Thursday, 25 February 2010

Heretic, Prequels of The Exorcist versus The Exorcist

Love them or loath them here are a few comments on the Exorcist 'legacy' including the abysmal second instalment. Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist was directed by Paul Schrader and Exorcist: The Beginning was then directed by Renny Harlin, neither of which compare to the 1st or 3rd Exorcist. Here we have an anomaly of two Exorcist films utilising the some of the same actors, the same sets and almost the same story... This is what makes these Exorcist prequels interesting and a complete oddity.

For me Harlin's version, even though over cooked, it is the slightly better film of the prequels. 

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Father Merrin assists a team of archaeologists who unearth a church. At first, Merrin resists the idea that supernatural forces are in play but an encounter with a demon inside a boy may change his mind.

Dominion is the Prequel to the Exorcist (1973), the story is engaging, however like Harlin's Exorcist: The Beginning it's doesn't capture the tone of the Exorcist and feels more like a TV movie.

The story of Dominion is very interesting, probably more so that the above mentioned Harlin's version but isn't as technically pleasing. It just can't getaway from that television look, the script is clunky, the sets are not dressed very well and the lighting is poor. The acting is more theatrical and the lack subtle cuts make it feel a far smaller film.

Opening scene of the film is certainly very effective as Merrin faces the Nazi's. Nevertheless, it does have other faults especially the CGI effects. However, Ralph Brown as Sergeant Major is very good (and his screen time is sadly limited in Harlin's version).

It works more as psychological horror but there are too many distractions to engross you, again like 'The Beginning' what makes this film interesting is the fact there are two films that utilise much of the same story, sets and actors. Best viewed as an exercise.

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Father Merrin has crisis of faith after the horrific events he witnessed during World War II but when an ancient church is uncovered he must confront a supernatural evil force.

Renny Harlin's prequel to the Exorcist's is of almost the same material as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, using some of the same actors and sets it is debatably technically superior. The script seems sharper, the sets appear dressed and lit better, the acting more subtle and the use of more cuts with higher quality effects make it feel a far bigger movie.

Stellan Skarsgård as Father Merrin is again a good choice and he's far more likable in this version. The little Joseph boy played very well by Remy Sweeney deserves a mention and Izabella Scorupco brings some weight to the role of Sarah. It does however have a special effects driven finale. Director Harlin delivers some jump scares and atmosphere notably the Indiana Jones-like explorations.

It's the history of 'making of' which possibly makes The Beginning more interesting given the fact there are two films that utilise the many of the same actors and story.

All in all it's not a classic but the first half of the film is certainly effective and entertaining. Harlin's version is a solid film, but it arguably doesn't fit in tonally to the Exorcist (1973) world which may disappoint some.

Now the earlier films...

The Exorcist (1973)

A little girl is possessed and her mother calls on help from a local priest.

I'll start by saying you could argue the film is almost over-rated. From the start the film still retains a creepy atmosphere but over the years it seems to have lost it's scare factor. That said, some scenes are still disturbing and the some foul language still amazes to be shocking.

The score, sound and editing can sometimes be a mix bag but the acting and direction by William Friedkin is exceptional. Max von Sydows small amount of screen time leaves an impression and Jason Miller as Father Damien Karras plays the troubled priest, however the star is rightly Linda Blair as Regan, the actress is great especially for someone so young.

Debatably there probably hasn't been a more thoughtful horror film or a better film on demonic possession since.

A must see for new horror fans.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Set four years after The Exorcist Regan MacNeil is still recovering from her previous demonic possession, but the evil may only be repressed. A priest and Exorcist is tasked with investigating his late teachers death.

As a stand alone film or sequel it's shocking and for all the wrong reasons. Maybe with another script the fantastic actors, Richard Burton and James Earl Jones to name a few wouldn't have been wasted. The music score by Ennio Morricone, dreamlike atmosphere and some effects are the films redeeming features.

With fancy loccations, sets and lighting Boorman's direction is fine (who brought us the excellent Excalibur (1981)), but it seems the failing is in the script. It never seems to flow. Not even a good performance from Burton can save it nor another edit as it delves into unsatisfactory trance driven telepathic melodrama  - sadly it is pale in comparison to it predecessor.

Watch it if only for curiosity or Burton's and Blair's performance. As Burton's Father Lamont states, "It was horrible, utterly horrible... and fascinating!"

The Exorcist III (1990)

The Exorcist film which spawned sequels and prequels is a landmark horror film. William Peter Blatty, writer of the Exorcist novel, directs this intriguing and underrated 3rd film. Blatty ignores the messy sequel and injects some realism, horror and suspense in The Exorcist 3.

Good news for fans Jason Miller, Father Damien Karras, makes a surprise appearance. In addition to Karras the character 'Bill' Kinderman (of the original) played by Lee J. Cobb who died in 1976, is played excellently by George C. Scott. The film mostly consists of a serial killer hunt. The script is very natural and the witty rapport between Bill and the priest is fantastic, there is also a very good dream sequence.

William Blatty, considering being an inexperienced director uses some thoughtful and interesting camera angles and creates an unnerving atmosphere. This film maybe not be as shocking as other horror films but for me it has the better storyline of all the series of films and is certainly a worthwhile watch.