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Total Crap: 32.61%

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Exorcist: The Beginning
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by Erik Childress

"Raiders of the Lost Captain Howdy"
2 stars

The story behind the filming of Exorcist: The Beginning is the stuff of backstage Hollywood lore like Superman, Supernova and I’ll Do Anything. Paul Schrader, known best for his dire, introspective work with Martin Scorsese was an unusual choice to helm the reviving of this franchise. After delivering a final cut deemed “too cerebral” (precisely the anti-pea soup direction the studio asked for) he was fired and Renny Harlin, known for action-fare like Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea was brought in. Not to just fix or add more modern scare-tactics for easily distracted audiences, but to re-shoot the ENTIRE MOVIE. Reportedly 98% of the current incarnation is Harlin’s interpretation of the material. Saying he succeeded in making it less cerebral might make the studio happy, but audiences are likely to still be bored beyond belief.

Blaming Harlin is hardly fair since he is basically little more than a contractor brought-in to retouch the siding. Schrader’s version certainly couldn’t have been a zippier affair, but it probably was an interesting attempt to bring his 1970s character-driven mentality to explore various themes of evil. In Harlin’s Beginning, nearly two-thirds of the film plods along brushing its themes off its shoulder yet still acting like it has another chapter worth telling. Nothing will lose an audience faster.

This Exorcist goes back to the early days of Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard taking over the reigns of Max Von Sydow) as yet another...wait for it...priest who has lost his faith. We’re reminded of this over and over…and over again thanks to a Truffaut-esque flashback revealing little-by-little why he’s ditched the white collar and the black suit. Instead he’s switched to dusty, drunken white and upon first meeting looks like Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Wait a minute, could this possibly be the Indiana Jones IV we’ve been waiting for?

Merrin is summoned into the desert for an archaelogical dig for a major religious artifact. There’s a Marion-like doctor (Izabella Scorupco), a Sallah character, a medallion that inexplicably keeps popping up, rooms buried in the sand, a monkey, Nazis and the tiki idol that caused Greg to wipe out in Hawaii. Oh, wait a minute.

The Church naturally has its own nefarious reasons for sending Merrin there, but I don’t think we ever discover exactly what they are. There’s an explanation for the buried cathedral, the buried graves and even why all the priests are going mad out there. No altar boys. I jest of course, but it could clarify why there’s such an interest in little Joseph (Remy Sweeney). Word of advice, you better be damn sure your subject is actually possessed before trying to perform an exorcism on him. Othewise, the killer hyenas might just rip your flesh apart. Oh I’m sorry, did I forget to mention them? Must be a part of that "Elephant Noir" advertisement in the bar. No lie, check it out.

That happens when you're concentrating on dialogue like:

Father Francis: "...and then they all disappeared."
Sarah: "Where'd they all go?"

Thankfully Sarah is just a regular doctor and not a brain surgeon. She speaks of the area having nothing left to bleed, an odd statement from someone the recent victim of an impromptu Satanic menstruation.

The film eventually does buckle down to include a blood-soaked uprising and a final mano-a-mano with Pazuzu Petals that lifts our eyelids for a bit, but we’ve been cheap scared into submission by now that’s it’s a hardly worthy interlude. There are loud noises, bed shaking and even the old threat of the hot woman in the shower made classic by Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees and Tawny Kitaen in Witchboard. Or Crystal Heart; either one she busts naked through a glass door and makes for fine viewing.

Harlin does initiate some clever use of the subliminal demon face; so subliminal that I think I was the only one who noticed. Sad that such basic optical effects are the best in the film. Just look quickly as Merrin observes a mirror and negotiating the cave during the finale; all part of that eye symbolism he’s so desperate to sell on us. Eyes are slashed out left and right, yet no one had the foresight to realize this was a doomed idea to begin with. Do yourself a favor and wait for Saw this October.

From a purely bookmaking standpoint, Exorcist: The Beginning should never have been made in the first place. Religious-themed horror hasn’t had a significant success since The Omen in 1976 and I’m not counting Seven. The re-release of the original Exorcist outgrossed both of its sequels. Do you honestly remember or have any desire to revisit any of the following titles: The Body, End of Days, Lost Souls, Stigmata, The Order, The Rapture, The Seventh Sign or The Prophecy Trilogy? Even in a hyped-up summer slot, an Exorcist sequel’s ceiling is probably $50 million. Re-shoots are costly. Re-shooting an entire movie will more than double your original cost. Before Talia Shire could shout “YOU CAN’T WIN!” somebody’s job should have been left on the cutting room floor other than Schrader’s. If WB wants to recoup, do us all a favor (or at least the curiosity) of releasing both versions on a special two-disc DVD edition. At least then we can make up our own minds or be twice as bored.

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originally posted: 08/21/04 02:31:30
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell some good shocks thats it 2 stars
1/16/14 Dan Dimos Wow it's 2014, ten years after the release of the worst movie of all time. 1 stars
10/31/08 tiffany pettey creepy just like the amytville horror 4 stars
8/05/08 Bnorm I was excited to see this but damn did that end quickly 1 stars
5/22/07 action movie fan only the first excorcist was scary and effective=this is a bore 2 stars
5/02/07 Tracey Chambers It wasnt bad. Cant beat the original though 4 stars
3/09/07 Sugarfoot Not even if Harlin had George C. Scott, could this have been anything but terrible. 1 stars
2/03/07 Vip Ebriega Weird. But you'll be entertained. Much better than Dominion. 3 stars
12/29/06 David Pollastrini needs more gore! 3 stars
12/14/06 D. Kickham Awful!! Can't believe I paid to watch it. 2 stars
7/12/06 David Cohen Better than Exorcist II, but still bad 2 stars
5/25/06 Paulette Gross Just because it says it is an "Exorcist" movie, does not mean it is true. This SUCKS! 1 stars
3/02/06 SHeila D. Sablas Average 3 stars
12/12/05 millersxing Producers of "When Hyenas Attack" end this beleaguered movie franchise at "the beginning". 1 stars
12/03/05 cody a freaky and gory prequel to exorcist series, good plot, good acting,but way over the top 4 stars
11/20/05 Bestit Complete garbage, check out Shrader's DOMINION instead. 1 stars
11/12/05 ShadowFace5 contrived and sloooooow. decent ending 2 stars
6/02/05 malcolm mildly surprising. how do moviemakers keep thinking they can improve on such a classic? 3 stars
5/07/05 Amy Riggsby Slow at the beginning, but an okay movie towards the end. 3 stars
5/01/05 Paul Shawver if you like fantasy and horror it was entertaining 3 stars
4/26/05 E-FUNK Renny Harlin's masterpiece of shit. Makes part 2 look like Casablanca. 1 stars
4/22/05 Pippin007 Not scary!! Save your money on buying this. 1 stars
4/13/05 Indrid Cold I had no expectations going in, so maybe that's why it seemed OK. 3 stars
3/25/05 David Fowler "The Exorcist" is brilliant, "Exorcist 3" is great. Blatty wrote both, anybody get a clue? 2 stars
3/23/05 Naka Go fuck yourself, everyone involved in this. Go fuck yourselves. 1 stars
3/11/05 The Grinch One of the worst fucking movies ever made...I felt sorry for the actors..Schrader redeemed 1 stars
3/06/05 Kyle One of the worst horror movies of all time. Just abysmal. 1 stars
3/05/05 tatum Almost as bad as "Exorcist II: The Heretic" 1 stars
3/02/05 ELI awful. just awful. acting was awful, so was script + directing. worst film of the year. >:( 1 stars
2/22/05 ROY L. CAIN Tries to out do the original, but still delivers . 4 stars
10/29/04 The Dude i would've had more fun dousing my 13 bucks with petrol & setting it on fire! 1 stars
10/24/04 Ronny Disappointing, Hilarious at some points. A potencial good story crashed into pieces... 2 stars
10/22/04 Heather Purplethorne damien, Are you damien as in OMEN, or as in MEAN GIRLS? 3 stars
10/22/04 Regina George didn't really survive the school bus accident Yes, Exotic setting intrigues, but still there are only so many variations on demon-busting 3 stars
10/07/04 elepante_boi pretty good but i hate the last part... 4 stars
10/04/04 Matt Saikaly An incoherent, predictable, and sappy piece of "horror." 2 stars
10/03/04 P-Money the hyennas looked like pokemons 2 stars
9/26/04 djacosta Good 5 stars
9/26/04 damien good 5 stars
9/12/04 Mike jarboe A vile, disgusting, pointless, non-scary waste of time. 1 stars
9/04/04 jeff CRAP 1 stars
9/02/04 kk holy crap this sucks 1 stars
8/31/04 Janet Sullivan The devil is not here today, would be more accurate a line in this film. 1 stars
8/31/04 Trish I loved it! Decide for yourself 5 stars
8/27/04 Wayneee CRAP!!! I love horror movies, but freaking HATE this. 1 stars
8/26/04 Naka Poor Paul Schradder, he's the only one who knew what the hell he was doing... 1 stars
8/26/04 raul valdez omg it sucked i hope they show Paul Shcarders version 1 stars
8/25/04 Webdude To say this movie sucks would be an insult to vacuums everywhere. REFUND!!!! 1 stars
8/25/04 Roy Again The scariest movie ever! I thought I was going to go deaf! 2 stars
8/25/04 TJ what a ripoff 1 stars
8/24/04 lewis see it for yourself before you let others decide for you 4 stars
8/24/04 Rav Dhaliwal It was worth the ticket price and time 4 stars
8/24/04 Horror Fan DMR The first third was ok - the rest was awful 2 stars
8/24/04 Brad For the first hour I thought I was watching Indiana Jones! 2 stars
8/23/04 Loren Rosson Nothing like the original classic, but infinitely better than Exorcist II: The Heretic 3 stars
8/23/04 Dai I think it couldve been way way way better, same old unfearful situations.No Fans were made 2 stars
8/23/04 Steve Ludwig boring, predictable, ultimately disappointing 2 stars
8/23/04 Michael Meade On Christmas Eve 1973, the world of cinema horror was forever catapulted to new and disturb 2 stars
8/22/04 Willie G. Better than expected (In a cheap, ripoff summer-fun-movie kind of way). 4 stars
8/22/04 Peregate 10% jump scares, 10% gross, 80% dull as heck 2 stars
8/21/04 m. willie aames opening: 5 stars, middle: 4 stars, ending: 2 stars...... 3 stars
8/21/04 Allan Arbour not as bad as I thought, not enough demon scenes, but not bad 4 stars
8/21/04 TheBoompsy Really gross! If you're looking for original, look elsewhere. A modern vers of the original 4 stars
8/21/04 William Nellis Scary and done well, EXCEPT for horrible cgi 4 stars
8/21/04 Dan the Damned too many cheap scares does not a horror movie make. one was Merrin losing his footing!?! 3 stars
8/21/04 SlapAss first 1 was good, second sucked, third was ok, this one falls between 2 and 3, i slap ass 3 stars
8/21/04 McGraw Stick to the first one. Lame, uninspired summer nonsense. 1 stars
8/21/04 Mix Master Mason The best horror film since THE RING. Nothing like the original but still very good. 5 stars
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