With the recent release of The Possession, a new take on the Exorcism sub-genre of horror, the 1973 horror masterpiece The Exorcism comes to mind. While The Exorcist is a horror masterpiece with some genuine scares and spine tingling moments, the film spawned a franchise which lasted from 1973 to 2005 with five films. The franchise has its share of really scary movies and some laughably bad ones.
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the screenplay of the film. The film redefined the whole horror genre by giving it a new sub-genre ‘exorcism horror’, a simple premise about a 12-year-old girl (Regan MacNeil) who is believed to be possessed by the devil. Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is assisted by Jason Miller’s Father Damien Karras to perform an exorcism. It’s then we witnessed some of the most memorable scary scenes of the motion picture history.
Critics lamented on the film’s reliance on psycho-sexual overtones, a greater amount of special effects, lesser character development and a lesser psychological thrill elements which made the original a true classic. Others praised the film for its visual imagery and fast pacing, an element necessary for any horror thriller. Exorcist II didn’t have any “nail biting on the edge of your seat” sequences. It has its moments but they are very few and far between in the film’s 118 minutes.
The Exorcist III(1990) was the third film of the Exorcist series written and directed by William Peter Blatty. The movie, based on Blatty’s novel Legion, was more of a serial killer film with supernatural thriller elements and strong religious undertones. Although this film is better then its predecessor, The Exorcist II, in so many ways; people remained divided in their opinions about a serial killer being possessed instead of a helpless woman which was being the case of earlier films. The film can also be seen as a dark comedy because of its rather cheesy description of the killer and some sequences including one in which a Jesus statue opens its eyes. Exorcist III didn’t work much as a sequel to Exorcist II or as a follow-up to the 1973 film, but it is an effective murder mystery and crime thriller.
The next in the series is Exorcist: The Beginning (2004). Intended as a prequel to the 1973 film, it was directed by Renny Harlin. The film suffered the same fate as Exorcist II and has been lamented by both audience and critics ever since its release. The film gives audiences the back story of the first film’s Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard), his World War II experiences, his journey of self discovery, his redemption in Africa and his first encounter with the demonic Pazuzu. This entry in the Exorcist series is the most painful to watch and hysterical due its heavy emphasis on special effects and a seemingly impersonated scene from ‘The Matrix’. While Exorcist II grossed out viewers, it still made them cringe. Exorcist III made viewers laugh or turn it off halfway through. The reason for this was simple: commercialization which slays creativity and originality. Exorcism: The Beginning will always be regarded more as an idiotic B-rated horror movie which mocks the sensitivity of issues like rape, racism, the Holocaust, child abuse, and imperialism for the sake of cheap scares which aren’t even scary, the result is an utter mess of a film.
The last of the Exorcism series is Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005), another prequel. Dominion is definitely the second best of the franchise after the 1973 original, with scarier and exorcism scenes. It depicts Father Lankester Merrin’s tormented mind mirroring the demons he encountered, portraying him as a more sympatric and disturbed individual.
The Exorcism franchise will remain as one of the most talked about and impactful horror film franchise ever to come out of Hollywood.