I’m a complete sucker for franchise marathons. Revisiting a complete collection box set is such a thrill when companies like Scream Factory release their limited editions. While I’ve seen lots of movies, there are plenty of missing gaps in my cinema education. While I have seen THE EXORCIST a few times, I realized I have never seen the second film and DOMINION. With the arrival of THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER, now in theaters, I felt there was no better time to get into it and see how the franchise films stack up against one another.
THE EXORCIST is without a doubt a cinematic masterpiece. It’s never scared me or kept me up at night, but there’s no doubt it’s a well-made movie. Ellen Burstyn is the showstopper here in an emotional performance that rightfully earned an Oscar nomination. Linda Blair’s possession makeup remains iconic and a staple in pop culture. The drama between mother and daughter, fighting for her innocence and soul is riveting to watch.
Growing up in a semi-religious family, my father did not allow me to watch this due to the demonic themes. For him, watching movies like this meant I was inviting evil entities into my life, but I never believed that. Such was the power the film continues to have, though, on everyday people today. It deserves its reputation and continues to inspire several possession movies that take plenty from it.
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC
EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC was a first-time viewing and I was genuinely excited about it. A new movie for me that held a reputation as one of the worst movies ever made. An hour into THE HERETIC I started to regret committing to watching the franchise. It carries over Linda Blair who is now in a hospital and experimenting with synchronizing brainwaves with others. This movie is beyond a mess. There are multiple storylines running with minor links to each other, stretching the run time to two very long hours. It legit feels like there were multiple scripts in the works and they just scrapped pieces of each other and called it EXORCIST II. I can enjoy a bad movie, but this was just awful.
This really could have leaned more into campier it’s-so-bad-it’s-good territory if it removed the subplot of Kokumo. He is a previously possessed boy who developed powers during an exorcism. It’s these powers that helped him fight off Pazuzu. The film uses these flashbacks to (not really) explain Regan’s ability to save the day. These flashbacks slow the movie down, making a silly movie that much harder to sit through. Let’s get through the psychic craziness and show some out there possessions. Unfortunately, EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC takes itself too seriously to have any fun.
THE EXORCIST III
THE EXORCIST III is a highlight for many, though I think it’s mainly due to a certain iconic jump scare. There’s a series of murders happening and an investigator links them to an already dead serial killer. Our lead is the same lieutenant from the original film, creating more of a spinoff-type scenario that fans will eat up. The first half is dialogue heavy and, honestly, I didn’t find all the exposition very interesting. Not that I’m always hungry for action, but these characters don’t do anything for me. There are a lot of tortured histories here and that concept gets stale quickly when you had two movies prior that did the same thing.
Now the second half has some really memorable scenes, including the now iconic jump scare featuring a shear-wielding nun. Another moment features an elderly resident crawling on the ceiling at a spider-like pace. These are the kind of creepy special effects that stay with you after the credits. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it helps make up for its predecessor.
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING has probably the messiest production history in the franchise. Paul Schrader already directed and completed his version of the script, but the powers that be felt it was not commercial enough. Renny Harlin took over to add action and gore, eventually creating almost an entirely different movie in the end, which culminated in THE BEGINNING. I’m probably going to be crucified for this, but it’s not awful.
The special effects are dated, with cartoonish-looking CGI dogs that are supposed to look menacing, and there’s not much passion behind the lens as it feels more like checkmarks are being crossed. We have animals gone mad, random gore gags, and a random possession sequence. But it’s not a boring movie as it meets its quota in terms of violence and obscenity. It trims back any exposition that slowed down previous films and delivers the constant rise in blood pressure we seek in popcorn horror.
DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST
DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST will remain as one of the dumbest titles ever approved. This is Paul Schrader’s original cut of THE BEGINNING which was scrapped. This plays out more as a psychological drama about a tormented priest than an actual horror movie. I can see the skepticism from the studio as it’s not a very mainstream-friendly movie due to the lack of scares and violence. It’s not terrible by any means as it delves into the trauma that THE BEGINNING only hinted at as we witness Father Merrin’s experiences with death, both supernatural and not.
I’m surprised this ever made it to theaters considering THE BEGINNING wasn’t exactly a blockbuster hit nor was it a winner with critics. Still, it works more as a curiosity for those who want to witness a first draft that got filmed and later scrapped together with new footage.
THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER
After watching THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER, my suspicions were confirmed as Ellen Burstyn’s much-publicized return serves as a bloated cameo. Two girls are now possessed and turns out Burstyn is now an expert due to the events of the first film. She shows up, explains she can help, turns out she can’t, then leaves. The rest of the film goes back to focus on the girls and their families to traditional possession fare.
While the first 45 minutes take its time in letting us get to know one of the families, it quickly escalates and turns the focus to quick cuts of gore and demonic makeup. The movie ends on a sour note, without leaving us with anything to take from it as the body count belonged to characters we never got to know.
If you ever want to revisit an entire franchise for fun, then skip THE EXORCIST franchise and its sequels. The continuity is non-existent nor relevant in the grander scheme of things since each film wants to be in its own world. If you stick with the original film, you will be all the better just sticking with that and wondering what could have been and hoping for better, greener sequels with substance.
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