March 15, 2005


Paul Schrader: Exorcising his demons: As his prequel to The Exorcist finally premieres in Brussels, Paul Schrader talks to James Drew about an unlikely resurrection (Independent uk, 11 March 2005)

Next week Paul Schrader will introduce an unexpected world premiere at the Brussels International Fest-ival of Fantastic Film: the director's cut of the prequel to The Exorcist. The film was notoriously abandoned by its studio on delivery and virtually re-shot by a new director. But Schrader is adamant that his hiring (and firing) was based more on a head-of-studio's whims than artistic problems with his project.

In late 2003, US studio Morgan Creek was under pressure to replace John Frankenheimer at the helm of the long-waited prequel to The Exorcist. The seriously ill director stepped down a month before his death, so Schrader, who hadn't touched horror since his 1982 remake of Jacques Tourneur's Cat People (1942), was under immediate pressure to get his cut in ahead of time and on budget. He duly delivered - only to have his vision nixed by boss James Robinson. After a re-shoot by Renny Harlin, Exorcist: The Beginning was released to underwhelming critical response but reasonable box-office success in late 2004.

The prequel deals with the earlier encounter of Father Lancaster Merrin (the titular exorcist from William Friedkin's 1973 genre-defining film, played first by Max von Sydow and now by Stellan Skarsgard) with a diabolical entity - a preparatory battleground for the terrors he will face 30 years later.

Schrader explains his decision to sign up: "I was more attracted to the The Exorcist's mythos rather than wanting to duplicate its shocks. I am a big fan of Friedkin's original and its metaphorical purity. That's why my story has an old-fashioned feel - it's set in the 1940s, and I hope it feels like that. It's leisurely - it's not done in the current, hyper- kinetic horror style. It's much more focused on Father Merrin's personal situation."

While Schrader had fun putting the picture together ("I really enjoyed working with Stellan Skarsgard and the rest of the cast"), the story did not have a happy ending. With several explanations doing the rounds, ranging from the studio insisting the film did not have "enough bloody violence" to the old chestnut, "creative differences", Schrader sets the record straight.

"Morgan Creek is one man - it's a one-man operation, it's James Robinson. If he decides something, that's it - everything comes out of his pocket, so I think that somewhere in the shooting, he started to change his mind about having made this film, and he started to feel that he was making the wrong movie."

This turnabout was in spite of the fact that Schrader had been completely open about the kind of film he wanted before and during the production - a departure from the overt body-horror aspects of the first film, but a vision rich in psychological nuance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2005 8:50 PM

Has anyone ever seen anything done in "hyper-kinetic" style that was an artistic success? It's almost as though the only thing directors learn these days is "action" and "cut".

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 16, 2005 7:25 AM

The feeling I get when I watch horror movies these days is that they are all terminally silly. The real horror is in the evening news.

Imagine you are an Iraqi who just left you kids at school and a car bomb blows up the school.

Imagine you are Lankan and the Tsunami hits and while you are trying to save your family, the tide rips them from your arms and carries them out to sea.

Imagine you are a child in school in Beslan . . .

Imagine you went to work at your job in a cubilcle on a high floor of the WTC on 9/11. . .

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 16, 2005 10:17 AM

Randall: The Marx Brothers.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 16, 2005 10:18 AM

Robert: I suppose I meant the insane 1 second cuts the directors and editors use these days, as though they assume we all have attention deficit disorder.

Marx Brothers definitely = art!

Alfred Hitchcock used, I think, an uncut ten minute opening shot in Under Capricorn. Ingrid Bergman hated that.

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 16, 2005 11:07 AM

After 45 minutes we yanked this film from the DVD player after finding it unwatchable. It must have improved from that point or perhaps "a vision rich in psychological nuance" is just not our cup of tea.

Posted by: Pat H at March 16, 2005 11:49 AM


It isn't on DVD yet.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 12:13 PM

reny harlin says it all. there are certain individuals, who if they are involved in a film, immediately disqualify it from viewing consideration. dolph lundgren, steven segal, reny harlin, michael bey, ben affleck (after Dazed and Confused), etc.

Posted by: cjm at March 16, 2005 6:27 PM