By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
So, there are now four official Exorcist movies and countless imitators, among which only 1976’s The Omen— itself the progenitor of three unmemorable sequels — made any real impact on audiences or the box office. (Nor is there any end in sight: Robinson, who cites his concern for the longevity of the Exorcistbrand as his primary motivation for making the Harlin version, promises that a TV series is next in the pipeline.) Yet, not one of these derivations, with the exception of the best parts of Carr’s script and Schrader’s movie, has managed to strike the same dark, primal chord as the original. As Carr sees it, “It’s an easy mystery to figure out. The Exorcist was such a story of the moment. It exposed things we were scared of that we didn’t even know we were scared of at the time. It showed that the traditional path — Catholicism, God and the devil, all of this stuff — could still raise its head and shatter your life. To me, that was really the genius of it, the eruption of the old world into this cool new world of the ’70s that everybody thought was basically untouchable.”
That’s also, Carr adds, the hardest thing about the original to duplicate. “What I kept trying to tell people was, ‘If you’re going to do it again, you have to do the same thing — you have to tap into what the horror is today, now that we’ve seen every possible kind of physical horror, not only in horror movies, but on the news.’ We haven’t yet found a way to cope with the fact that, at their base, a lot of people are not good people. And that’s a scary, scary thought — that even that little bit of evil that’s in every person can be drawn out and used . . .” And for a moment, it’s impossible to be sure whether Carr is talking about Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, James G. Robinson or, perchance, the devil himself.
Blatty, who hasn’t seen either version of The Beginning, is skeptical about the ability of any new Exorcist story to recapture the alchemy of the original. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says. In his office on the Paramount Pictures lot, William Friedkin adds, “I don’t know if it’s possible to come close to what we did. But I can tell you that Blatty and I didn’t set out primarily to terrify people. We set out to make a film about the mystery of faith.” It’s on that count, as Friedkin sees it, that the many pretenders to the Exorcist throne have come up woefully short.
“What I think they’ve done,” he tells me, “is just taken the title and gone out and tried to scare the shit out of people, because that’s their perception of what the original movie was. But its impact was far deeper than the fact that people were scared. They really believed it for the most part, or they at least thought it was possible. And they were frightened by it in the same way as by some kind of authentic miracle or disaster of some kind. They realized overwhelmingly that there was evil in the world — that evil could manifest itself and take lives the way a plague or an earthquake might.” And while Friedkin’s exposure to The Beginning has, like Blatty’s, been limited to the movie’s trailer — which he resents for “drizzling” shots from his film over Harlin’s “like a salad dressing” — he has a few ideas about the purported reasons for Schrader’s dismissal. “It’s representative, in my opinion, of profound stupidity,” he says. “What would they say about Luther or A Man for All Seasons — that they’re too religious and profoundly internal, and don’t have enough action, and don’t have enough scares?”
Renny Harlin’s Exorcist: The Beginning opens in theaters nationwide next Friday. Meanwhile, Schrader’s cut, which had seemed as though it might go the way of von Stroheim’s Greed and Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons to become The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen . . . and Never Will, has been announced by Morgan Creek as a future DVD release. “There ought to be something we can get out of this first movie,” Robinson told me back in May. “So I thought, maybe if we spend the money to finish up the effects and get the sound right on the Schrader version, then on DVD we’ll have a two-pack. Perhaps we can also do an HBO or Showtime sale. But definitely not a theatrical release.” A more pragmatic Schrader is quick to point out that no actual deal has yet been put in writing. In the meantime, he’s focusing his energies on The Walker, a thematic sequel of sorts to American Gigolo that he’s been trying to get made for years. In the immediate future, he’s doing a pilot for the FX network. And he has recently landed his “second job for the rest of my life,” in the form of a book assignment from Faber & Faber that Schrader describes as the film-studies equivalent of The Western Canon. “Basically, it means re-reading and re-viewing the history of the cinema — the history of film aesthetics, the history of all the masters, all of it. It will be a defense of film as high art versus populist entertainment, as a sort of reaction against all this people’s-choice mentality about movies. I’ll be lucky to finish it before I die.” So the war between heaven and hell — or maybe just art and commerce — continues.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city