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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.35%
Worth A Look: 11.96%
Average: 14.13%
Pretty Bad36.96%
Total Crap: 32.61%

4 reviews, 68 user ratings

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Exorcist: The Beginning
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by Rob Gonsalves

"It made baby Satan cry."
1 stars

Going back to visit Father Merrin, the grim-faced priest played by Max von Sydow in 1973's "The Exorcist," in his younger days must have sounded like a good idea for a prequel. We would get to see the genesis of Merrin's wary familiarity with Pazuzu, the troublesome demon who occupied Linda Blair and made pea-soup sales drop worldwide.

The result as seen in theaters (I'll explain that odd qualification in a minute) is like a slow-moving installment of the Mummy or Tomb Raider series, with the fortyish Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) poking around ancient ruins, stumbling across spooky sculptures, and encountering the most blatantly fake hyenas in the admittedly small history of fake movie hyenas.

Most of the movie feels nothing like an Exorcist film. There was an earlier version of this movie, directed by the brooding Paul Schrader, who delivered a cut reportedly short on action; Warner cast Schrader's entire movie aside and hired Renny Harlin to start from scratch. Harlin can direct fun junk -- I enjoyed The Long Kiss Goodnight and Deep Blue Sea as well as his Nightmare on Elm Street chapter. But Exorcist: The Beginning is simply junk -- ponderous junk. Straining for depth, it gives us a Merrin who has fallen from faith because of what he endured at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Since Merrin here comes off as a bleary-eyed Indiana Jones, his Holocaust flashback scenes play as if Steven Spielberg had gone mad and edited bits of Schindler's List into Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Merrin is hired by a saturnine Frenchman (Ben Cross, apparently having learned nothing from his own bad religious horror film, The Unholy) to explore an old church apparently buried out in the African desert. Weird things are happening around the dig: the aforementioned hyenas, plus diggers who have seizures and a clock whose pendulum stops when Merrin is in the room, just like in the original film. Do we learn anything new about the demon Pazuzu here? Not really; the plot redefines "convoluted," involving a Vatican cover-up (these new religious-schlock movies are nothing without Vatican cover-ups) and a presumably possessed African boy.

I've yet to catch the Schrader version (Dominion) on DVD, but I'd guess it's more thoughtful than the Harlin version and less dependent on cheap scares attended by loud stings on the soundtrack. William Friedkin's original film got some mileage out of cheap shock cuts, too, but he knew how to distribute them sparingly, sprinkling them across an otherwise neutral and naturalistic narrative. Here, the movie is always groaning or rumbling ominously, never establishing any normality that the demon's presence can violate. It's like a feature-length remake of the Iraq prologue in the original, which was a provocative and haunting bit of filmmaking before we even knew what was going on or what connection it had to demonic activity. But, unlike that prologue, this film has no mystery. It turns out, too, that Father Merrin himself is a character best left shadowy. Poor Stellan Skarsgård tries hard to reproduce von Sydow's wheezy gravitas, but he's stuck enacting the script's psychotherapy.

Eventually, this Exorcist gets around to some exorcism -- first in a laughable African ritual which involves leeches (where do they find leeches out there in the desert? At the local tackle shop?), then in an extended action finale in which Merrin faces off against a possessed person with the ability to leap from wall to wall and bend into computer-generated pretzels ("Bring back the fake hyenas," I almost said at this point). If Pazuzu can give a person the power to do all this (not to mention crucifying people upside down and other fun hobbies), how come he couldn't do all that for Linda Blair, who was confined to her bed by a few knotted sheets?

The climax comes off like the end of a particularly lame Buffy season finale, with bodies thrown all around and Merrin literally stopping the demon in its speedy tracks with a well-aimed cross. Lest you think that Merrin is not a man of intellect, he's also armed with a book of exorcist stuff, or, according to the cover, "Roman Rituals, Reserved Blessings, Etc." I adore the "Etc." Exorcism rituals, recipes, baseball stats, etc.

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originally posted: 12/27/06 14:56:01
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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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