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EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING - 2004
Ratings: Australia: R / Finland: K-18 / France: -16 / Germany: 18
/ Hong Kong: III / Ireland: 18 / Netherlands: 18 / Norway: 18 /
Sweden: 15 / UK: 18 / USA: R
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING starts out with a priest (Matti Ristinen) in the African desert. He walks among the bodies of the
dead, some fresh, some in advance stages of decay. Ravens - carrion birds
- fly around and eat the dead. The priest suffers injuries and is horrified
at the carnage. He spies an odd carved trinket and picks it off of a dead
soldier. There is a flapping of wings and as he turns toward the sound,
all behind him are the soldiers - no longer laying about on the ground,
but all crucified, their bodies and crosses upside down in the sand.
Now we cut ahead to 1949 and Cairo, Egypt. A filthy white man in disarray drinks
and tolerates the dishonest badgering of a peasant boy. A well dressed
man named Semelier (Ben Cross: THE UNHOLY, DARK SHADOWS [TV-1990], HELLFIRE [TV]) comes up and says,
"What is your pleasure, sir?"
He snearfully addresses him as "Father Merrin." (Stellan
Skarsgård: DEEP BLUE SEA)
"I'm not a Father anymore," he tells his visitor. Semelier has a proposition
for him all the same. Deep in the Nairobi desert, archeologists have uncovered
a 1,500 year old Catholic Church in seemingly perfect condition. Merrin
tells his visitor that's impossible as there were no Catholic churches
that deep into Africa 1,500 years ago.
"Nevertheless," Semelier says. "It exists."
He gives Merrin a stuffed envelope, payment for retrieving a specific artifact:
An ancient gold inlaid puzzle box.
THE EXORCIST FANSITE
IN 30 SECONDS
(re-enacted by bunnies)
William Friedkin has gone on record as saying that all the creepy things
reported to have happened on the set of THE EXORCIST are publicity
EXORCIST IV is another animal though.
John Frankenheimer, who was originally slated to direct, died before
filming could begin.
Liam Neeson, who was supposed to play Father
Merrin, bailed out soon after Frankenheimer's death.
Paul Schrader directed the entire movie, based on a story and screenplay
by William Wisher (THE TERMINATOR, THE TERMINATOR 2, THE 13th WARRIOR), only to have the finished product canned by the
suits at Morgan Creek.
They fired Paul, hired Renny Harlan to direct
an entire new movie based on an entire new story and wound up spending
an extra $50 million to do so.
One of the new writers, Caleb Carr (THE WARLORDS: BATTLE FOR THE GALAXY), who has no movie credits to
be proud of, went on record to trash Schrader and his successful
career and turn up his nose at William Wisher's script.
Renny Harlan got his leg crushed in a car accident while filming EXORCIST IV.
I mean, it is a statuette.
The next thing we know, Indiana - I mean - Merrin is cleaned up, shaved and well
dressed, waiting outside the British Embassy. He watches a platoon of
sharp dressed British soldiers smartly march past and he has disturbing
visions of Nazis. His vision is interrupted by a page who tells him that
Major Granville (Julian Wadham) is ready
to see him. Once inside the Major's office, Merrin is disheveled and bears
a day's growth of beard. Was the episode outside a part of Merrin's illusion?
Impossible to say. Merrin, however, is not going alone on his journey,
but must take a young Catholic Priest, Father Francis (James
D'Arcy: THE CANTERVILLE GHOST [TV], CASE OF EVIL [TV]), with him.
The Priest is on orders from Rome. The major is fulfilling a favored request,
and the Brits want to get along with Rome.
Merrin arrives at the Nairobi campsite to find that the head archeologist, Bession, was
the only person to have entered the church. Once inside, Bession went
bananas and was shipped away to KooKoo hospital. The local tribesmen
won't enter the church, though they will uncover it. Why they won't enter
is because of a belief. They believe its evil. You see, this is not the
first time the church has been discovered in recent times. The Catholics
in Rome discovered it 50 years ago.
Merrin: "How many died?" Merrin says as he views a vast array of old graves.
Chuma: "All of them."
Something about the graveyard bugs Merrin but he can't quite put his finger on it.
At the camp, Merrin meets up with the odorous and offensive Jefferies (Alan
Ford: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, VENOM) and the lovely Doctor
Sarah (Izabella Scorupco: GOLDENEYE, REIGN
OF FIRE). It is here that Father Francis tells the excavation
crew that Merrin is a priest of the Catholic church, though not a self-defrocked
one. This brings the newly converted Christian tribesmen out of the wood-work
like Emekwi (Eddie Osei) and his two sons.
Merrin, along with his tribal assistant, Chuma (Andre French:
THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, DOCTOR SLEEP), eventually descends into the
buried church. Father Francis follows close behind, and Merry Mishaps
This movie has many plusses that are worth mentioning. First off, Caleb Carr and
Alexi Hawley take a chess player's attitude toward their story in that
all the characters are arranged before the tale gets underway. With sparse
dialog and good acting, we come to know all the characters and their expected
Because this is directed by Renny Harlan (A
NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, DEEP
BLUE SEA), we know we'll get over the top, heavy
handed action. The script often calls for subtle creeps and chills, but
that's lost on Renny. As Harlan has shown in every movie he has ever directed,
he's blind to nuance or light touch. Renny only knows one way to tell
a tale from beginning to end and that's beating it with a sledge hammer.
If he should ever be asked to "choose your weapon" at a sword
fight, Renny will choose the dump truck.
That's not to say he doesn't try. Renny uses the time honored, well worn "homage"
of doors that open and close by themselves; windows that are blown open
by the wind; curtains in the wind (stumped on how
to make a scary movie? The answer my friend, is curtains in the wind),
and for that HELLRAISER spooky effect, an intravenous feed that backs
up with billows of blood curling into the watery solution (why demons like to play with their food is beyond me). In fact, between
an out of place spooky graveyard, and crosses that prefer to be upside
down, Renny used just about every Horror movie trope except for the unexpected
screeching cat jumping about: Though he accomplished the same effect
with an unexpected screeching black bird.
On Renny's good side, he allowed the actors to develop their characters quickly,
yet without feeling rushed. The movie never drags. It gets directly to
the point. There are many points because the mystery of a Catholic Church
in the middle of nowhere is answered by many more questions, each mystery
having its own answer which will inevitably lead to a satisfying whole.
That's right, satisfying. The film is enjoyable, yet I find that no one really has anything
to talk about after its over. Curiously, it leaves you with a junk-food
feel. It was good while you ate it, but afterwards you wish you hadn't.
Then again, its a Morgan Creek Horror movie so what can you expect? They've never
presented anything in the Horror Thriller genre except hammy and hyperbolic
films. Witness their library of BATTLEFIELD
EARTH, EXORCIST III, FREEJACK, GET CARTER
, SOLDIER, and blech-cetera! They hired
Renny because they knew there was no way in hell they could ever nurture
a classic along the lines of the original THE
EXORCIST, let alone recognize one when they saw it. So they played
to their strong suit. They simply hired Renny to "make it gory".
I know, gory isn't scary, but you gotta respect folks who take their mediocrity
into account when doing business. Renny delivered said gore and, truth
be told, the audience loved it. They shrieked, they jumped, they laughed
at themselves (nervously) over how frightened they got. When I saw Cut Throat Island and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, audience
members derisively tossed their drinks and popcorn at the screen, the
movies were so bad. I never thought I'd see a Renny Harlan film where
the audience would actually applaud at the end, and with EXORCIST:
THE BEGINNING, they did just that: damn rare thing!
EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING is no THE EXORCIST - not even close - but it is a damnable sight better than THE EXORCIST
II and III and I give it 3 Shriek Girls.
copyright 2004 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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