Sunday, October 24, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: The Exorcist Sequels

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Rated R (for language, violence, and disturbing images)

Directed John Boorman

Linda Blair
Richard Burton
Louise Fletcher
Kitty Winn

You know what? I'm not even going to bother describing this movie. It's terrible. It may be one of the worst films ever made and I'm pretty sure nothing you have ever done deserves the punishment of seeing this film. Just don't.

Even though I don't want to waste my time writing about this film, I will provide the trailer for your joy and amusement.

The Exorcist III (1990)
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by William Peter Blatty

George C. Scott
Brad Dourif
Jason Miller
Ed Flanders

The Exorcist III is based on Blatty's novel, Legion. Blatty initially wanted to make Legion as The Exorcist's first sequel, but after disagreements arose over pivotal plot points, he abandoned the project, turning it into a novel several years later. After the dismal failure of Exorcist II, Morgan Creek Productions agreed to allow Blatty to direct the film, but insisted it be called Exorcist III to draw in more viewers.

Exorcist III focuses on Lt. William Kinderman (George C. Scott) as he investigates a series of murders that mirror crimes committed fifteen years before by the Gemini serial killer (Brad Dourif). Kinderman thinks it's a copycat at first, since the Gemini killer was executed, but several items of evidence don't add up. A amnesiac psychiatric patient may be the key to the mystery, as well as the answer to what happened to Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller) in 1973.

The rich color and surrealistic imagery in this flick reminded me of an Argento film. (Look for the weird cameos - including Fabio, Patrick Ewing, and Samuel L. Jackson - in Kinderman's dream sequence.) Like an Argento flick, there are eccentric characters, inventive deaths, and supernatural elements.

Scott is one of my favorite actors; he's like your favorite cantankerous grandpa. The more he yells, the happier I get. (Watch the "carp scene", you'll be a Scott fan in no time.) Ed Flanders is a hilarious and caustic Father Dyer. The always excellent Dourif really shines in this movie and it's one of his few performances where he isn't hidden behind makeup.

I highly recommend putting this on your Netflix queue, especially if you are a fan of the original. You can also buy it very cheaply on Amazon. While not as widely regarded as the original film, Exorcist III is a solid, very creepy flick.

Fright Rating: 3 gasps out of a possible five

There are several fairly violent scenes, but nothing as shocking as the original.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by Paul Schrader

Stellan Skarsgard
Gabriel Mann
Clara Bellar
Ralph Brown

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist was given up as a lost cause. After the film was nearly completed, Morgan Creek Productions scrapped the project, fired Schrader and replaced him with Renny Harlin, who made a completely different film - one Morgan Creek believed would be more commercially successful. Once Harlin's version failed at the box office, Schrader was given $35,000 to complete the film and it was given a small theatrical release.

Dominion centers on Father Lankaster Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) after he experiences a crisis of faith, following WWII. During the war, he is forced by a Nazi soldier to choose people of his parish to be executed in retribution for the murder of another Nazi guard. He takes a sabbatical and goes on several archaeological digs, the most recent on a British military post in East Africa. He is joined there by Father William Francis (Gabriel Mann), a young Jesuit priest who knows little about the world. Father Francis has been sent by the Vatican to assess Merrin's devotion to the church. Several mysterious occurrences happen after a young disabled boy is placed under the post's hospital care. The discovery of a Catholic church built over a pagan temple complicates matters. Merrin's faith will be tested once more when he must deal with his own demons . . . as well as literal ones.

Undoubtedly, this is not what audiences would have expected from an Exorcist sequel. It is less an outright horror film than a psychological thriller with a few minor supernatural elements. This movie takes a far more "realistic" approach to the nature of evil than Harlin's version.

Schrader's film is far more artistic and stylized than Harlin's version. Merrin's flashbacks to WWII are differentiated from the setting of the film by a subtle change in color palette. The post war scenes are gradients of brown, but the browns are rich and saturated. The war scenes have more gray, and appear washed out. Schrader uses inter cut scenes of a tribal birth presided over by a medicine man and doctors operating on a boy's infected leg, showing the divide between the old and new worlds. He mirrors the opening sequence of the Nazi soldier's random shooting of an innocent girl with the Sarge ant's similar action after his men are found brutally slain.

Skarsgard cannot match Von Sydow's original performance as Father Merrin, but he does his best. He conveys Merrin's tortured soul, but not his wise kindness. Mann is very good as the naive and sheltered Jesuit priest shocked by what he experiences in the desert.

Dominion isn't very good, but it is a better film than Exorcist: The Beginning. The movie is clearly unfinished (the special effects are primitive at best), but it would have been interesting to see how it would have turned out had Morgan Creek had a bit more faith in Schrader's vision.

Fright Rating: 1 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

*Editor's Note: Although this trailer says "Exorcist: The Beginning", it is Dominion's prequel. This trailer was created before Schrader was replaced and the movie was remade.

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Rated R (for violence, language, and disturbing images)

Directed by Renny Harlin

Stellan Skarsgard
Izabella Scorupco
James D'Arcy
Ralph Brown

This is the second version of the Exorcist prequel. Merrin's back story is the same, but the rest of the story was rewritten to create a more traditional horror film.

Father Merrin (again played by Skarsgard) has given up the priesthood to become an archaeologist. He is paid to supervise the dig of an ancient Christian church and finds the project in turmoil. The tribal people believe that the church is evil, but the British are determined to uncover it. A number of strange events precede the fight of Merrin's life, one that will restore his faith, but earn him a terrible demonic enemy.

This flick is not very scary and not very good. It relies on conventional "gotcha scares" and gross out scenes - stuff that, when overused, makes for a very mediocre horror movie. It opens with the aftermath of a gruesome medieval battle, complete with several hundred soldiers crucified upside down. Morgan Creek gave Harlin a bigger budget because they wanted a more "Hollywood" film. This flick is slicker than the first version, with more special effects and a lot more gore. Even so, the effects are pretty bad and the exorcism scene is a joke. The film spirals into an almost-spoof of the original 1973 film. Merrin's return of faith is far less believable than that portrayed in Dominion and the plot does not follow the canon of the original film. (Merrin is said to have exorcised a young African boy.)

The Merrin in this film is much more jaded and seems far more corrupt. While in Schrader's version, he is tormented by his guilt and the horror he saw during the war, Harlin's portrayal of the priest is that he has turned his back on God because of what he has experienced. Brown also reprises his role as the Sergeant Major, but his performance is more sinister than the merely arrogant bigot he plays in Dominion. The recasts are equally disastrous. D'Arcy's Father Francis is far less earnest and more self-righteous than Gabriel Mann's portrayal in Dominion and Scorupco is colder and far less likeable than her predecessor, Clara Bellar, who played the doctor role in the first film. The one bright spot is Alan Ford, who plays crass project manager, Jefferies, an entirely new character. Ford is at his best when he plays jovial assholes (He also played Bricktop in Guy Ritchie's Snatch), which means he is perfect for this role.

Fright Rating: 1 gasp out of a possible five

This film is gorier than Dominion, but not scarier. It's better to skip both films, unless you are curious to see how two completely different movies can be made of the same story.

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