Exorcist the Beginning/Dominion - Horror-ible Prequels

Category: horror
Available: On DVD
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1973’s The Exorcist should be a film that has great sequel and prequel potential however there has yet to be a worthy follow up to William Friedkin’s classic.

In the past few years there have been two attempts to revisit this territory. First Paul Schrader (American Gigolo) took a stab but his vision was rejected by the studio and after almost completing the film they fired him and the entire cast except for the lead Stellan Skarsgård. Then they brought in Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) to reportedly “make it more scary” and he re-shot the whole thing. They released Harlin’s take as Exorcist the Beginning in 2004 but it bombed with critics and ticket buyers alike.

Now both versions are available on DVD. You would think it would be an interesting exercise to watch the two and compare but the last word you can use to describe either of these films is “interesting.” I could have fallen asleep in either without worry of any nightmares.

Harlin’s film, the one released to cinemas, is a silly mess. While the story laid out by William Wisher Jr. and Caleb Carr is a descent one, the execution of the film is all gloss and no depth. Harlin relies on using extremely gruesome images and plenty of fake outs – loud noises that turn out to be nothing – instead of nursing any real sense of horror.

The devil, or some sort of source of evil, is about the scariest idea that exists yet there is little to be fearful of here. Exorcist the Beginning scrapes the surface of examining the nature of evil by referencing Nazi insanity but then a plight of high school level, post-colonial morality shows the limits of analysis that the film makers are willing to embrace.

This turn is purely for those who like to be grossed out, those who startle easily or those who like to giggle at sexual references but not for anyone who wants to leave the cinema with any real sense of dread.

On the heals of that failure, the studio has finally released Schrader’s film as Dominion a Prequel to the Exorcist. The stories are fairly similar but instead of being gross and dumb, this film is plodding and unengaging. In both films, the young Father Merrin faces true evil in Nazi Germany, turns away from the church and finds his faith again after facing a demon in Africa. Dominion examines the colonial issues with a bit more depth but never manages to get to the scary parts. Also, since this was only ever released on video, the CGI budget was next to nothing making the special effects anything but special.

I won’t get into what I don’t like about II or III, films that tried to capitalize on the success of one of the scariest movies ever. Suffice it to say that neither of these films come close to getting to the heart of what made the original so interesting and so terrifying.

Review By: Collin Smith

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