Dominion: A Prequel to the Exorcist
May 20, 2005
In November of 2002, director Paul Schrader started production on a prequel to The Exorcist, the 1973 film that is considered by many horror aficionados to be among the best ever. Working under Morgan Creek Prods.' shingle, Schrader eventually found himself in a creative dispute with the head of the production company, Jim Robinson. Robinson believed the film should have been more scarier, which meant that despite the fact that Schrader essentially had a finished product ready to go, Morgan Creek went forward and hired a new director in Renny Harlin. Very little of Schrader's work made it into the Harlin version, and the resulting Exorcist: The Beginning was poorly received by critics and wound up grossing a mere $41 million in North America with an additional $40 million in overseas markets.
Schrader's film survived, though, and despite reassurances from Morgan Creek that they would eventually release the film as an extra on the DVD version of Exorcist: The Beginning, that didn't happen. Not one to give up so easily, Schrader determined that he would have his film screen at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film. The movie had a generally positive reception, with most people saying that it is far, far better than the Harlin product, and the result is that Morgan Creek has agreed to give the film distribution and an official release date.
The opening sequence of Schrader's film does appear in abbreviated form in the Harlin piece. It starts out with Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) having to make the horrific decision to condemn ten innocent Dutch villagers to gunfire from the Nazis. Although the Harlin version skips straight ahead to the violence and gore, the Schrader version has been noted as far more thoughtful and deliberate. Since people seem to primarily like blood and guts in their films, it's at least a little bit possible to comprehend the Hollywood reasoning behind jettisoning a ponderous film for something more splatter-y.
From there, the movie skips ahead ten years to show Merrin as a defrocked priest who is attempting to assuage his guilt by hiding out in the deserts of Kenya. While overseeing the excavation of a mysterious church that appears to have been buried immediately after the construction was finished, he allows an ancient evil to enter the world, which means that Merrin will have to deal both with the Devil and with his feelings for a God who seems lost to him.
Reviews of the Schrader film have indicated that the primary difference between the two films is that in the Harlin version, Father Merrin is a blustering hero. In the original prequel, Merrin is far more tormented and tortured, concentrating on the mental aspects of the consequences of his actions. Additionally, numerous actors who were in the Schrader movie were excised once Harlin went to work, replaced by new actors. The difference in the portrayals is said to be significant as well.
Given the derision with which the Harlin film was treated, the original sequel should prove to be a huge source of curiosity both for fans of the Exorcist series as well as just for curiosity seekers who followed the strange story as it emerged from Hollywood. The real question will be whether Morgan Creek made the right financial decision - and soon, we'll have concrete evidence to provide an answer. (Kim Hollis/BOP)