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Worst Exorcist film of the series

A review of Exorcist: The Beginning by Erik Kristopher Myers
Originally published on bloodynews.com August 2005

Renny, my boy, I’ve got to admit: for a minute there, you almost had me fooled.

Yeah, it’s true: we Exorcist fans nearly puked up our pea soup when we heard that Paul Schrader”the original director of Exorcist: The Beginning”had been fired from his own film; and that you, Renny Harlin, who have been responsible for cinematic travesties like Cutthroat Island and Deep Blue Sea, were replacing him. It was like, œYeah, there’s a good idea: replace a respected auteur like Schrader with a guy who killed his own wife’s career by casting her in films nobody wanted to watch.

I have to admit that I softened a bit when I had the chance to read the unpublished novelization of Schrader’s film. It was long, it was boring, and it was a chore to get through, let alone review; and when I started reading your interviews last month, I began to wonder: œWas Morgan Creek right? Did they make the correct decision in hiring you? I lost considerable animosity as I read you profess your love for William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece, The Exorcist; and as I delved deeper and deeper into the philosophies of your prequel, I began to question my initial doubt. œHe might actually make a good film, I thought, œone worthy of the franchise. Hey: even I make mistakes once in a while.

And then there was that trailer. No, not the teaser, the one that consisted almost entirely of footage from the original Exorcist, but the full-on, hold-no-punches, honest to goodness two-minute preview. Yeah, it too reused quite a few visuals and sounds from the first film, but man, it got my hopes up. Did I expect art? Nah. Given the track record of this series, I figured there’s no way I’m ever going to get another film that impacted me the way that first flick did, that had me so scared that at the age of twelve I was sleeping at the foot of my sister’s bed for two weeks. At this point, I’ll settle for inoffensive entertainment.

I picked up the second novelization, Mr. Harlin, the one for your film, and I read it the week before Exorcist: The Beginning was released in theatres. My girlfriend, a relative newbie to the series (and an avid supporter of Exorcist II: The Heretic, by the way), asked me how it was. Did it improve upon Schrader’s version? Was it scary? I told her that yes, it was, if nothing else, more entertaining than the shelved film had been (at least in novelization form); but that certain things ran the risk of looking really stupid onscreen. I mentioned the exorcism in particular.

(And no, readers, that wasn’t a spoiler, so quit your bitching. This is a Morgan Creek film, after all; and we all know Morgan Creek films end up with an exorcism whether the screenplay called for one or not. Ask that Blatty guy. He’s always happy to talk about it.)

Anyway, Mr. Harlin, I hate to admit it, but those things I said œmight look stupid look even stupider than I’d expected. Like really, really stupid. In fact, you made the worst Exorcist film of the series; and after the painful double-penetration of The Heretic and Legion, that’s really saying something.

Like I said before, you almost had me fooled. In fact, the first half hour ain’t that bad. We meet young Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard), a defrocked priest who is working on an archaeological dig in Kenya. It seems a Byzantine church has been discovered, buried upon completion, and sleeping within is¦a giant crock of shit!

Yeah, it all kind of goes downhill once we skip the character crap and get to the meat of the story, which isn’t all that meaty, anyway. We get plenty of cheesy subliminal flashes, swooping CG aerial shots straight out of Final Fantasy, and more inverted crosses than Omen IV: The Awakening (and believe me, that’s saying quite a bit). Something disgusting happens every five minutes, whether it’s exploding boils or lunatics slicing their own throats; but for all of the gross-out moments, there’s never anything scary. Not even close. Hell, the gross-out moments aren’t even original, for crying out loud.

I know, I know, this is pretty rough, Mr. Harlin. I’m not exactly being charitable, am I? Well, let’s talk about some good things. Let’s talk about the way you managed to steal shots from Friedkin’s original. What’s that? You say it was homage¦? Well, maybe that’s how it was intended. Maybe it even seemed that way to me the first few times; but after a while, I began to wonder whether you were trying to create symmetry or if you were just creatively bankrupt. Yeah, seeing Merrin in the loony bin, surrounded by nutsos doing shot-for-shot impersonations of the similarly disturbed patients seen at Bellevue in The Exorcist was pretty cool¦if it hadn’t followed an endless succession of stopped clocks, Captain Howdy faces, metal workers hammering up showers of sparks, one-eyed natives, and a legion (pardon the pun) of other very familiar images. We also are treated to the origin of both the Pazuzu amulet and St. Joseph’s medallion first uncovered by Merrin in the first film; but while both pieces of jewelry are given substantial build-up, neither one amounts to anything. Whatever happened to the medallion, Renny? It just kind of vanished halfway through the movie, along with whatever grace the film had going for it.

That dreaded middle section. You know, the character of Sarah Novak (Izabella Scorupco) might have sounded good on paper, but she’s absolutely useless onscreen. Every time she showed up, it was time for another œjump moment or Big Scary Dream Sequence, typically involving such horrors as¦the menstrual cycle! The most frightening thing that happens to this character is that she has a Kotex Moment and leaves a trail of blood on the floor. We’re told this is impossible, as she’s been œfixed by lecherous Nazis during her days as a prisoner in a Polish slave camp; but come on, Renny: what the hell is the bloody mess on the floor supposed to mean? What does it symbolize? Or are you just confusing œgross for œscary again?

Speaking of scary, let’s talk about the CGI. Now, I realize you weren’t permitted to film in Morocco like Schrader did, and that most of your environments had to be created artificially, but some of the bluescreen work makes Xena: Warrior Princess look like fucking Lord of the Rings. There were many cringe-inducing moments along the way; but the final shot of the film is inexcusable. In fact, it’s probably the worst digital compositing I’ve seen in a major motion picture. Ever.

Then there’s the exorcism. There are no words to describe how awful this sequence is. I could write an entire review of the last twenty minutes and burn up ten pages in the process; but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say this: it’s the worst exorcism ever put to film. Period. The Demon Murder Case was more effective than this; and if you want to know the truth, the Possessed looks (and acts) an awful lot like Linda Blair¦in Repossessed. The voice of the demon is also unintentionally amusing, sounding less like a hellish apparition and more like a mulleted, two hundred and fifty pound New Jersey waitress, chain-smoking between shifts behind the dumpster at Denny’s. I laughed, Renny. So did the rest of the audience. Were we supposed to?

Yeah, I skipped a lot, I realize. I didn’t mention the hyenas (almost as bad as the dog-creatures in The Chronicles of Riddick), or the character of Father Francis (James D’Arcy), who appears once every half hour to explain the plot. If I’m missing anything, it isn’t that I forgot: it’s just that I already wasted two hours watching this goddam thing, so the last thing I want to do is waste another two minutes writing about it.

It’s worth mentioning that I saw this at a press screening, and less than half the critics showed up. I was wearing an Exorcist: The Beginning t-shirt given to me as a promotional item; and when the lights went up after that miserable final shot, I became acutely aware that I was wearing the title of this movie on my chest, a walking advertisement (and an unpaid one, at that). This won’t happen again.

You almost pulled the wool over my eyes, Mr. Harlin. Your intentions were good, but your film was not!

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  • Ken

    1.”Exorcist:The Beginning”

    I remember being real excited about this movie four years ago.AMC Channel shows it constantly these days and I can’t sit through 2 minutes of this crap.None of the sequels come close to being a masterpiece, but this drivel should be fed to those CGI sharks that Renny Harlin used in his 1999 disaster flick called, “Deep Blue Sea”.”Exorcist:The Beginning” is the worst film in the entire “Exorcist” canon.

    2.” The Exorcist III:Legion”
    I placed this as the second worst because it showcased William Peter Blatty messing up his own leftover characters from “The Exorcist”.The relationship between Father Karras and William Kinderman is my biggest issue.All of a sudden Kinderman calls Karras his “Best friend”.CGI exorcism sequences which involve snakes?Meandering dialogue and Brad Dourif as the spirit of a dead serial killer do not make for good psychological horror.

    3. Exorcist II:The Heretic”
    Linda Blair gets to act with a really drunk Richard Burton.Where was Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis to round out the cast of drunks?(See “Who’s Afraid Of The Virginia Woolf” and you get to squirm in your seat more so than you would with the horror climax crucifix scene from “The Exorcist”.Why was Sharon Spencer back when she parted company with the MacNeils at the end of that same movie?Furthermore, why was she acting so strangely throughout this whole movie?Were we meant to be frightened by the voice of Pazuzu in this cinematic nightmare?Or the legions of wet fan blown leaves meant to be hordes of locusts?Were we supposed to be frightened of a peanut headed possessed body double stand in for Miss Blair?

    4. Dominion:Prequel To The Exorcist”
    After two years, I dusted off this DVD and figured I would watch it back to back with “The Exorcist”…..well, it is much better than the Renny Harlin fiasco, but it is over acted in places.The worst part are the Kenyan natives ad-libbing “native” dialogue (particularly the annoying Sebituana).I’m willing to bet that President Barack Hussein Obama probably knows better Kenyan linguistics than these guys…or George W Bush for that matter!Aside from this, it is not a completed film and we all know the legendary story behind that reason.Paul Schrader could have had a brilliant film had he been given half a chance by the Morgan Creek company

    Ultimately, for myself, I choose to stick with the original….1973 film of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” as the one film that never should have had sequels/prequels to begin with.

  • Ken

    1.”Exorcist:The Beginning”

    I remember being real excited about this movie four years ago.AMC Channel shows it constantly these days and I can’t sit through 2 minutes of this crap.None of the sequels come close to being a masterpiece, but this drivel should be fed to those CGI sharks that Renny Harlin used in his 1999 disaster flick called, “Deep Blue Sea”.”Exorcist:The Beginning” is the worst film in the entire “Exorcist” canon.

    2.” The Exorcist III:Legion”
    I placed this as the second worst because it showcased William Peter Blatty messing up his own leftover characters from “The Exorcist”.The relationship between Father Karras and William Kinderman is my biggest issue.All of a sudden Kinderman calls Karras his “Best friend”.CGI exorcism sequences which involve snakes?Meandering dialogue and Brad Dourif as the spirit of a dead serial killer do not make for good psychological horror.

    3. Exorcist II:The Heretic”
    Linda Blair gets to act with a really drunk Richard Burton.Where was Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis to round out the cast of drunks?(See “Who’s Afraid Of The Virginia Woolf” and you get to squirm in your seat more so than you would with the horror climax crucifix scene from “The Exorcist”.Why was Sharon Spencer back when she parted company with the MacNeils at the end of that same movie?Furthermore, why was she acting so strangely throughout this whole movie?Were we meant to be frightened by the voice of Pazuzu in this cinematic nightmare?Or the legions of wet fan blown leaves meant to be hordes of locusts?Were we supposed to be frightened of a peanut headed possessed body double stand in for Miss Blair?

    4. Dominion:Prequel To The Exorcist”
    After two years, I dusted off this DVD and figured I would watch it back to back with “The Exorcist”…..well, it is much better than the Renny Harlin fiasco, but it is over acted in places.The worst part are the Kenyan natives ad-libbing “native” dialogue (particularly the annoying Sebituana).I’m willing to bet that President Barack Hussein Obama probably knows better Kenyan linguistics than these guys…or George W Bush for that matter!Aside from this, it is not a completed film and we all know the legendary story behind that reason.Paul Schrader could have had a brilliant film had he been given half a chance by the Morgan Creek company

    Ultimately, for myself, I choose to stick with the original….1973 film of William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” as the one film that never should have had sequels/prequels to begin with.

  • E.S.

    Worst Exorcist film of the series? Really? Hardly. That title easily goes to Exorcist II: The Heretic, hands down.

  • Can you elaborate on why you think Heretic is the worst 'hands down'? 'The Beginning' doesn't have a whole lot going for it…

  • Steven

    I think those two lousy prequels are far worse than “Heretic”, a film that is at least entertaining to watch despite being a colossal mess.

  • Steven

    I think those two lousy prequels are far worse than “Heretic”, a film that is at least entertaining to watch despite being a colossal mess.

  • I would have to agree, the heretic is the worst movie I have actually ever watched. I have watched a lot of movies. that one is the worst.

  • i think exorcist 3 is the best one by far, for many reasons, mostly that it was succesful at scaring me, and it has replay value. there's not much reason to watch the first one again.. i think legion made the exorcist retroactively more interesting.

    i'll agree that heretic was really bad. by the fifth time someone asked father karras 'why'd you quit being a priest?' i was hoping he'd never answer.. but people kept asking, and he got angrier every time, there was no avoiding that he was eventually going to reveal why he's not a priest at some dumb pivotal moment. i refused to be there when it happened so i changed the channel and never looked back. did they make more than one exorcist prequel? hope i'm talking about the right movie here

  • JPM73

    Yeah, I don't see where the 3rd “Exorcist” film was a bad movie at all. Yes, the exorcism sequence does come out of left field towards the end, but it wasn't badly done as a scene in and of itself. This film was to be called “Legion” and a story related to the original film, but with some obvious changes and throwing around of different ideas(like that Kinderman and Karras might have become friends while all this was going on and Karras kept most of it secret, since he was a priest.) Calling it “Exorcist 3” was Morgan creeks idea and their idea to add in the exorcism sequence. The snakes shown it that sequence were not created using CGI.

    No, it is not the original film, but it was not suppose to be a “pick up where we left off” type of sequel. It has some really witty and intelligently written dialogue. Some beautifully shot scenes and sequences. The sequence of heaven is odd, but has a satirical feel to it that makes it somehow work. This film is really allowing some of Blatty's satirical work from before “The Exorcist” come through in all the right places. Because this film did not rely on jolts every 5 or 10 minutes, it has set the audience up to a safe comfort zone for one really AWESOME jolt that I remember really grabbing people back when it was in theaters. Even how it was shot was extremely clever!

    This is not a perfect film, but it is a great one in its own way. It came out during that early 90's low point for horror(Box office) and was one of the few that were really done with imagination and intelligence. Most were pretty typical sequels, where this was unique and interesting.

  • THE HERECTIC is a mess. All-time bottom #3 of mine.

  • juan carlos

    El hereje no es tan mala pelicula despues de todo , es visible que se desvia mucho de la primer pelicula. Ahi que ver tambien su cambio de productor , el reparto de actores etc . . .
    En si me quedo con las 2 primeras peliculas , ya que legión y el comienzo no completaron mis expectativas.