The overwhelming commercial success of reboots and remakes has trickled into the horror genre. We are seeing franchises such as Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre be rebooted in a style that is more like a hybrid sequel and remake, something vaguely termed ‘the legacy sequel.’ The already existing sequels in these franchises were erased from canon and replaced by one modern interpretation.
Director and producer David Gordon Green saw some critical and commercial success doing just this whilst helming the new Halloween franchise. His next challenge, though, will be his most ambitious. He is slated to direct sequels to the original 1973 masterpiece The Exorcist.
The classic film has made an enormous impact on horror and was groundbreaking for its time. While major details for the legacy sequels are still under wraps, the first is expected to be released in 2023, which is 50 years after the original film’s debut. While the announcement for the new films have turned some heads and drawn some criticism, there are ways it could be an effective sequel and reboot simultaneously.
Telling the Original Exorcist Story
The 1973 film, directed by William Friedkin, was based on the famous book written by William Peter Blatty. The book was inspired by the story of 14-year-old Ronald Doe (later alleged to be Ronald Edwin Hunkeler). The events took place in the year 1949, when Ronald had been given a Ouija board by his aunt, who had died shortly after. The death was followed by strange and violent occurrences that led Ronald’s family to believe he was possessed. An exorcism was performed on Ronald, and he lived an anonymous life until his death in 2020.
There are interesting elements to Ronald’s life that were not explored in the 1973 film, as it was based on the book which used aspects of Ronald’s life to tell the fictional story of Regan. Telling the story of Ronald would add something new to the franchise. However, some adjustments would have to be made in order to tell this story, considering the timeline for these events would have to follow the original film. Also, the expected return of a much older Chris MacNeil, played by Ellen Burstyn, would bring added continuity to the sequel as well.
The Return of Chris MacNeil
Ellen Burstyn, at 90 years old, probably won’t have as physical of a performance as the original film, where she was hospitalized and injured for stunts performed on her during the cursed production. However, her return to the sequel does raise questions and speculation. If the sequel continues the story of Regan, who is not confirmed to return at this point, her mother’s presence connects the original story.
Would she be the insightful character the new cast would turn to for help (as has happened with previous legacy sequels like Scream 5 and the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre)? Or would her presence merely be a small cameo instead of a leading role? Either way, how the filmmakers choose to use Burstyn will be one of the crucial elements of the film’s success. Burstyn provided a lot of passion and energy for the original film, and her character contributed to the fascinating debate all through the first and second acts of The Exorcist between psychology and spirituality.
A Continuing Fight For Faith in The Exorcist
Chris MacNeil was not a firm believer in religion in The Exorcist. Her faith was questionable until the third act, where there was really no doubt that her daughter Regan was possessed by a demon. Her faith could be the subject of another debate in the continuing sequel. The first film contained the fight for superiority between science and spirituality, which was ultimately a fight for truth. Was Regan sick psychologically or mentally, or was she truly possessed?
This question played out until the third act. Psychology and the mind itself could be the focal point of the sequel which one would speculate could explore the mental impact the exorcism had. However, if this sequel trilogy from David Gordon Green is to be successful, it must void the existing sequels to the franchise and keep true to the original film’s elements to succeed.
How The New Exorcist Could Succeed
What The Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Exorcist III, Exorcist: The Beginning, and the underrated Dominion all have in common is their deviation from what the original strived for. The first film in the franchise was more of a subtle slow-burning drama with elements of terror laced throughout, building great emotion and tension in between its shocking imagery. It took time to establish the relationship between Regan and Chris’ characters, as well as providing a serious background into the world and the fight to keep faith. All the characters were fleshed out human beings and not two-dimensional cartoons. The new movie must maintain this tone and take time for the audience to care for the characters, because if we don’t care, then the purpose of a rebooted sequel is not justified.
Another reason for the original film’s success was dedication to practical effects which still hold up 50 years later. The sequels and the canceled FOX series included CGI, jump scares, and overused effects that detached any realism to what was going on. The growing technology, especially in computer generated images, makes it easy to just revert to CGI. However, in horror films, it rarely ever achieves any scares. This new horror sequel should stay true to how the original succeeded, in that there were not jump scares every ten minutes and there was no use of CGI. If a film made in 1973 could still hold the title for the scariest film of all time to many people, it means audiences connect to realism.
In addition to practical effects and relatable characters, this film will not overshadow the original. It is not possible for a film as highly respected as The Exorcist to be beaten by sequels. Knowing this, it could be possible to provide something new and inventive in the modern era. It is possible to shock audiences, because the imagination holds no bounds. Not seeing everything will provide more scares than seeing any and all instances of gore and violence.
The original film had amazing sound design, breathtaking cinematography and slow paced tension, and still pulled off something special. The 2023 sequel should follow the original formula, but provide audiences with something they have never seen before and could add something to the original. Otherwise, it would all be for nothing, since trying to best the original is a losing game. David Gordon Green seems to have a love for horror films and franchises, which is a key and crucial element to telling a compelling story within the genre.