.

Yeah, I got a bit long winded there. Thanks for sticking around this far! But The Exorcist is one of those films I feel pretty passionate about. Hopefully you'll give Dominion and Exorcist III a chance if you haven't before. They are definitely worth a peek. And even Exorcist II would be worth a watch after excessive alcohol and a bunch of friends.
But I still stand by my conviction of feeding the execs for Exorcist: the Beginning to rabid monkeys.
Outbreak spider monkeys.
I live by a zoo.
I can do this.


thebonebreaker said...

Superb write-up Cin!

The Exorcist is a Classic and always will be - it has not lost its edge. . .

As for the sequels - it has been years since I have seen them - I own the box set of all of them, I just need to sit down and re-watch them.

I did give The Beginning a try one night - it was late - and I gave up on it - even though you despised it, I will have to give it one more shot before I disown it ;-)

Cins said...

BB>>Thanks! =D
I never get bored with The Exorcist. Its just one of those movies that still effects me. Try to go back and watch the sequels. Even if 2 is not great its still mildly entertaining.

And I always say give a movie a chance to form your own opinion of it. You never know, you may like The Beginning! Or you may end up on a clock tower. If so, I'll talk you down via cell phone.;)

Stac said...

I watched The Beginning on cable and I want my money back! I hate it when directors can't figure out the difference between gross and scary!

I even watched this while home alone at 2 am, and wasn't scared! I would STILL never do that with the original.