In cults circles (especially among fans of Italian horror cinema in general and director Mario Bava in particular), THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM is probably the most (in)famous alternate film version in existence – a complete do-over of Bava’s excellent and ethereal LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973) with added scenes of (you guessed it!), exorcism and all that entails: bile, vomit, and profanity. What may make HOUSE OF EXORCISM unique among alternate versions is that (as its producer Alfredo Leone is fond of pointing out) it actually has a separate copyright date, distinguishing HOUSE OF EXORCISM as a separate film unto itself. The irony here is that, if HOUSE OR EXORCISM holds any interest at all (a position seriously open to debate), that interest lies not on the merits of the film itself but on its relationship to LISA AND THE DEVIL.
The original is an atmospheric, ambitious work, filled with suggestion and ambiguity about a tourist named Lisa (Elke Sommer) who loses her way and ends up in a chateau with a strange family, who seem to recognize her as someone named Helena. Is she a reincarnation of a dead woman, or are these the ghosts of the past? Is Leandro (Telly Savalas) simply a butler, or is he an incarnation of the Devil, tormenting Lisa by making her relive events of her previous life over and over? In the manner of many such movies, which combine artistic aspirations with genre obligations, it’s not a fully satisfying experience in a conventional sense, and it’s sometime hard to determine whether the questions lingering over the narrative are a part of an intricate puzzle box or simply a matter of sloppy screenwriting. Fortunately, the film bravura visual qualities pull you into its weird world, so that any puzzling plot developments become part of the dreamlike experience.
Apparently this was too much for U.S. distributors, who passed on LISA AND THE DEVIL after it was completed in 1973. Hoping to get some return on his investment, Leone went back and shot more footage (apparently directing the additions himself) featuring Sommer and Robert Alda as a priest. The result was THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM, which was released in Italy in 1975 and in the U.S. in 1976 – a film that mimics THE EXORCIST (1973) only close enough to remind viewers how inferior the ripoff is.
HOUSE OF EXORCISM begins with a much more bombastic opening music cue, beneath a completely revised opening credits sequence, with graphics emphasizing crosses against garish red backgrounds. After that, there is some attempt to simulate the visual style of the original, and the new footage blends relatively seamlessly at first (though sharp-eyed viewers will note that Leandro is shot only from behind to disguise the absence of Savalas). In the added scenes, instead of simply losing her way and hitching a ride that takes her to the chateau, Lisa suffers some kind of fit; taken to a hospital, she exhibits signs of possession, so Father Michael (Alda) performs an exorcism, which more or less lasts the rest of the film, with footage from LISA AND THE DEVIL intercut like flashbacks or dreams.
The possession scenes pilfer THE EXORCIST’s bag of tricks, adding little new and nothing worthwhile. There is some stunt work with a contortionist that’s halfway creepy and some belabored attempts to use adult nudity and innuendo show the evil spirit tormenting the priest with his guilty feelings over an affair from before he took to the cloth; a particularly risible moment occurs when Father Michael’s dead girl friend materializes to seduce him – in a room whose walls are covered in puke (it doesn’t help that the hospital set, where the exorcism takes place, looks more like a toolshed). Like almost every other film that followed in the wake of director William Friedkin’s version of William Peter Blatty’s best-seller, HOUSE OF EXORCISM eschews any attempt at grappling with its subject matter in a realistic way, instead simply serving up a bunch of recycled cliches like so many obligatory genre elements: Lisa contorts, pukes, and levitates on cue because that’s what happens in a film with “exorcism” in the title – but it’s all gratuitous mayhem, with no thematic underpinnings.
There are a few transitional bits to visually justify cross-cutting between the two narrative threads (i.e., as Lisa wanders lost in a scene from the original, the camera zooms in on a broken pocket watch, before cutting to a closeup of someone looking at his wrist watch in the hospital to which Lisa has been taken in the new footage). However, the logical connection between the two threads remains elusive. In one early addition, a repairman, working on a mannequin for Leandro, notes that Lisa looks exactly like Helena, suggesting that Leandro plans to “use” her tonight, instead of Helena – presumably in the drama about to unfold at the chateau. Later in the hospital, the possessed Lisa declares to no one in particular, “You won’t use me in your games tonight!” The implication seems to be that the scenes in the chateau represent events that the spirit of Helena is somehow avoiding by possessing the body of Lisa. Or something like that…
What is mildly interesting is that the film eventually feels some obligation to spell out, however incoherently, what is happening. In between hurling profanity and invective at Father Michael (“Don’t break my balls, priest!”), Helena, speaking through Lisa, offers a sort of running commentary on the events in the chateau, spelling out not only what is happening but also why. In a sense, she becomes the Greek Chorus, explaining the story to the audience.
The completely unexpected result of this is that HOUSE OR EXORCISM emerges feeling less like a ripoff of THE EXORCIST and more like DAUGHTER OF HORROR, the re-release version of DEMENTIA (1955), which added narration to clarify a nightmarish scenario that was originally intended to perplex audiences with its dreamlike surrealism. Is this enough to make HOUSE OF EXORCISM interesting, even if not worthwhile? Not really. The explanation proffered by HOUSE OF EXORCISM makes little sense. Unlike DAUGHTER OF HORROR, whose narration may actually have enhanced the movie, providing answers that did not feel tiresome or trite, HOUSE OF EXORCISM does not emerge as an intriguing alternate version; its exposition simply reminds us that we would have been better off watching LISA AND THE DEVIL and figuring things out for ourselves.
In HOUSE OF EXORCISM, Helena is speaking in the past tense about things she has experienced, but she also insists that these events at the chateau are taking place again tonight, though it is not completely clear how that could be possible without her participation. Are we to assume that Helena and Lisa’s spirit have traded places and that Lisa is now in Helena’s place, trapped in some kind of limbo where the events of the past repeat endlessly? If so, the explanation is unsatisfying – why should Lisa suffer for Helena’s sins? As elusive as the original film was, the implication ultimately was that Lisa and Helena were the same, and the events in the chateau represented her past – perhaps another lifetime – catching up with her.
With this element obliterated, the ending pushes Lisa aside to focus on Father Michael as he travels to the chateau to exorcise the house itself. Why? No particular reason, except perhaps that placing this new character in the setting from the old footage would forge a slightly stronger link between the film’s two narrative threads. This leads to a relatively uneventful climax in which the priest wanders around the building, assaulted by wind and threatened by snakes, while shouting to cast out the devil.An abruptly edited flash of lightening seems to show him going up in a puff of smoke, but by that time viewers are past caring.
HOUSE OF EXORCISM is, top put it bluntly, an abomination. Back in 1975, when there was no other way for U.S. viewers to see LISA AND THE DEVIL in any form, there may have been some justification for the existence of HOUSE OF EXORCISM; now, however, the film is nothing more than a historical footnote, a curiosity for Bava fans who want to see the their idol’s masterpiece bastardized into one in a long line of EXORCIST ripoffs. As understandable as producer Leone’s intentions were (was it better to leave the film unseen in a vault or get it on the screen in some form?), HOUSE OF EXORCISM takes Bava’s intriguing original and spoils it with crude vulgarity. If you really want to see a marriage of LISA AND THE DEVIL and THE EXORCIST, rent both of them and watch them back to back.
THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975). Produced by Alfredo Leone. Directed by Mario Bava and Alfredo Leone (as Mickey Lion). Written by Mario Bava, Alberto Cittini, Alfred Leone, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migliorini, Roberto natale, Francesca Rusishka. Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Gabriele Tinit, Kathy Leone, Eduardo Fajardo, Carmen Silva, Franz Von Treuberg, Espartaco Santoni, Alida Valli, Robert Alda. Rated R. 92 minutes.
Demons are trying to break on through into our world – and they enjoy The Doors! Listen in as Cinefantastique podcasters Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski explore the horrors of DELIVER US FROM EVIL, an interesting amalgam of THE EXORCIST and SEVEN, from the team behind THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. Eric Bana stars as a cop pursuing criminals whose evil deeds may be inspired by hellish forces, in a tale loosely inspired by the real-life account, Beware the Night, by former officer Ralph Sarchie.
Volume 5, Number 3 of the Cinefantastique Black Hole Ultra-Lounge Podcast brings you the latest news and reviews of what’s happening in the world of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. The intrepid CFQ podcasting team analyzes the 2014 nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including GRAVITY and HER; and eulogizes late actor Russell Johnson, most widely known for playing the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, who also featured prominently in several science fiction films. Steve Biodrowski exorcises THE DEVIL’S DUE, a new “found footage” horror film featuring a demonic pregnancy. Lawrence French lionizes FIRST MEN IN THE MOON with a 50th anniversary appreciation of the 1964 science fiction film, based on the novel by H.G. Wells and featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.
Also on the menu are this week’s home video releases for Tuesday, January 21, and a look back at the 2012 Blu-ray release of GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE.
Sitting down to write a review of THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, I find myself somewhat in the position of the modern satirist, who finds the real world has become so ridiculous that there is little room to push the envelope even further for comic effect, rendering the concept of satire almost redundant. In my case, reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART II is virtually redundant because you, dear reader, have already viewed it. Oh, you may not have paid for a ticket yet, but believe me, you have seen it all – in other, earlier – though not necessarily better – movies. But then, this is hardly surprising. After all, if the previous film offered the last exorcism – the end of the line, done, finished, all over and used up – then we have only ourselves to blame for expecting anything new in PART II.
What is mildly interesting is that what we have seen before is not necessarily from THE LAST EXORCISM. In fact, PART II makes a laudable attempt to distance itself from its predecessor, using the previous film’s plot only as a back story and abandoning the pseudo-documentary stylings in favor of a more conventional approach that focuses on the soul survivor of the confusing conflagration that consumed the characters at the conclusion of Part 1.
This time out, Nell (Ashley Bell) is the central character, attempting to recover from her traumatic past while evading evil forces that may be pursuing her or may exist only in her mind. (One guess: which turns out to be correct?) Bell provides an award-worthy performance as a lost and fragile soul, struggling to come to grips with unpleasant memories and to find a place for herself in a modern world that makes her feel like a stranger in a strange land (after years couped up in the creepy cabin of the first film).
The inevitable problem with this scenario is that generic demands trump satisfying drama. No matter how much the opening scenes engage our sympathy, it is all for naught – simply a set up for the sturm and drang to come, during which THE LAST EXORCISM PART II jettisons everything that worked in order to parade a few well-worn shocks across the screen like has-beens on a decrepit vaudeville stage, before proceeding to the sadly predictable finale.
I say “predictable,” because (as I indicated above) you have seen it before, along with almost everything else in the film – and almost all within the past couple months. Seriously, if you have watched more than a few horror movies this year, you have seen THE LAST EXORCISM PART II, almost from beginning to end. Don’t believe me? Well, read on…
WARNING: Major spoilers abound.
- We start with a reasonably well-staged set-piece of a couple alarmed by an unexpected intrusion, which turns out to be a feral-looking child, hunched on all fours atop a shelf (MAMA).
- The child – well, young woman – turns out to be orphaned, or at least abandoned, with a supernatural force pursuing her and protecting her (also MAMA).
- There is a spooky cult, seen at the end of the previous film, that wants to drag her back into the fold (essentially PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 – which was last year, but still…).
- We know our girl is being targeted by evil forces because she levitates above her bed (also PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4).
- Also, a flock of birds go kamikaze on the windows of a building she is in (apparently having flapped over from DARK SKIES).
- The dilemma, it turns out, is that the young woman must decide whether to renounce the darkness or join forces with it (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES).
- Helping her in this effort is a sympathetic black female supporting character, who can offer a little non-Christian spiritual support because this is the South, where they have all the voodoo stuff (also BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and come to think of it, kinda sort THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT 2: GHOSTS OF GEORGIA).
- In the end, the exorcism proves ineffective (THE LAST EXORCISM), and the invading entity gains purchase within the body of an innocent victim (INSIDIOUS).
If you don’t mind re-watching a virtual montage of other horror movies, THE LAST EXORCISM PART II is interesting for a while, although its slow build-up is more “slow” than “build-up.” The spook scenes more or less sustain themselves in the first half, when the filmmakers keep to relatively believable phenomena that could be explained away as dreams, hallucinations, or coincidence. But the urge to supply a fright-filled finale pushes the film beyond its ability to sustain credibility (a roomful of levitating knifes seems lifted from an Italian EXORCIST rip-off, circa 1979.)
It is almost an article of faith among contemporary horror films that Evil is all powerful and unstoppable, so much so that resistance is futile; the characters might as well give up and resign themselves to their fate before the film even starts, saving us the trouble of wasting our time to see them reach their inevitable end. Back in the 1970s, this sort of cynicism made some kind of sense in the context of the disillusionment engendered by Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the threat of mutually assured nuclear annihilation; today, it merely seems arbitrary.
I suppose that, if one were in a sympathetic frame of mind, one could find an argument to justify THE LAST EXORCISM PART II’s final turn of events, which offer just a hint of rebellious joyful anarchy – bordering on self-righteous glee – which results from overthrowing one’s oppressors. Somewhat miraculously, Ashley Bell engages our sympathy almost strongly enough to make us vicariously endorse this conclusion (somewhat in the manner that we root for Carrie White’s prom-night revenge).
Unfortunately, the scenario is too contrived to support this reading credibly. Everyone is suspect – possibly part of the evil conspiracy, as evidenced by an unnerving trip to a church, where a chaplain offers not so soothing spiritual comfort in dialogue carefully calibrated to obscure whether he is talking about God or demonic Abalam, who wants to find a home in Nell’s body. Furthermore, the alleged representatives of the Power of Good (called the “right-hand path”) are too closely akin to the incompetent Jedi from STAR WARS, EPISODE III: THE REVENGE OF THE SITH, who seemed to almost deliberately drive Anakin to join the Dark Side of the Force. Poor double-crossed Nell – we are led to believe – has no choice but to accept Abalam, because everyone else is so afraid of what will happen if she accepts Abalam.
Except, you know, her would-be boyfriend, whom Abalam forces to commit suicide (nice, effective way to earn your potential victim’s sympathy and convince her to submit willingly!). And her sympathetic therapist. There’s also the nagging problem that Abalam, we are told, is weak without Nell as a vessel for his power – until the script needs him to be so powerful that he cannot be exorcised,* scaring the Right-Hand Path into attempting to kill Nell in order to prevent Abalam from entering her and fulfilling an apocalyptic prophecy.
Is it any wonder the poor girl goes a little bit off the rails at the end? I mean, who wouldn’t – the script (if not the devil) made her do it. Too bad the switch from victim to victimizer feels like a half-hearted afterthought, targeting a handful of (mostly off-screen) victims. Instead of a cathartic explosion of apocalypstic proportions, we get a joy ride, a few computer-generated flames, and some rock-and-roll on the soundtrack.
This, it seems, is how the world ends – not with a bang but with a music video.
THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (March 1, 2013). CBS Films, 88 minutes, rated R. Written by Damien Chazell and Ed Gass-Donelley. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. Cast: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spencer Treat Clark, David Jensen, Tarra Riggs, Louis Herthum, Muse Watson, Erica Michelle, Sharice A. Williams, Boyana Balta, Joe Chrest.
- Yes, there is an exorcism in THE LAST EXORCISM PART II. Which means that THE LAST EXORCISM did not, in fact, feature the “last exorcism.”
POSSESSION, which played in U.S. theatres last August, hits video store shelves on Tuesday, January 15. The supernatural thriller, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick arrives in two versions: the first contains a DVD, a digital copy, and UltraViolet; the second contains Blu-ray, Digital Copy, and UltraViolet.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 becomes available for download in two different versions: the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut. Blu-ray discs and DVDs will follow two weeks later on January 29.
Other titles arriving on home video this week are:
MERLIN: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON on DVD and on Blu-ray.
BEING HUMAN: SEASON 4 on DVD and on Blu-ray.
30 NIGHTS OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY WITH THE DEVIL on DVD and on Blu-ray.
THE BISHOP’S WIFE, the 1947 classic starring Cary Grant and David Niven, arrives on DVD from Warner Home Video. A previous DVD was released by MGM in 2001. The film is also now available for instant streaming.
Also of interest: Woody Allen’s TO ROME, WITH LOVE arrives on DVD, on Blu-ray, and Video on Demand. Although not, strictly speaking, a genre effort, several of its episodes straddle the borderline, especially the sequences in which Alex Baldwin’s character seems to meet a younger version of himself, reliving events from his past.
You can purchase these and other titles in the Cinefantastique Online Store, powered by Amazon.com
The Devil and the related phenomenon of demonic possession, have been the source of several horror films for the years. Previous decades offered THE EXORCIST (1973), with its Roman Catholic perspective, and the various films that made up Protestant responses to it in THE OMEN (1976) and its sequels. Moving forward into more recent cinematic history, we have seen THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), and a dual release of diabolical films in 2010: DEVIL and THE LAST EXORCISM. Our fascination with the ultimate supernatural villain continues in 2011 with the recent release of THE RITE, which returns the horror treatment of Satan and demonic possession to the Catholic roots of THE EXORCIST. As a result of our present social and cultural circumstances, which echo much of the turbulence of the 1970s, we may be calling on Satan to help us deal with our current angst. As we will see, paradoxically, he may also provide some with faith in God.
THE RITE tells the story of a young American, Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who has decided to leave the family business of running a mortuary with his father (Rutger Hauer) in favor of entering Roman Catholic seminary. As he explains his decision to a friend, the Kovaks do only two things, undertaking or the priesthood; with his increasing dissatisfaction with the former, it is time for Michael to explore the possibilities of the latter. Kovak completes his program of study, but just before taking his ordination vows, he submits his resignation because he lacks the faith that underlies the work of the priesthood and the church. One of his professors, Father Matthew (Toby Jones), sees potential in Kovak and, instead of accepting Michael’s resignation, sends him to a school in Rome that trains priests in the Roman Catholic rite of exorcism. It is here, Father Matthew argues, that Kovak may find the faith that he needs to become a priest.
After beginning exorcism studies, Kovak is assigned to work with Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins), a priest whose many years of experience include thousands of exorcisms. Father Trevant is aware of Kovak’s struggle with faith, a struggle that Trevant himself has experienced from time to time in the past. Trevant immediately enlists Kovak’s help in assisting with exorcisms; the first involves the alleged possession of a pregnant teenage girl. After watching Trevant interact with the teenager, Kovak’s skepticism remains. He believes that her strange behavior can be accounted for by deep psychological problems, and that what she really needs is a psychiatrist. But after his experiences with Father Trevant, the allegedly possessed girl, and another case of possession, Kovak’s skepticism becomes more difficult to maintain. Eventually, he experiences strange phenomena, has deeply troubling and surreal dreams, and begins to wonder whether there may be some truth to the possibility of possession. As the film reaches its climax, Father Trevant and Kovak both have their faith tested, on the one hand, and given an opportunity for confirmation on the other, thanks to the presumed presence of evil supernatural entities.
Before addressing what I believe is the major thrust of THE RITE, I would like to make a few minor observations. At one point in the film, as Kovak begins his exorcism studies in Rome, he has a spirited exchange with the priest teaching the course, and Kovak notes that while the church accepts the veracity of demonic possession without hesitation, if someone reports a UFO sighting and alien abduction, the claim is immediately suspect. For Kovak, both claims are just as unlikely, so why should a strange claim in a mainstream religious tradition be privileged over a paranormal claim in what is often considered part of the cultural and religious fringe. Here THE RITE stumbles upon not only a question that can be found in any number of skeptical publications, but also an often unacknowledged issue in popular expressions and the academic study of religion. Phenomena like demonic possession or Marian apparitions are more likely to be take seriously, at least by believers, than other experiences by other segments of society outside the religious mainstream.
The second observation involves two of the actors in THE RITE. This film represents Anthony Hopkins’s return to horror, his prior effort being THE WOLFMAN (2010). Interestingly, in both films Hopkins plays a man who must wrestle with an internal evil. In THE WOLFMAN he battles the effects of a werewolf curse and releases his inner monster to roam and attack at will because, he says, “The beast must have its day.” In THE RITE his character likewise wrestles with an inner evil, but in this instance the evil is resisted, and deliverance is desired rather than unbridled relishing in that evil.
Another actor in this film completes the final part of my second observation, and that is Alice Braga. In THE RITE Braga plays a journalist, Angeline, struggling to know whether her deceased brother (who struggled for years with mental difficulties and claimed to hear voices) was really suffering from mental disease or demonic influences. Like Kovak, Angeline wrestles with the issues of faith and skepticism. It is worth noting that this is not the first time Braga has taken a role that depicts a character addressing faith in the face of evil. In I AM LEGEND (2007), Braga played Anna, a woman who believed that even in the face of a worldwide plague that turned most of the human population into contagious, monstrous creatures, God’s voice could still be heard if humanity was willing to listen.
It is here that the latter half of my second observation above leads to what I view as the major focus of this film: developing religious commitments in the midst of a skeptical age. But THE RITE presents this idea in a curious fashion, almost by “backing into” faith as understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. According to this film’s reasoning, although life’s experiences, coupled with the reigning cultural narrative of the sciences as the arbiter of truth, make it very difficult to maintain traditional religious commitments in terms of belief in God, the presence of supernatural evil through demonic possession proves the existence of the Devil; by extension, this then proves the existence of God. If Satan exists, then God must exist as well.
Although this reasoning is problematic, it is not difficult to understand in light of Kovak’s experiences that are displayed in flashbacks and dreams over the course of the film. Kovak’s father runs a mortuary out of the family home, and thus young Michael was exposed to the unsanitized reality of death from a very young age. In addition, his mother died when he was a child; it was her death, coupled with his father’s enlisting Michael to assist with his mother’s embalming, that led to Michael’s functional atheism symbolized by the young Michael bending and twisting a crucifix behind his back as his mother’s casket is lowered into the ground. Many irreligious as well as religious convictions often begin at the experiential level, and then develop rational justification and support over time. Kovak’s lack of faith is understandable in light of the close proximity of death since his youth, and the loss of his mother, a woman of religious convictions.
Kovak’s experiences are mirrored by countless individuals in our late modern period. As just one example, a recent story in THE NEW YORKER on Guillermo del Toro included a telling paragraph which echoed similar sentiments in a National Public Radio interview of the past in which the gifted film director described his atheism as a result of his experiences with the corpses of young children in his native Mexico. In his view, no human beings can have souls, and no God can exist if even these innocents are tossed out like garbage. In other interviews with del Toro, we learn that other experiences played a part in his lack of faith, such as an overbearing religious grandmother, but the point is that the experiences of one of the greatest contemporary horror and dark fantasy film makers echoes the struggle of faith of Kovak in THE RITE. It is indeed difficult to believe in God, or in anything.
Yet here an unlikely source provides for positive religious inspiration. It is through his battles with evil personal entities – which he comes to believe are supernatural – that Kovak comes to accept the existence of the Devil. And as mentioned previously, if the Devil exists, it is argued, then in light of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then God must exist as well. Of course, there are other possible explanations, even if possession is granted as a legitimate phenomenon. After all, anthropologists have described possession across a variety of cultures and religious traditions. But it is interesting that in our skeptical age, the Devil is construed as a proof of God’s existence.
It remains to be seen how much longer Satan will be given a starring role at the box office. We have been fascinated with him for years in literature and cinema, as well as in religion and culture. Perhaps the moral ambiguity of our times – ever increasing since THE EXORCIST burst on the screen at a previous time of social upheaval and sent viewers vomiting from the theaters – demands the ultimate villain. By pointing beyond ourselves to an external and supernatural source of evil we can exorcise not only our individual but also our societal demons as well, and come to embrace faith, in something.
The Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast goes to Hell in a handbasket this week, as Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski scourge the evil spirits possessing THE RITE, the new exorcism-themed horror film starring Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). Allegedly inspired by true events, the screenplay by Michael Petroni (suggested by Matt Baglio’s book) has skeptical seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) reluctantly attending exorcism school at the Vatican, where he meets expert exorcist Father Lucas (Hopkins), who tries to convince him of the reality of the Devil. Mikael Hafstrom (1408) directed. Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer, and Franco Nero co-star.
Is this THE EXORCIST for the 21st Century, or is it just warmed over pea soup? Come along and find out.
IFC Films releases this foreign horror film, directed by Manuel Carballo and starring Stephen Billington, Tommy Bastow, and Doug Bradley. A rebellious young girl (Sophie Vavasseur) slowly discovers that she is possessed by a twisted, evil force. She is soon forced against her will to use extreme measures to free herself. The film, which also stars acclaimed UK actors Jo-Anne Stockham and Stephen Billington, recently had its world premiere at the Sitges Fantastic Film Festival. Also known as THE POSESION DE EMMA EVANS.
After a Video on Demand debut in January (through major cable outlets), the film moves into limited release in February, including an engagement at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, California.
Video on Demand: January 5
Theatrical: February 3
Official Website: Click here
Warner Brothers (the studio behind THE EXORCIST) releases this supernatural thriller through its New Line subsidiary. Allegedly inspired by true events, the plot follows skeptical seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), who reluctantly attends exorcism school at the Vatican. While in Rome, he meets an unorthodox priest, Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), who introduces him to the darker side of his faith. Directed by Mikael Hafstroem (“1408″), “The Rite” is a supernatural thriller that uncovers the devil’s reach to even one of the holiest places on Earth. Mikael Hafstrom (1408) directs from a screenplay by Michael Petroni, suggested by Matt Baglio’s book. Alice Braga, Ciaran Hinds, Rutger Hauer, and Franco Nero co-star.
Release Date: January 28
Last night I attended one of the nationwide Fathom screenings of THE EXORCIST (1973), featuring the new documentary TO HELL AND BACK, which charts the making of the classic horror film. Never having attended a Fathom event before (it’s a bit like watching television in a theatre, with digital image projected on select screens around the country), I am pleased to report that the picture quality was very impressive: with colors that were sharp and clear, the film looked as good as it ever has. It is also reassuring to note that not too much digital restoration has been performed: the photography retains the slightly grainy 1970s look that lends a documentary atmosphere to the proceedings. Assuming that the upcoming Blu-ray disc and iTunes download (which become available on Tuesday, October 5) are transferred from the same source, this bodes very well: THE EXORCIST has been preserved, not cosmetically embalmed.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the documentary TO HELL AND BACK. Not that I expected it to be bad, but after decades of reading about THE EXORCIST, I doubted there was much new to learn – especially after the wonderful behind-the-scenes features on the 25th anniversary DVD. However, TO HELL AND BACK has a devilishly good ace up its sleeve: besides interviews with producer William Peter Blatty, director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair, and cinematographer Owen Roizman, the documentary includes never-before-seen screen tests and behind-the-scenes footage shot by Roizman on the set, depicting how many of the effects were done (the projectile vomiting – a brief startling shock in the film itself – goes on for what seems like minutes during rehearsals). Again, the presence of this short but insightful featurette bodes well for the home video release; though I already own two versions on DVD (the 1973 original and the 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen”), I am seriously considering triple-dipping on this one.
All that, however, is secondary to the experience of revisiting THE EXORCIST on the big screen, along with an appreciative audience. In a way, the screening was something of a personal achievement for me: it was the first time I was able to sit through the film without becoming seriously disturbed. (For the record, I almost achieved this in 2000, but then the new footage – i.e., the Spider Walk – showed up, and my nerve faltered once again.)
I suspect that modern audiences will wonder what all the screaming was about; is this really the film that allegedly made people pass out and/or throw-up? But as William Friedkin told me, people who go just to get off on the effects, don’t. THE EXORCIST works because it takes a serious approach, asking you to buy into the possibility of possession – and, by extension – the existence of God and the Devil – on a deep, dramatic level.
Now that that shocks have worn off after all the years, it is pleasantly ironic (for those of us who were there when the film made its debut) to note how subtle THE EXORCIST is, in many ways. There are long stretches when little happens, except for the recurring sound of rustling in the attic. Big chunks of screen time are occupied with the personal lives of the characters, such as Father Damien Karras’s trip to see his mother in New York. Much of the horror derives not from demonic possession but from the medical science used in a vain attempt to locate the etiology of Regan’s illness.
I also remain impressed with the way the William Friedkin managed to avoid going archetypal while depicting THE EXORCIST’s battle between Good and Evil. There is a fine review of Moby Dick – written by D. H. Lawrence, I think – that praises Melville for keeping the novel grounded in the semblance of a believable story about a hunt for a whale, even as the book piles on metaphors and symbolism that could have rendered the whole tale as an abstract allegory. Friedkin achieves something similar here: THE EXORCIST, we can see clearly now, is a film about people, who feel lost and helpless, who are trying to do their best, whether or not they are certain that God is watching over them. The film has a very scaled-down, credible tone, quite different from the adult fairy tale stylings of, for instance, HORROR OF DRACULA.
This leads me to my final point. From time to time, some critic will complain that THE EXORCIST’s view of evil is too small scale to mean anything (Stephen Thrower in his book Beyond Terror: The Flims of Lucio Fulci, comes to mind). Why, they ask rhetorically, does the Devil waste time tormenting a little girl in a room? The very fact that the question is asked shows that these viewers have missed the point.
Leave aside for a moment that the revised 2000 version (which is the one screened last night, which will be available on Blu-ray along with the original cut) offered an explanation in a restored bit of dialogue between Father Merrin and Father Karras. Focus instead on the entire vision of the world as it is presented in THE EXORCIST.
Everywhere the camera turns, we see examples of Satan’s work: the former alter boy, now a drunk sitting in his own urine and vomit in a subway; the pathetic inmates of an insane asylum, staring into space, helpless and lost in their own psychosis; the priest-psychiatrist – Karras – who has lost his faith because he has seen too many wounded souls that he could not repair. As if that were not enough, THE EXORCIST throws in a film-within-a-film, depicting campus unrest (with hints of potential political violence). Although never mentioned, the echo of Vietnam reverberates silently somewhere in the distance, and the the Georgetown setting tacitly reminds us of corruption in Washington, D.C. (this was the era of Watergate). Evil, if we only open our eyes and look, is everywhere present; the Devil’s fingerprints are scattered everywhere throughout the film, as the Evil One strives to breed despair in the human race.
Even if we do not believe in a literal Devil, the symbolism is clear: Evil is at work in the world. What happens to Regan Theresa MacNeil is only one manifestation, a small microcosm that brings the larger world into clearer focus. That’s what good dramas do. Although I dislike the oft-heard claim “It’s not a horror film,” in the case of THE EXORCIST I can accept it to the extent of saying, “It’s not just a horror film.” As shocking as it once was, hopefully we can now see more clearly that it truly is, as Friedkin has often said, a film about the mystery of faith – a faith all the more mysterious when set against the weary world view depicted in THE EXORCIST.