It was announced last year that Morgan Creek Entertainment would indeed be working on a reboot of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty’s historic bestseller that spawned the 1973 film of the same name, which horrified audiences and walked people out of the cinema. The film starred Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil and Ellen Burstyn as Regan’s mother, Chris. The Exorcist spawned two sequels’, the third of which was exceptionally good but often unappreciated, two prequels that featured the early life of the fictional priest Lankester Merrin, convincingly played by Max von Sydow in the original, and several knock-off films, including none close to the disturbing and even disturbing quality of the original.
The question in Hollywood these days when it comes to remakes or reboots doesn’t seem like “should we” but “why not?” Therefore, it should come as no surprise to us The Exorcist will now receive the same treatment as Halloween, Friday the 13th and more when studios are trying to reinvent horror classics for a new generation of moviegoers.
With a history of campy-exorcism scenes and a record of failed film attempts within the exorcism genre, how does Morgan Creek get close to the genius and tone of the 1973 classic? Perhaps a closer association with the chilling, lifelike story from which the book and film originated is in order.
It may come as a surprise to many that Blatty’s original written work, and the film that followed it, is based on the lifelike exorcisms of a 14-year-old boy and his family who lived through the pain and fear of demonic possession. experience only vicarious on screen. It was 1949 and the place, Maryland. The expulsion lasted more than three months.
They entered each room … exciting to find the location of the sustained rhythmic sound. They finally decided that the dripping from Grandmother Wagner’s bedroom was under the sloping ceiling of the second floor … as they listened to the loud dripping, they saw a painting of Christ begin to vibrate, as if someone were against the wall behind the painting bumped. – The Possessed, p. 5
Let’s take a quick look at the story.
In October 1978, just before demolition, construction workers came across a locked room on the fifth floor of Alexian Brothers Hospital that had served as the security room for the hospital’s extremely mentally ill ward. The room had been locked and forgotten for decades because of the evil that had happened there 30 years earlier. Rumors of what happened lasted decades after the nightmare ended, and hospital administrators did everything they could to forget what happened there. In the locked room, 24 handwritten pages were found that were later identified as a diary kept to document the poor young boy’s entire harrowing ordeal years earlier, recorded by one of the many observers. The diary passed into the hands of the priest who performed the original exorcism, Father William S. Bowdern, who was assisted by his friend and academic, Father Walter Halloran. At the time of the exorcism, Father Bowdern was a pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church of St. Louis, while Halloran was studying history at St. Louis University.
Many years later, Father Bowdern gave the magazine to author Thomas B. Allen for his 1993 book “The Possessed”. A reprint followed later in 2000 in which the entire magazine was published along with his original work. The diary is painful to read.
… Schulze decided that the floor was the safest place for Robbie … at about three o’clock Schulze woke up to see Robbie and the blankets moving around the room … The boy and the blankets slid under the bed. Schulze bent down to see Robbie jumping up and down against the springs supporting the mattress. Stiff and seemingly back in a trance, Robbie didn’t budge when his face touched the feathers. – The Possessed, p. 22
… he heard Robbie speak Latin, although the boy had never learned the language. According to Hughes, Robbie said, “O sacerdos Christi, tu scis me esse diabolum. Cur me derogas?” – “O priest of Christ, you know that I am the devil. Why do you keep bothering me?” – The Possessed, p. 29
Initially, the exorcism began in the home of relatives living in St. Louis, far from the Maryland home, but it didn’t go well from the start. Reports say the boy suffered so badly that the priests were concerned about his physical safety, so the family moved him again, this time to Alexian Brothers Hospital, where the rest of the exorcism would take place under strict medical care and observation.
On April 19, 1949, on the fifth floor of Alexian Brothers Hospital, 95 days after it first began, Father Bowdern and Father Halloran had success and the tragic event finally came to an end. The young man didn’t remember anything that had happened, and that’s probably for the best. He went on to live a productive and happy life, but never spoke to anyone about the experience.
In Hollywood there seems to be this kind of thinking that boundaries must always be pushed and new heights reached to shock and interest audiences, and this may be true in certain cases, but when it comes to the horror genre, there is more not always better. If we step back and compare creepy and well-made classics like The Omen, Halloween, The Changeling, and the Exorcist, and then compare them to today’s horror movies, you know what I mean. More blood and violence do not make a film. When we get good acting and well-written scripts, even popular tropes can feel fresh and engaging.
As a fan of the original, I hope Morgan Creek is a close match to the original story. Because exaggeration is, in fact, unnecessary here if the true intention is to show moviegoers that evil exists in the world and how well is mobilized to defeat it. Didn’t Oscar Wilde ever say, “Life imitates art much more than art imitates life?” For our purposes here, I sadly think Wilde is wrong. Unfortunately, life is right for us for this occasion when this story comes to us through the art of cinema.
Still, the exorcist may not stop until he sees signs of liberation. But what are those signs? Robbie had shouted, “He’s going!” and “There he goes!” Weren’t those signs? What are the signs? For the first time Bowdern felt despair, the most dreadful sin, for it exhausted the soul for hope. – The Possessed, p. 125
It was recently announced that David Gordon Green was tasked with leading the project. His most recent work includes the 2018 Halloween continue so there may be hope for us. Currently, The Exorcist reboots is scheduled for 2021, but no official date has been given and the details of the project have been minimal so far.
In closing, let me say this to prepare you The Exorcist, and if you are genuinely interested in horror, and I don’t mean Jason Vorhees horror, but real horror that can challenge your faith and make you think, please The possessed by Thomas Allen and give it a read, you might sleep with the lights on that night.
Subjects: The Exorcist
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