Throwback Thursday – Top 10 Exorcism Films Of All Time
Continuing where the first film left off, Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell) is found terrified and alone in rural Louisiana. Back in the relative safety of New Orleans, Nell realizes that she can’t remember entire portions of the previous months only that she is the last surviving member of her family. Just as Nell begins the difficult process of starting a new life, the evil force that once possessed her is back with other, unimaginably horrific plans that mean her last exorcism was just the beginning.
Take a look at this behind-the-scenes look at the film before it opens this Friday, March 1st.
Before you head out to theaters for the film, WAMG decided on our own list of the Top 10 Exorcism Films Of All Time.
Lets kick it off with honorable mention: LAST EXORCISM and (REC) 2
Set mere minutes after the conclusion of [REC], the sequel tells the story of a SWAT team that is sent into the sealed-off building to try and find the original first response crew and the source of the outbreak. But all is not what it seems and, as things unfold, this is where the pure genius of the director/screenwriters come into play. Like the first, [REC] 2 follows the same formula relying on hand held and helmet mounted cameras which, this time, make large passages play out like a first-person shooter video game. The movie also includes a number of twists as it weaves the story lines of three groups of protagonists into one. And just as the original managed to put a new spin on the zombie/infected genre, the sequel throws an EXORCIST angle into the mix for what must surely be the world’s first possessed, infected, zombie, cannibal holocaust.
Cynical evangelist Cotton Marcus (Fabian) has a documentary crew follow him as he performs his lucrative sideline of exorcisms, a ritual he believes to be more an effective placebo for the mentally stressed than actual divine intervention against demonic possession. His work takes him to a backwoods farm where teenage Nell (Bell) is suffering blackouts and animals are found mutilated. Rather than go for easy jump shocks, director Daniel Stamm effectively crafts a dozen or so marvelously creepy moments. THE LAST EXORCISM does more than its job with scares and creeping tension and knock-knock-boos, but the deeper scare it leaves you with get, and stay, under your skin.
10. BEYOND THE DOOR
BEYOND THE DOOR is a surprisingly effective, low-budget rip-off both ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST from 1974 that features an unrestrained performance by Juliet Mills as the cheating wife of a San Francisco record producer who discovers she is pregnant with the Devil’s offspring. After a somewhat ambiguous and arbitrary prologue which sees Mills flee midway through some kind of black magic rite, the plot sees ominous Satanist Richard Johnson making a pact with the Devil: if he agrees to help deliver Mills’ evil child his life will be prolonged. The film then charts the pregnancy/possession of Mills and the not-surprising breakdown of her family unit. BEYOND THE DOOR has the same pea-soup, spinning heads and creepy voices as THE EXORCIST and Warner Brothers actually sued the makers of this film, which only lead to it being one of the more successful knock-offs. Much amusement is gained from the fact that Satan himself is the film’s narrator! Director Ovidio Assonitis went on to rip off JAWS with his giant octopus-epic TENTACLES in 1977.
A young girl’s arrival at a convent after the death of her parents marks the beginning of a series of events that unleash an evil presence on her and her mysterious new friend, an enigmatic figure known as Alucarda. There’s an indefinably strange and intense quality to the 1977 Mexcain horror film ALUCARDA that makes parts of it genuinely frightening and unsettling. While the Demonic possession and Satan worship action is set in a convent and features possession, nudity, lesbianism, a fair amount of blood-letting and all manner of supernatural mayhem, it doesn’t really carry the smack of exploitation cinema that you might initially suspect. And while it contains some fairly disturbing and unpleasant elements and scenarios, these all seem to sit quite naturally within the story. The Mexican setting and ambience makes it all the more authentic and believable. ALUCARDA is packed with nightmare images; the abstract Convent set in dark creative lighting, the Nuns in their Mummy-like shrouds stained with menstrual blood, Alucarda in her funeral black Victorian dress. ALUCARD is a bit obscure but genuinely creepy and weird and well worth seeking out for Euro-horror fans.
Of course Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy chimed in with his own EXORCIST knock-off in 1975 and it was a good one. EXORCISMO centers on the rich, decadent and dysfunctional Gibson family. Youngest daughter Leila is especially wild: her fiancé Richard practices the black arts and takes Leila to a debauched satanic ceremony. Pretty soon Leila starts acting strange: she says mean and spiteful things in a vulgar tongue, throws temper tantrums, and has severe seizures. Her mother Patricia (eurohorror stalwart Maria Perschy) is understandably worried. She calls upon longtime friend Father Adrian Dunning (Naschy in a rare good guy role) to save Leila’s soul before it’s too late. Director Juan Bosch grounds the fantastic premise in a believable everyday world setting, which in turn gives the story a substantial additional credibility. Bosch earns bonus credit for handling the potentially lurid subject matter with admirable taste and restraint. The gradual build-up leads to an especially chilling and unnerving third act; the climactic exorcism is quite tense and rousing. Nice ambiguous ending, too.
7. EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING
After the resurgence of R-rated movie horror, thanks in part to the hit SAW series, Warner Brothers thought the time was right to reboot their EXORCIST franchise with this 2004 prequel. It turned out that here was, perhaps, more tension and turmoil behind the scenes when original director Paul Schrader (HARDCORE) was replaced by action flick director Renny Harlin (DIE HARD 2) afew weeks into filming in order to make this project more “visceral” (translation: Paul was not delivering the scares and jolts). They decided that what was needed to grab young audiences was a prequel concentrating on the title character from the 1973 classic, Father Lancaster Merrin (formerly played by Max Von Sydow, now played by Stellan Skarsgard). After witnessing countless evil acts at the hands of invading Nazi forces in his native Holland during World War II, the faith-questioning Merrin is sent East Africa to excavate a church completely buried in the sand (and collect some relics). There he faces hyena attacks on the natives (courtesy some uninspired CGI effects), temptation from a beautiful younger woman (played by GOLDENEYE Bond girl Izabella Scorupo), and his first encounter with the demon Pazuzu. Despite the action-oriented final encounter, with Sarah sporting makeup inspired by Dick Smith’s iconic original Regan MacNeil designs aided by lots of CGI body contortions, this re-imagining didn’t grab the horror fans, so we’ve seen no follow-ups involving Merrin’s years between this tale and his fateful trip to Georgetown. The smaller studios and indie film makers have had better luck in bringing new fans to films of this subject matter, hence the new release in theatres this weekend.
6. EXORCIST 3
This 1990 release is based on the author of “The Exorcist”‘s follow-up novel “Legion”by william Peter Blatty. After aborted attempts to interest the director of the 1973 classic William Friedkin and horror vet John Carpenter, Blatty decided to helm the movie version himself now called THE EXORCIST III to better tie in with the 70’s box office smash. The film centers around one of the minor characters from the first film, police Lieutenant William Kinderman. Broadway vet Lee J. Cobb played the role in the original film, but had passed away in 1976, so now Oscar winner (or Oscar decliner?) George C. Scott took over the role. Kinderman and Father Dyer (now played by Ed Flanders of TV’s “St. Elsewhere”) mark the anniversary of the death of mutual friend Father Karras by taking in a screening of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE at a local revival movie theatre. The cop has a tough time taking in the flick because a series of murders have begun that seem to emulate the work of the Gemini killer (perhaps inspired by the real life Zodiac killings that terrorized San Francisco decades earlier). But that fiend (played by the voice of “Chucky” Brad Dourif) was caught, tried, and executed. The investigation leads Kinderman to a mental health facility and the mysterious “Patient X”, who looks remarkably like the long dead Father Karras (and is played by Jason Miller). More patient killings occur, Kinderman’s daughter is threatened, and the spirit of Gemini does battle with Regan MacNeil’s possessor, that ole’ demon Pazuzu. The film was Blatty’s final directing work and proved to be a box office failure. It was originally released by Twentieth Century Fox, but was acquired by Warner Brothers, who made the previous films in the series.
5. THE ENTITY
This 1982 supernatural flick (and cable TV perennial) was “inspired by true events” and combined elements of THE HAUNTING, THE EXORCIST, and current box office blockbuster POLTERGIEST. Barbara Hershey (sixties/early seventies teen bombshell, star of BOXCAR BERTHA, and former paramour of David “Kung Fu” Carradine) is the single mother of a teenage son trying to make ends meet when she endures invisible attacks in the dead of night. A therapist, played by a young Ron Silver’ believes that this may be her mind responding to a hidden fear of sex or perhaps immoral thoughts about her maturing offspring. Such notions are dismissed after she brings home a potential lover one night. When the suitor enters the bedroom he’s shocked to find her naked in bed with her lady parts being manipulated by unseen forces (pretty tough special effects to execute in those pre-CGI days of yore). In order to stop these ghostly sexual assaults, she decides to call in a team of paranormal investigators. They decide that the being should not just be documented, but captured via the use of liquid helium in the house-rattling final sequences. This film was directed by the prolific Sidney J. Furie, whose career began in low-budget horror (DOCTOR BLOOD’S COFFIN) and includes critical classics like THE IPCRESS FILES and LADY SINGS THE BLUES, the IRON EAGLE series, and the comic book-based SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE
Director William Girdler’s 1974 film ABBY was a clone of THE EXORCIST with an all-black cast starring William Marshall, fresh off his triumph as BLACULA, in the Max Von Sydow role. ABBY plays much more like a standard horror film with black elements than a Blaxploitation horror film. With its lack of street violence and suburban setting it differs from most Blaxploitation films of the period – no pimps, but lots of big afro’s and wacka-wacka guitar!. Carol Speed is quite over-the-top as the possessed title character in ABBY, especially in a crazy scene where she suffers a foul-mouthed demonic seizure while offering marriage counseling a square-looking young couple. ABBY has an undeservedly bad reputation and even made it into the Medved Brother’s ‘Golden Turkey Awards’ book as a nominee for ‘Worst Blaxploitation’ movie. It is cheesy and cheap, but that’s part of its charm. ABBY doesn’t take itself too seriously, director Girdler moves things along at a brisk clip, and it’s a funky, unpretentious good time.
3. EXORCIST II THE HERETIC
EXORCIST 2 THE HERETIC was tagged from its release in 1977 as ‘one of the worst sequels ever’. This has now become such accepted wisdom that people are afraid to watch and admit that, after 35 years, it’s actually a fascinating, dreamy, and abstract horror film, nowhere near as dire as its reputation would suggest. Aside from (a now well-developed – and braless) Linda Blair returning as Reagan, EXORCIST 2 THE HERETIC has little to do with the original, focusing on Richard Burton’s Father Lamont, whose investigation of the demon Pazuzu finds him in Africa spewing pseudo-religious philosophy and battling witch doctors, a swarm of locusts, and James Earl Jones sitting in a cave covered in feathers. Movie fans often grouse about how little originality there is in most sequels and how they’re usually just cheap cash-ins, but one thing EXORCIST 2 THE HERETIC could never be accused of is lacking ambition. Warner Brothers took creative control away from director John Boorman and recut his vision. It’s undeniably clunky at times but there’s a bizarre spiritual dimension and enough striking imagery to the enterprise to give it an oddball atmosphere and integrity of its own.
2. LISA AND THE DEVIL/THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM
Mario Bava, the great Italian Horror director, created his most bizarre work in 1972 with LISA AND THE DEVIL. Sexy American tourist Elke Sommer gets separated from her group in Spain, and ends up trapped in an eerie mansion. There an old countess (Alida Valli), her son (Alessio Orano), and a very sinister housekeeper (Telly Salavas) trap her in a web of deception, debauchery and evil. One of the milestones of Italian horror cinema, LISA AND THE DEVIL was a subtle mix of Gothic and baroque settings, multiple identities, and the occasionally blurred line between reality and fantasy. In 1975 it was partially refilmed and re-edited to cash in on THE EXORCIST, and that cut was re-released here as THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM with the additional scenes shot by producer Alfredo Leone. The add-ons, which included exorcism sequences starring Robert Alda as ‘Father Michael’ and Sommer puking frogs, turned the original into nonsense, losing every inch of logic on the way, but is still one of the better EXORCIST knock-offs. It wasn’t until two years after Bava’s death in 1980 that LISA AND THE DEVIL was finally released in its full-length original version to be reappraised and appreciated.
1. THE EXORCIST
Some movies aren’t just movies. They’re closer to voodoo, they channel currents larger and more powerful than themselves. The audiences that lined up to see THE EXORCIST in the late winter and early spring of 1974 were drawn by a primal desire to get shocked and prodded in a way that they’d never been shocked and prodded before. The picture was marketed as a deeply solemn ”religious” hex horror movie, complete with cataclysmal mutterings and a showdown between good and evil, but the word of mouth told the true story. The pea-soup vomit! The pee on the floor! The twisty head! The 12-year-old girl who turned into a slavering, salacious harpy, jabbing her private parts with a crucifix and croaking out tenderhearted sentiments such as ”Your mother sucks c***s in hell!”
It’s still a shock to see how young Linda Blair was; it is Regan’s nymphet innocence, of course, that renders her subsequent ravings so obscene. Yet if THE EXORCIST remains the ultimate exploitation-nightmare vision of the onslaught of adolescence, the film’s terror and disgust, like its hideously explicit and literal-minded special effects, spoke, at the time, to a larger, if unconscious, collective fear. Here, in paranoid, bad-acid-trip form, is the real birth of girl power.