We live in a country where the majority of Americans believe in the Devil, demons and hell (doesn't that explain a lot?), so it's only natural that filmmakers would exploit those fears on-screen time and time again. The latest movie about demonic possession that opens this weekend is The Last Exorcism
, which is presented as found footage of a disillusioned minister who brings a documentary crew along to film him as he performs an exorcism on a farmer's possessed daughter.
This cinematic dance with devil began with 1973's The Exorcist
, which remains near or at the top of everyone's Scariest Movie Ever list. There have been plenty of movies about exorcisms since, but none of them top Linda Blair
turning her head 360 degrees, projectile vomiting, and the horrific makeup effects that transformed a cherub-faced young Blair into a foul-mouthed demon from hell. Be sure to rent the extended version on DVD, which contains freaky deleted scenes like Blair's backwards spider-walk down the stairs in the home she shares with her frantic mother, played to perfection by Ellen Burstyn
. The Exorcist
won't be able to possess your Blu-ray player until October 5.
Adjusted for inflation, The Exorcist
is the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time and one that won two of 10 Oscars for which it was nominated, which is a tough act for any horror film to follow—even a direct sequel like Exorcist II: The Heretic
. It is considered one of the worst sequels of all time and features Linda Blair reprising her role as Regan MacNeil and Richard Burton as a priest who tries to uncover her repressed memories of what happened to the original exorcist played by Max Von Sydow
in the original. This abstract clunker elicited more laughs than screams with its dreamlike sequences with locusts and awkward storyline, but it's a curiosity that's worth a look on DVD.
Next came the underrated The Exorcist III
in 1990 starring George C. Scott
as a Georgetown police lieutenant investigating some strange murders and Brad Dourif as the terrifying Gemini Killer, who has made a deal with the Devil to cheat death and continue killing. Exorcist
novelist William Peter Blatty wrote and directed this slow-moving, creepy tale that escalates to a hell-raising battle between good and evil. This scary sequel, available only on DVD, features the return of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), who really should be deader than dead after that fall down those stairs in the original Exorcist
The next chapter in The Exorcist
franchise—and one of the most curious developments in film history—came in the form of two prequels filmed by two different directors from the same source material that starred Stellan Skarsgard
as a young Father Merrin, the original exorcist. The origin story of Merrin's battle with the demon Pazuzu was originally filmed by Cat People
director Paul Schrader, but his version was initially shelved by the studio and later released as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
. Instead, director Renny Harlin
stepped in and injected the blood and thunder the studio wanted for Exorcist: The Beginning
, an over-the-top prequel featuring the most kinetic exorcism on record at the end. Both Schrader and Harlin's films are available on DVD, we just wish the best elements of both directors' versions could have been combined into one hell of an Exorcist.