For those who don’t know, this is a prequel to the original Exorcist. In the original, Father Merrin (played by Max Von Sydow) mentions that he had performed an exorcism many years ago in Africa. This is that story.
Somewhere in Africa a church is found buried under the desert – except it appears to have been there hundreds of years before Christianity ever reached that area. A wealthy antique dealer hires archaeologist and biblical scholar, ex-Father Merrin (now played by Stellan Skarsgard) to collect any valuable finds. The Vatican sends a priest to investigate whether this is the place where, after the Battle in Heaven, Lucifer fell to Earth.
The production of this film was not without its problems. The main one being a couple of weeks after filming started, director John Frankenheimer died, causing superstitious morons with nothing better to do to go spastic over the Curse of the Exorcist. Anyway, the studio brought in Paul Schrader and he finished (filmed it all?) the film.
He hands it to the studio, they review it, decide there are not enough "devil power special effects" moments (i.e too psychological and not enough gore and CGI effects) and hire Renny Harlin to re-shoot about 90% of it. The blurb on the back of the case says "Acclaimed director Renny Harlin" but I am not sure "acclaimed" is the word I would use to describe Renny Harlin.
Perhaps "Hack director Renny Harlin, the guy who, while married to the stunningly gorgeous Geena Davis, goes and knocks up their maid and keeps the child hidden for the next two years, and who also gave us such cinematic turds as Cutthroat Island, Driven, and Deep Blue Sea" is more correct but I digress……
Okay – Die Hard 2 was alright (still the weakest of the three if you ask me) and Long Kiss Goodnight had its moments – but I still don’t think that warrants "acclaimed"
There are some genuinely spooky moments and some great shocks to be had in Exorcist: The Beginning but the final exorcism/royal rumble almost becomes parody.
Probably the biggest thing I took out of this film was wondering what that other 90% was like. The best thing about this film by miles is Stellan Skarsgard. He pretty much makes it worth a look, and the best moments are when Merrin is at his most introspective and looking back at what made him lose his faith.
It is revealed through a series of flashbacks back to when Merrin was a priest in World War 2. That kinda gives you an idea as to what the incident involves and the fact that leftists will love it but for those who want to know specifically, read on. Those who don’t – skip the next paragraph
A Nazi soldier lies dead on the ground. His commander comes round, calls the Jews out in the street and grabs a little girl by the hand. He tells Father Merrin to pick ten people to die or he will kill them all. Father Merrin starts praying, to which the Nazi says “Are you praying to God? God is not here today, Priest” and then shoots the little girl, grabs another child, and repeats his order to Merrin. Merrin starts pointing out the older people in the group to spare the children.
Now, Merrin is again confronted with evil and it is only his faith that will save lives.
And I guess that is what I found most compelling about this film, and that is what I am hoping the other 90% focussed in on. More on Merrin needing to overcome his own demons to defeat other’s demons, but we’ll have to wait until later this year when Schrader’s version is to be released on dvd as well.