Eh… I don’t know if I’m qualified to talk about “The Exorcist“, because everyone who has ever dabbled within the genre has seemingly written a thesis about the cultural impact of the movie and the obstacles it faced throughout production — and they know how to actually write things. Even though I’ve seen the entirety of this franchise (well, sorta…), I’ve never been particularly close or interested in it. I don’t have any childhood memories of any of them, although to be fair, I simply might not have seen them as a kid. I don’t remember when I actually sat down and watched “The Exorcist“, although I do know that I had already done so by the time “Exorcist: The Beginning” had been released in theaters. In a bizarre twist of fate, I actually recall my first time watching “Repossessed” — the mediocre parody of “The Exorcist” — even though I can’t do the same for the actual “The Exorcist“. But this is one of those cases where you almost don’t have to see “The Exorcist” in order to have seen “The Exorcist”, as it has been lampooned, ripped off and referenced so many times that you’ve practically already seen it through other movies. This is going to be an interesting marathon because even though I’ve always acknowledged the greatness of the original classic, I HATE its influence on the genre to such an extent that it’s hard for any exorcism-themed film to win me over. They might even be my least favorite kind of horror film, next to home invasion flicks, but what about exorcisms trigger me so? How do I feel about the controversial sequels? Is the original movie even that good? Let’s find out!
THE EXORCIST (1973)
(Directed by William Friedkin)
(Written by William Peter Blatty)
(Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow and Linda Blair)
Is the original movie even that good?
“The Exorcist” is an incredible film, a masterpiece among masterpieces. But I also think I appreciate it more now that exorcism films no longer have such a strangle hold on the genre. The reason why I detest them is that “The Exorcist” was too definitive. I don’t know why you can do a vampire film and not automatically feel derivative of Dracula, or how you can even do a slasher flick and not feel imitative of “Friday the 13th“, but for some reason… all exorcism-themed movies evoke “The Exorcist” in some way, shape or form. Sometimes it’s a similar set-piece or visual, other times the filmmakers think they are being clever with a line of dialogue explicitly referencing the movie. But because they’re all so alike, it only draws attention to their inferiority. The fact that they all closely resemble the original has lead to a significant backlash against “The Exorcist“, as it has been so overexposed that younger generations usually experience it indirectly through the pop culture filter. By the time they finally watch the film, they usually already know what is going to happen and don’t understand why anyone would champion “The Exorcist” as the scariest movie of all time. They’d be baffled by the reports of audiences vomiting or fainting in the theaters. Even though I know I’d seen “The Exorcist” myself by 2004, I don’t believe I had seen it in 2001, because I remember not ‘getting’ some of the Exorcist related jokes in “Scary Movie 2“. How many people would be introduced to the iconic horror flick through “Scary Movie 2“? It would be hard to revisit the original and take it seriously after seeing its more shocking moments played for laughs. Some movies are gradually devoured by their own legacies (“Airport“), but “The Exorcist” will probably maintain its prestige over the years, even if its reputation will be both its greatest asset and its fiercest enemy.
We all the know the story — Regan (Linda Blair) is a young girl who starts showing deranged behavior and after modern medicine and technology fail her, it starts to become apparent that her psychological disorders might actually be demonic possession. The Church sends in the mysterious Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) to exorcise her. Every time I revisit “The Exorcist“, I’m always taken aback by how the story is really told through the eyes of Father Karras (Jason Miller) and Regan’s Mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), with Regan and Merrin functioning as glorified plot developments, even though they’re the icons. They’re not poorly written characters or anything, but we know little about them outside of bits and pieces, because they’re meant to be enigmas. Karras and Chris both function as the emotional cores of the story. The movie takes its time weaving suspense because “The Exorcist” prioritizes the setting and how the characters interact with it. Everything looks normal on the outside, but there is an underlining feeling that something is very wrong with this city. Church property is being defaced by a mysterious assailant, people are behaving strangely, the cops no longer seem to understand society and the Priesthood no longer seems to understand God. Even if the devil wasn’t explicitly showing himself, the characters all seem to sense that something is amiss, giving even innocuous scenes the chills. Friedkin gradually unveils the more iconic set pieces, but I feel like the context makes them more frightening than the (obviously impressive) effects work. The head spinning scene on its own no longer does much, but “The Exorcist” builds up to it so masterfully, something no imitator or parody could even come close to emulating. The finale is so visceral that even I grew uncomfortable with some of its content. The possessed Regan is very vulgar, but this is balanced out by her also being very articulate and I personally think the scenes of her casually chatting with Karras are just as unsettling as her screaming “Your Mother sucks cocks in hell!“…. although I don’t know if anything freaks me out more than… that… crucifix… scene… That is one moment that hasn’t been replicated to death because of how shocking it is.
There’s also a sense of dread that most exorcism-themed movies lack. Chris is a very successful actress and immediately throws all of her money into getting her daughter the right professional help, only to find that science and medicine is helpless in the face of demonic possession. But people are going to be slow to believe in that and at no point do you get the impression that Chris has found religion, especially as even the religious figures seem skeptical. Yet by the end of the story, religion arguably fails just as much science does, leaving one to wonder if we really are alone in dealing with the demons. I also like how even though Chris is a loving Mother, “The Exorcist” draws attention to her shortcomings without condemning her for them. Her estranged relationship with her husband has left an impact on her daughter, while it’s… maybe… sort of… possibly… implied that her director is abusing Regan behind closed doors. On the other hand, Karras is going through a crises of faith because of his Mother’s death. Being a priest means that he’s too poor to properly care for her and while he does love his Mother, you get the impression that he’s negligent in visiting her — too afraid to see her physical and mental deterioration. We expect his faith to be restored when encountering the demon, but it starts to behave itself whenever Karras visits, adding another level of suspense because you don’t know if Karras is properly equipped to deal with the situation. Furthermore — the entity clearly knows about Karras’s shame and guilt surrounding his Mother and prods him about it just enough to keep him vulnerable. Of course, this isn’t to discount Regan or Merrin and their own contributions to the story. Regan is sweet and adorable, but also scary when the demon takes over. Merrin is supposed to be our rock, but though he’s the only one who knows what he’s doing, even he seems nervous… ensuring we can never relax.
There are flaws, even though they don’t always resonate as such. This was adapted from a novel and you can tell that it’s sometimes trying a little too hard to be faithful, without having enough time to show everything. It’s sometimes jarring how much is left off-screen, such as the fate of Karras’s Mother… and why is the cop there? He adds nothing to the overall narrative. Yet I don’t hold these issues against the movie because in the case of the former, the emotional impact is still there and any additional material may have derailed the pacing. In the case of the latter, the character is so entertaining that I’d feel saddened if he was omitted. Beyond all of this — “The Exorcist” is simply an exceptionally made movie. The dialogue, the effects, the characters, the acting, the editing, the score and the direction all work in tandem to create a classic. The behind-the-scenes story is arguably just as legendary as the one told on-screen, as this was a hellish production where seemingly everything went wrong. Friedkin routinely abused his actors, the set caught fire, the budget was out of control, cast members would die within the next few years and one was even convicted of murder — and might have been a serial killer too. Obviously this is all stuff that never should have happened, but sometimes… not that it ever should be encouraged… this lends to a films reputation. There is something raw and unpleasant about the horror, where you can practically see everyone’s misery flowing on-screen. The only other time where I’ve felt this is with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre“, but this is a kind of drama that cannot (and should not) be replicated, which might be why both movies were unable to generate worthy sequels. Alternatively, maybe it’s the knowledge of the backstage troubles that give them more power, as I certainly was not aware of the ‘production curse’ when I first saw it and shrugged it off. It is shocking to learn that “The Exorcist” was so controversial upon release that the critics were somewhat hostile. The studio had so little faith they attempted a limited release, only for the masses to immediately become enthralled with it. “The Exorcist” conquered the box office and became the cultural phenomenon we now know it to be.Rating: 9/10
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977)
(Directed by John Boorman)
(Written by William Goodhart)
(Starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton and Louise Fletcher)
If “The Exorcist” is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, then “Exorcist II: The Heretic” is equally… one of the worst horror movies of all time… This sequel was always going to be in a tricky position, as “The Exorcist” was so iconic and memorable that there was no way they would ever catch lightning in a bottle twice, not helped by the sea of imitators trying to cash in on its success. If “Exorcist 2” attempted to give audiences more of the same, they probably would’ve yawned as the spinning heads and puking of green slime had already become clichés… which I guess would’ve been a better reaction than audiences physically chasing executives out of the theater and down the street — which apparently f@ckning happened. Now how do you inspire actual violence amongst your target audience? I guess you’d start with hiring a director who openly dislikes your cash cow original, so he can do something so different that it barely resembles a sequel at all. You hire… John Boorman… What makes this especially bizarre is that he’s actually a talented director, who gave us “Deliverance” (classic), “Excalibur” (cult classic), “Zardoz” (camp classic) and “Hell in the Pacific” (er… it’s a classic to me, damn it!). You can see a lot of his technique in the visuals and hear his usual thematic material in the dialogue, but it just… doesn’t… work. Hiring him was a mistake because even if he can deliver quality, you need to respect the original in order to make a satisfactory sequel. But when you have contempt for it, then you also probably have contempt for its audience, who are… kind of going to make or break your movie…
The plot sounds bland enough, as Regan (Linda Blair) is still being tormented by demons and Father Lamont (Richard Burton) investigates what’s actually plaguing her. That sounds like a typical horror story, but it’s more interested in exploring metaphysical science fiction or esoteric fantasy than anything scary. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it’s an obstacle that “Exorcist II” fails to overcome. I personally spent half of the movie bored at these lame philosophical debates about good and evil and the other half amused at how… bad… everything else is. You have a good cast here, who just turn in bad performances because the dialogue doesn’t make a lick of sense. Someone actually says “Come, fly the teeth of the wind” with a straight face, but at least that’s kind of funny. The rest is just explaining without the actual explanations. It grows tedious rather quickly, but worse, is just disjointed to the point of being confusing. This isn’t helped by the plot and characters being equally confusing. The psychiatrist (Louise Fletcher) doesn’t want Father Lamont to talk to Regan because she’s afraid it will recall her past trauma but in the next f@cking scene she invites Lamont to assist in hypnotizing Regan — So SHE CAN RECALL HER PAST TRAUMA. The psychiatrist also champions this hypnosis, insisting that it will help Regan remember… except then Regan starts remembering demonic stuff, leading her to casually dismiss it as a ‘dream or fantasy’ — SO WHAT IS THE F@CKING POINT OF DOING IT IF NONE OF HER MEMORIES ARE GOING TO BE RELIABLE!? RAWR! I’m still not sure what causes a specific character to turn evil for the climax… or why the filmmakers even bothered to do so as it’s not like she does anything but die… The script was apparently constantly undergoing rewrites, so I assume that whole subplot was a casualty. Father Lamont’s arc also doesn’t make sense, as he’s introduced praying to… Father Merrin (Max von Sydow)… He is admittedly another doubting Priest, but it makes less sense here, as he seems to know that God and the devil exist based on his ramblings about evil. But then again, none of it matters because Richard Burton is clearly drunk. There is a scene where his character is in a prolonged daze, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Burton just showed up on set wasted and unable to deliver his lines, forcing the writers to make an excuse for it.
The sad thing is that you can tell that a lot of talented people were involved with this production and they were given a lot of money and resources to work with. There is some genuinely good cinematography and Ennio Morricone composes a few memorable tracks, one of which appeared recently in Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight“. The climax showcases some good effects too. But every time I’d want to praise “Exorcist II“, it would backhand me with something annoying. Regan’s theme might be beautiful, but a lot of the background screams, chants and noises that are part of the score are just grating. The house falling apart at the end might’ve looked good, but the shot of the locusts looked awful. I just… didn’t like it… “Exorcist II” can take some solace in the knowledge that even though it underperformed at the box office, it didn’t lose money and has even gained a few high profile fans over the years — like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese. But I also think it irreparably damaged the brand and is why the subsequent sequels would struggle at the box office. I guess I would concede that it’s an interesting failure, in the same way that “Rasen” and “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows” were interesting failures. But failure is failure.Rating: 3/10
THE EXORCIST III (1990)
(Written and Directed by William Peter Blatty)
(Starring George C. Scott, Ed Flanders, Brad Dourif and Jason Miller)
“Exorcist III” began as a novel called “Legion“, written by William Peter Blatty — who had also written “The Exorcist” (both the book and movie). He was given the opportunity to both pen and direct the feature film adaptation, but found himself in the treacherous labyrinth of… studio politics… Blatty wanted the title to remain as “Legion“, but Morgan Creek (said studio) demanded it be titled “Exorcist III“… and then wondered why a movie called “Exorcist III” lacked an actual exorcism, so forced Blatty to reshoot an ending featuring an exorcist (Nicol Williamson) battling the demon. They also insisted that an actor from the original reprise a role, so much of Brad Dourif’s footage was replaced with Jason Miller, which is kind of silly as I doubt most modern audiences would’ve cared… and they didn’t, as while reviews ranged between lukewarm and polarizing, it was another box office disappointment for the franchise. Yet time would be kind to “Exorcist III“, as its reputation would grow to where it’s often regarded as a ‘flawed masterpiece’.
Or at least better than “Exorcist II“.
The story follows Lt. Kinderman (George C. Scott) and Father Dyer (Ed Flanders), who were minor characters in “The Exorcist”, albeit played by different actors. Kinderman is investigating a series of murders that are hitting a little too close to home for him and gradually begins to realize that the killer might be demonic… and someone from his past… The movie really starts of as a grim and highly disturbing serial killer thriller, but I was taken aback by how funny it was. Kinderman and Dyer have a great chemistry and their banter was so charming that I began to fear for them even before they were in peril — because we all know that the good times would not last. In fact, all of the characters have distinct and eccentric personalities, even minor ones who only get a scene or two. The dialogue is just really damned good, whether it’s being witty or bone chilling. Filmmaking teaches us that we’re supposed to show and not tell, but “Exorcist III” contradicts this rule by simply describing the murders and somehow being that much more horrifying than if it would’ve actually shown them. The cast is phenomenal in general. George C. Scott always excels as a hard-ass, but he has a few heart wrenching scenes that really made me start to tear up. Like I said before, his chemistry with Ed Flanders as Father Dyer is so good that I found myself almost wishing this weren’t a horror movie. Jason Miller is creepy as the Gemini killer who may or may not be Father Karras, but holy f@ck is Brad Dourif terrifying as the Gemini Killer. He alternates between amusing to weird to intense so seamlessly that you never know what he’s going to do next.
“Exorcist III” is nowhere near as intense as the first film, but this is not a criticism as it’s clearly not trying to be — aiming to be more the shiver down your spin or the goosebumps on your skin than the full-on adrenalin rush that “The Exorcist” was. There’s a lot of unsettling gothic imagery and moody lighting, but it was the use of sound that got to me. Whether it was the Gemini Killer’s demonic howls or everything going eerily quiet, the sound design kept me in a constant state of unease. The pacing is deliberate, but only so those jump scares REALLY make you jump and I’d argue that “Exorcist III” has the best jump scare of all time. I agree that “Exorcist III” is a flawed masterpiece, but now I must sadly discuss some of those flaws. The story plays fast and loose with the continuity of the first film, as Kinderman says Father Karras was his best friend even though they barely knew each-other. From what I understand, they were much closer in the original book than they were in the movie, but it’s strange that Blatty chose the book over the movie as the official canon for this sequel. There is this odd dream sequence filled with distracting cameos that felt more like something I would expect from “Exorcist II” than this one, but I’m strangely fond of it… so… I’m not personally averse to it, even if it is arguably a “flaw”. Finally, there is the obvious studio tampering. The climactic exorcism isn’t as terrible as people say it is, but it definitely feels like it belongs in another movie — maybe one of the trashier and more exploitative (but decent) rip-offs of “The Exorcist“? At least Jason Miller’s inclusion was a compelling one. “Exorcist III” definitely shows some of its post production scars, but I still think it’s a strong sequel. There has been talk of a directors cut over the years, but much of the original footage has unfortunately been lost. They have supposedly been able to piece together one using VHS tapes of the daily’s though, so one day I’ll have to check it out.Rating: 7.5/10
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004)
(Directed by Renny Harlin)
(Written by Alexi Hawley, William Wisher and Caleb Carr)
(Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco and James D’Arcy)
Now brace yourself, as this is where things start to get weird, albeit maybe not “Exorcist II” levels of weird. There are… two… fourth entries within this franchise…
In 2002, Morgan Creek productions apparently decided that enough time had passed since “Exorcist III“, so maybe audiences would be interested in a new sequel — or in this case, a prequel. The story would surround Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård), who would investigate an archeological mystery, as a Church has just been found in Africa… and it’s dated nearly 1,000 years before Christianity would even reach the region. After an apparently strong script was penned, John Frankenheimer was hired to direct and he… died… before the movie entered production. They followed him up with Paul Shrader, which was certainly a curious choice. Shrader is one of the most celebrated screenwriters of all time thanks to his highly acclaimed collaborations with Martin Scorsese, but his directorial output is a little underwhelming in comparison. Furthermore, he’s clearly more into psychological thrillers and slow burn drama than conventional genre flicks, much less horror. Much to the surprise of no one except the guys who hired him, Shrader turned in a product that was apparently cerebral and dramatic… pretty much in line with what he usually does… and not the terrifying thrill ride the investors wanted. Shrader was infamously fired and replaced with Renny Harlin… an equally curious choice, albeit for different reasons… who would have to redo the entire movie from f@cking scratch. The script had to be rewritten, even though the story would technically remain the same and an entirely new cast would be assembled, with only Stellan Skarsgård remaining. Harlin was given a budget that was apparently larger than what Shrader had (!!!) and he turned in a product that was… well… pretty much in line with what Renny Harlin usually does… and not the terrifying thrill ride audiences wanted. “Exorcist: The Beginning” was released to dismal reviews and flopped at the box office, although it only lost money in theaters because it literally had the budget of two movies.
The tale of two exorcist 4’s isn’t quite over yet, but first let us discuss Renny Harlin’s “Exorcist: The Beginning“, which was the version released into theaters. I remember skipping this on the big screen for reasons I can’t quite remember, as this was during a time in my life when bad reviews could never scare away from a horror flick. I gave it a shot when it came out on either DVD or VHS though and was pretty underwhelmed. Now that I have revisited it after all these years, I sort of wonder if the critics were being a little too harsh. I mean, yeah — it’s definitely not good, but I would say it’s more mediocre than bad. When I said Renny Harlin was a curious choice, it’s because he primarily specialized in action. Good or bad, his movies usually strived to be fun, as they were fast paced, featured over-the-top performances from capable actors and relied a lot on cool visuals. Even when Harlin would venture into the horror genre, they were usually designed to be more silly than scary and with “Exorcist: The Beginning“, he brought his usual skill set. There are some really cool visuals that take advantage of the exotic setting, the cast turns in delightfully campy performances and the pacing is swift to the point of being rushed. The problem with all of this is… “Exorcist: The Beginning” is not supposed to be ‘cool’ or ‘campy’ or ‘fun’. The story it’s telling is trying REALLY hard to be bleak, but Harlin keeps dispersing the atmosphere with his usual stylistic preferences… which aren’t even as fun as they normally would be because of the story being so bleak. The sad thing is that you can see the potential within said story and there are some genuinely intriguing plot developments, but the hurried pacing never allows them to breath. Some of the more infamous moments, such as those REALLY BAD CGI hyenas, would probably be more digestible in something more light hearted, but completely kill the mood here. Conversely, I sincerely believe that the ‘birthing’ scene would become iconic if it appeared in something that was more tonally in line with the first movie, but is kind of wasted here. The finale completely misfires. I don’t know why they thought a physical fight between Merrin and the demon would be something audiences would take seriously, but admittedly the traditional exorcism has been done to death so many times that there wasn’t much else they could’ve done. “Exorcist: The Beginning” isn’t really that bad though, it’s just hard to enjoy because of its identity crises.Rating: 5/10
DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (2005)
(Directed by Paul Shrader)
(Written by William Wisher and Caleb Carr)
(Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann and Clara Bellar)
Regardless of whether or not the critics were being fair in their treatment of “Exorcist: The Beginning“, there’s no denying that the movie itself was upstaged by its own troubled production. The behind-the-scenes drama had quickly spilled into the public and the reviews seemed to linger on it, so naturally the fandom became curious about Shrader’s original cut. Morgan Creek saw an opportunity to lessen their loss and perhaps even turn out a profit, so they brought back Shrader to complete his own version — titled “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist“. The problem was that he was given very little time and money to cobble together his ‘vision’, resulting in rough editing, a rather basic score, uneven ADR and unfinished visual effects. Even if Shrader once had a potential classic on his hands, we’d never truly be able to experience it as intended… unless we’re supposed to be laughing at the image of a partially rendered cow devouring a digital hyena. I don’t mind that “Dominion” puts the slow in ‘slow burner’, but the methodical pacing is supposed to keep the audience in a state of unease… and every time a scene would rely on a special effect, whatever tension Shrader had built up would immediately deflate. This isn’t Shrader’s fault though. “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” was clearly released as a rough cut, which are usually not intended for public viewing. I’m sure if he had more time and money, he would’ve polished out these blemishes and tightened up the scares with stronger sound design and a more appropriate soundtrack.
But as it is, it’s kind of boring.
I will concede that “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” feels more cohesive than “Exorcist: The Beginning” did. These movies both tell the same story differently and sometimes I favored Shrader’s, while other times I preferred Harlin’s. For example, I thought Shrader’s opening with Merrin’s traumatic World War 2 experience was more effective than Harlin’s version, as the Nazi’s behave more like human beings than the usual caricatures — which makes them far scarier. On the other hand, I thought the maggot infested fetus lost much of its power in this cut. The placement is much earlier, before things really grow dire and less time is spent building up the horrific reveal, so Harlin’s version won that battle. I was surprised at how… lethargic… the performances felt. I suspect that Shrader directed them this way, as the acting certainly reflects his understated direction, but it really added to the… well, my own lethargy… “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” just never seems to come to life, as all of its climactic moments were casualties of the troubled production. I actually think I prefer “Exorcist: The Beginning” simply because it had those climactic moments, but I also agree that “Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist” probably would’ve been the superior film if it had truly been completed.Rating: 4/10
THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)
(Written and Directed by William Peter Blatty)
(Starring Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson and Ed Flanders)
“The Ninth Configuration” isn’t really part of this franchise, but it does have a somewhat strange and fascinating connection to it that I thought I would give a special mention. Col. Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach) is a military psychologist is assigned to a mental institution… that is being run in a castle for some reason… and tries to help the troubled patient in unorthodox ways. This is one of those movies that’s very difficult to categorize because it navigates through so many genres at once that it almost starts to resemble an identity crisis. There are a lot of wacky characters to keep track of and much humor is derived from their antics, but is it a comedy? Not really… but it’s also not NOT a comedy either. It’s hard not to laugh at things like characters trying to teach Shakespeare to… dogs… Yet there is a great sense of tragedy to the laughs, with so many emotional moments that it’s hard not to cry at times. To make things even stranger, director William Peter Blatty showcases a lot of spooky, gothic imagery that definitely feels at home with “The Exorcist“… except it’s often accompanied by funny dialogue, silly sight gags or farcical music. I would normally say that these bi-polar tonal swings would be a flaw, but I thought it worked for the story. I wasn’t sure if I liked Stacy Keach’s somewhat lumbering performance at first, but it gradually becomes apparent that his character is on the verge of his own psychotic breakdown and his delivery starts to make sense… By the end, I was completely invested in Keach’s portrayal as the troubled psychiatrist. “The Ninth Configuration” is a hard movie to recommend because of the aforementioned categorizing issues, but I do think it’s a very good movie. It’s thought provoking and moving, with great performances too.
So what does any of this have to do with “The Exorcist“? Well, besides sharing the same writer and some familiar faces like Jason Miller and Ed Flanders… The inmate whom Col. Kane is most interested in is Captain Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), the astronaut whom Regan claims will die in space at the start of “The Exorcist“. Apparently “The Ninth Configuration” began as a novel called “Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane” and both Blatty and Friedkin planned on adapting it into film, only for the studios to be uninterested. After they struck gold with “The Exorcist“, Blatty re-wrote “Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane“, fleshing it out and adding the connection to “The Exorcist“. It should be noted that the movie removes this almost entirely, as neither Regan or the events of “The Exorcist” are actually referenced here, but apparently it’s explicit in the book. I just found this interesting, especially as from a theological standpoint, “The Ninth Configuration” serves as a satisfactory answer to the themes of “The Exorcist“, with nary a demonic possession or exorcism in sight.
In its own special way, it might even be the purest of the sequels… even though it’s not an actual sequel.Rating: 8/10
“The Exorcist” should’ve probably never had a sequel, as there was very little room for satisfactory exploration within its concept, but do you know what? I’m kind of glad it did. It’s obvious that the people behind this franchise have been painfully aware that they could not just simply rehash the original, so they’ve done what general audiences always demand from their favorite franchises (at least until they get it) — try something different. Say what you will about all of them, none of the sequels are interchangeable with each-other or the rest of the genre. They all have their own distinct personalities, whether they’re bad, good, mediocre, unfinished or not actually part of the franchise. So why weren’t any of them a success? The poor reception of “Exorcist II” most certainly had repercussions for the box office potential of the brand and even the better sequels are pretty divisive. I personally had a lot of fun with this marathon because it was so interesting seeing the experimentation with the sequels, even if it usually did not translate to reliable quality, but tampering with the formula is always a risky undertaking. At the same time, rehashing the story would likely draw attention to its inferiority to the first entry, so it’s unlikely that route would’ve been very lucrative either. Once again, the biggest problem is that “The Exorcist” was just too good, iconic and definitive for the franchise’s own good.
The franchise remained dormant for a decade after the debacle of the fourth entries, until in 2016 there was a TV series that served as a direct sequel to the original movie. It was apparently good, but unfortunately interest must’ve been pretty low, as the poor ratings lead to its cancellation after only two seasons. Now they’re talking about another reboot that will also serve as a direct sequel, helmed by David Gordon Green, who had much success with “Halloween (2018)“. I’m sure it will make money, as Blumhouse is involved, so you know the budget is going to be small in comparison to its predecessors. Maybe that’s exactly what “The Exorcist” needs, the opportunity to return to its modest roots… But I’m skeptical that it will offer anything that we haven’t already seen in the original or its countless rip-offs and isn’t the more popular “The Conjuring” saga filling the same void? I hope it’s good though and if it’s not… well… I’ll settle for fascinatingly terrible or at least a compelling behind-the-scenes story.