(Warning: Spoilers for The Exorcist pilot, and entire film and novel franchise.)
I’m a big fan of The Exorcist (1973), and The Exorcist III (1990). I’ve read William Peter Blatty’s original Exorcist novel, as well as his sequel novel Legion. I’ve seen every Exorcist movie (for better or for worse, mostly for worse), so I think I’m qualified to write about this pilot. Before we get to the show, let’s have a little history lesson, shall we?
The Exorcist Novel (1971) By William Peter Blatty
Yes, I saw the movie long before reading the novel, but I dug the book. It’s a slow-burn in a way that the movie isn’t. It takes its time, builds the dread, and is an effective, if occasionally dull, horror read.
The Exorcist (1973) — Dir. William Friedkin
What can be said about this flick that hasn’t been said already? It’s classic horror cinema. Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, and Jason Miller all turn in spectacular performances. The dread is palpable, and the imagery is downright horrifying at times. Furthermore, it holds up today as a frightening film that hits us at our base levels. I’m not a religious person, so I can’t even imagine the impact it would have had on a devout Catholic in the '70s.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) – Dir. John Boorman
This is the only entry into the franchise that I can’t speak to, as I had to tap out after perhaps 40 minutes. Linda Blair is back, possessed again. Richard Burton gets involved, as does Louise Fletcher — an odd casting as she looks almost identical to Ellen Burstyn (the mother from the first film). I vaguely remember a scene where Regan is put on some kind of mind-meld machine at the hospital with the doctor, and then he becomes possessed. Or something. Don’t bother with this movie.
Legion (1983) By William Petter Blatty
Blatty was not involved with Exorcist II. The studio owned the franchise and wanted a cash-grab, so they made that crappy sequel without his input. Not to be outdone, and not to see his intellectual property ruined, Blatty decided to write a novel that was a sequel to his original Exorcist book. This novel was Legion. Unlike The Exorcist, Legion is more of a detective story — with extremely grizzly elements — than a horror. I’ve read it. It’s good.
Exorcist III (1990) – Dir. William Peter Blatty
Rather than turn to a Hollywood director to realize Legion as a film, Blatty opted to direct it himself, making Exorcist III. Again, it’s more of a detective story, but the horror elements in this film are really quite terrifying, and, in some ways, I find this movie smarter and scarier than the original flick.
The protagonist of Exorcist III is Detective William Kinderman, who had a small role in The Exorcist, played by Lee J. Cobb. Cobb had passed away by the time Exorcist III was in production, so he was recast with George C. Scott inhabiting the role. Interesting note: Lee J. Cobb was Juror #3 in the original film version of 12 Angry Men, and was recast with George C. Scott in the 1997 remake starring Jack Lemmon.
While Exorcist III is mostly quite brilliant, the ending is pretty lame. The studio wanted a special effects gore-fest, which was not how the novel ended, and they threatened to shelve the picture, unless Blatty acquiesced. He did. The final few minutes are pretty terrible, but the rest of the movie is absolutely worth your time. The dialogue is very smart, and often very funny. For example:
Also, this is one of the most terrifying moments put on film. Spoilers, obviously.
Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) and Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist (2005) — Dir. Renny Harlin And Paul Schraeder, Respectively
It’s a funny story. The production company Morgan Creek hired Paul Schrader to create a prequel to The Exorcist. He did. It was the story of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow in the original, played by Stellan Skarsgard here), and the exorcism of the young African boy in the 1950s that is alluded to in the original film.
Schrader turned in his cut, and the studio hated it. It was more a psychological thriller than the horror blood-fest that the studio wanted. They killed the project, and hired Renny Harlin to rewrite and reshoot the movie (with mostly the same premise, and mostly the same cast).
When Harlin’s version turned out poorly, Morgan Creek released Schrader’s film as well. I hate Harlin, I dig Schrader. Harlin’s version is particularly awful, as it completely messes with canon to create a twist.
We know from The Exorcist that Father Merrin exorcised an African boy in the '50s. In The Beginning, we see a younger Merrin (who has previously lost his faith) meet the boy, and fall in love with the boy’s nurse.
The twist? The boy is just sick, not possessed. It’s the nurse who has the demon within her. Decent twist, I suppose, except that we know it’s not true because the original film tells us straight-up that the possessed person was the African boy. Sadly, Schrader's version (which is basically the same movie) is not much better.
Both movies are terribly similar, and similarly terrible. For the love of Pazazu, don’t bother.
The Exorcist (2016) — Fox
You know, it started out OK. It’s a new story. It's a contemporary piece, set in Chicago, rather than Washington D.C. We meet Angela Rance (Geena Davis, who is apparently still acting — good for her!), mother of the Rance family, her husband Henry (Alan Ruck), who has alzheimer's, dementia, or some other degenerative cognitive disease, their elder daughter Kat (Brianne Howey) who was recently in a car collision, losing her best friend and becoming distant and emo in the aftermath, and their younger daughter Casey (Hannah Kasulka) who is trying to keep the family together.
We also learn about Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), who, 18 months ago, attempted an exorcism on a boy in Mexico city that did not end well, and Father Tomas (Alfonso Herrera), who is the local parish priest in the particular neighborhood of Chicago, catering to the Rance family.
After hearing weird sounds in her house, and suspecting her daughter Kat of being possessed by a demon, Angela approaches Father Tomas about an exorcism. During their conversation, a crow crashes through the window, and dies horribly. Cool idea, but the CGI is so cheap, it becomes laughable.
Tomas believes that demons are simply biblical analogies for things like addiction, but is willing to come by the house. After an awkward dinner, he learns something from Henry Rance (something the man couldn’t possibly have known), and begins an investigation.
Finally, he visits Father Marcus to ask for help in what will likely be an upcoming exorcism. Marcus tells Tomas that these forces are stronger than Tomas can possibly imagine. The episode ends with Tomas visiting the Rance household once again, going into the attic, and having an altercation with a possessed girl. The twist? It’s not Kat, but Casey, the younger sister.
Of course, the episode ends with “Tubular Bells,” the theme from The Exorcist. A creepy piece of music indeed, but it feels so shoehorned in here.
The performances in the show are all solid, with Father Tomas being the standout. The first half of the episode is actually pretty strong, but the latter half becomes really hokey with on-the-nose dialogue, and boring, derivative set-pieces.
I’ll continue watching for now because I’m curious to see where they’ll take it, and, hey, it was just the pilot. I don’t have particularly high hopes for this series.
If you haven't heard of the new Fox series, check out the trailer for The Exorcist below:
Verdict: The Meh-xorcist
Have you seen the first episode of The Exorcist? Are you a fan of the series? Whatever your thoughts, post them down below and let’s discuss. As always, thank you for reading!