If, like us, you prefer your horror films with at least a token veneer of intelligence and emotion, you’ll have been rubbing your hands together with glee at the prospect of an ‘Exorcist’ prequel directed by none other than Paul Schrader.
Schrader, a stalwart of outsider cinema since the 1970s and writer of such controversial cinematic landmarks as Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, was not the obvious choice given that his work to date has been exclusively outside the mainstream. It’s fair to say that his work as a director has been inconsistent, with highlights such as Auto-focus and Affliction often exciting the critics but failing to arouse the interest of the popcorn nibbling great unwashed.
So the announcement that he would be behind the camera for one of the mostly hotly anticipated films of the last 30 years, certainly restored our faith in a studio system frequently too scared to take a chance on auteurs like Schrader. Alas, how wrong we were….
After seeing Schrader’s rough-cut, the suits at Morgan Creek threw an elephant sized wobbler. Complaining that there wasn’t a single "jump out of your seat" moment in the entire film and dumbfounded by the cerebral nature of the work, they fired Schrader.
Quite what those imbeciles expected from the repressed Catholic angst lurking in Schrader’s twisted mind we don’t know. You’d have thought they’d have done some research before letting him ‘waste’ millions of their dollars finding out. Hiring Schrader to make a mainstream popcorn shocker for the ‘I Know What You Didn’t Do Last Summer 6’ generation was the cinematic equivalent of giving Peter Sutcliffe a job as a children’s entertainer – fairly wrong.
To salvage the project Morgan Creek hired sanitised journeyman Renny Harlin, a director who at best could be described as competent, and at worst as unimaginative and shamelessly commercial. We can only imagine the pea soup that must have issued forth from ‘Official Exorcist Spokesman’ Mark Kermode’s raging gullet when he heard the news.
Most of the film was re-shot, and the plot re-written, in a desperate attempt at creating two hours' worth of rotating heads and projectile green effluent that would appeal to the Friday night, necking teenagers demographic.
Suffice to say that upon release the film was critically mauled and not even Father Merrin himself could have driven out the demon of box office hell that awaited this tainted turkey.
We don’t want to get on our soapbox here, but what the studio failed to understand is that horror films don’t have to be full of jumps and cheap shocks to be scary. For all its spider walks, games of hide the crucifix and spinning heads, the original Exorcist worked due to a slow–creep sense of psychological dread, coupled with a genuine sympathy for characters you actually care about.
Hopefully, Schrader’s version: Dominion, which finally gets a DVD release on Monday 17th, will be truer to the original vision of Blatty and Friedkin.
The plot follows Lancaster Merrin (played by Stellan Skarsgard) and his first encounter with Pazuzu, the demon he faces in the original film. Having had a limited cinematic release at just a handful of festivals, this is your first real chance to make up your own minds.
Word of mouth has been promising, describing it as a moving and thought provoking reflection on religion and man’s inner struggle with the forces of good and evil. Buying this film poses a similar moral conundrum, however: should we really be helping Morgan Creek claw back the money they wasted by insulting our intelligence and firing Schrader in the first place? We’ll let you decide.
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is released on Monday October 17th priced £15.99.