Lightning in a bottle comes once in a blue moon, it’s so rare to find a movie that hits the right notes with audiences and critics, and none are more so exemplified than the film. The Exorcist from fifty years ago this year.
So it’s only appropriate to note why each subsequent entry attempted to recapture an element from the original or reinvent what people are familiar with or re-explain the lore to give their own spin on it, all in the name of capitalizing on the blossoming horror market that was soon to become oversaturated, through it’s middlingly received direct sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, it’s critically praised follow-up The Exorcist III, and the lauded origins The Exorcist: Beginnings and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist or the soon to be trilogy spawning Exorcist: Believer.
Unlike most of my contemporaries, this will be my first time going through these movies, and these are blind-as-a-bat reactions, with exceptions to a few iconic visuals I’ve seen spread around (although embarrassingly enough, I can thank Master of Disguise for partly familiarizing me with this). This is a much smaller series than my grand exploration of the Saw movies, but this should still be nonetheless interesting. And now, your feature presentation.
Movie 1: The Exorcist (1973)
Coming off the heels of seeing more modern exorcism-related movies like The Conjuring series and the Russell Crowe-led The Pope’s Exorcist, this was a very unexpected but very welcome change of pace from those. For starters, it’s more of the story of a desperate parent at the end of their rope than a movie about the exorcist himself, if anything, calling the titular character is the culmination of that story.
I also like that there’s genuine doubt and people that actually question the legitimacy of the supernatural and without using big jump-scares or making sceptics into laughing stocks, it feels like a real take on people from our world experiencing something they cannot control much less comprehend. Beyond that, there are just so many striking shots in this, the most iconic of which is Merrin arriving at the MacNeil household, and for good reason, what a beautiful moment.
On top of all that, this movie just has a lot to say about faith, what we understand, and what we don’t, and honestly, I loved it. I can’t name a single bad thing about this, it’s such a simple premise that takes its time to set up so we as the audience can feel unsettled appropriately when things go amuck, similarly, the characters are excellent.
Far and away are the leads who get focus, namely Chris MacNeil and Father Karras, they have almost parallel journeys with the same endpoint; Reagan and the crisis of faith and aimlessness that she fixes in both. It’s a rarity to say yes, the hype is absolutely right, this is a 10/10 in my eyes.
Movie 2: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Truth be told, going into this I had heard all of two things about the sequels, Exorcist II is awful and Exorcist III is underrated. Well, so far at least one of those rings true. I don’t know what compelled the creative team beyond this to deliver a movie so antithetical to what the first one did, for starters, Reagan is possessed in only the vaguest of terms, until the climax where it just gets convoluted as to what’s actually happening with her.
Secondly, almost everything in this movie is about how awesome Father Merrin was when in reality he was only in the first one for maybe twenty minutes, and even then they only use this to over-explain and remove any and all intrigue from the original film by turning Reagan from just some kid to, and I wish I was kidding, some holy next stage in evolution against demons, by being a metaphorical good locust.
There’s also just next to no impressive cinematography, especially for the more abstract concepts explored in this one such as astral projection and psychic connections, if anything this feels like a made for tv movie (nudity notwithstanding) that managed to sing a handful of the actors of the original film.
On the subject of actors, I don’t know what it was, but none of these performers were especially enjoyable to watch, especially Linda Blair, I don’t know why, but it felt like such a departure from the character she was in the original and now she’s just a bland teenager without any of the vibrance or personality of Reagan, the only actor who got the material was James Earl Jones who, honestly I was mildly confused by the story of, first he’s a locust man, then LaMont passes out and he’s suddenly a scientist in a la studying locusts?
Regardless he was a highlight compared to Burton and Blair sleepwalking through the film. Convoluted, lazy, and utterly insane are not any of the words I’d use to describe The Exorcist, but they are however how I’d describe The Heretic at a 2/10.
Movie 3: The Exorcist III (1990)
A very strange entry conceptually but by no means a bad one, in fact, the way things are shaping up this is is far and away the most noble successor to the original film.
In a similar vein as the original, it takes a fair bit to get going so we as the audience can get accustomed to this character and the world in the wake of the exorcism of Reagan McNeil and it becomes a story focused on this grizzled old cynical cop who’s best friend is a priest, as he begins to see the return of a famously executed killer from fifteen years ago, which was conveniently when the exorcism itself took place.
I don’t wanna give anything away, but it’s such a clever twist that only an actor like Brad Dourif could pull off the way he does with such malice and contempt and sly wit. Speaking of actors, only the highest of praise for George C. Scott and Ed Flanders who pull off completely equal and opposite energies but not incompatible, on paper a lot of what they say would sound strange or surreal or just callous, but these actors pour their heart and soul into all of this, everyone is flawed and understandable in their own human ways for better or worse.
Unlike its predecessor, The Heretic, Exorcist III was directly adapted from a sequel book to the book the first film was taken from, the aforementioned writer, William Peter Blatty, became something of a series staple. writing the screenplay for Exorcist, Exorcist III, Dominion, and even directing this entry!
This is sure to go down as one of the best sequels in a genre ripe with them, 8/10.
As a first exposure to yet another new series, this one was a pleasant surprise, dark, brooding, and atmospheric while letting the characters guide the horrors they expose to the audience, excluding Exorcist II, these are solid entries that you can clearly see where countless movies now are inspired from in the best way.
While this was a positive outing, I can’t say I’m especially jazzed about the follow-up where we look at the story of the prequels of this series and the story more interesting than the films themselves.