Associated Press (MSNBC)
finally sees daylight - Filmmaker was fired and replaced by Renny Harlin who made a very
Director and screenwriter Paul Schrader is photographed in his New York
office May 17, 2005, with a poster for his film "Dominion Prequel to the
NEW YORK - When your movie is shelved and you’re fired, even the people
closest to you assume your film was wretched. So Paul Schrader just
wanted it seen.
Now his “Dominion Prequel to the Exorcist” is finally coming out — the
same weekend as the hotly anticipated “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge
of the Sith.”
As the devilish question in the 1973 original goes: “Why you do this to
Timing aside, Schrader’s just glad the movie’s getting released.
‘Nothing good about being fired’
It was deemed too cerebral and scare-free by the production company,
Morgan Creek, which brought in Renny Harlin to do some reshoots. By the
time Harlin was done, he had remade the movie, and Schrader’s finished
product was put in the can — to stay.
“There’s nothing good about being fired, and vilified, and worked over
with a tar brush. So that my feeling now is not so much revenge or
vindication as it is relief,” Schrader told The Associated Press in an
interview at his Times Square offices.
“If you’ve made an expensive film ($35 million) that has been thrown
away and described as so badly made that it can’t be released, you can
convince no one — not your wife, not your best friend — that it was any
good. So the assumption is that it was just a piece of crap. And then
you have to spend the rest of your life trying to explain that maybe it
was good, as people look at you with their disbelieving eyes and imagine
you in all sorts of denial.
“So instead of being like poor Orson Welles trying to explain how ‘The
Magnificent Ambersons’ really was supposed to be ... I can put this
behind me. This millstone is off my neck.”
And his wife, best friend and everyone else can see for themselves.
The two prequels can serve as a ready-made seminar for film schools,
“It is the easiest term paper imaginable: Compare and contrast. ... More
likely the professor will say you can do a term paper on anything BUT
the two “Exorcists,” Schrader said, laughing.
Different directors, different movies
The similarities include the same settings (East Africa); same general
premise (how a young Father Merrin lost his faith and first encountered
Satan); same star (Stellan Skarsgård); two of the same credited
screenwriters (William Wisher and Caleb Carr, although Alexi Hawley did
some heavy rewriting for Harlin); same cinematographer (Vittorio
Storaro, a three-time Oscar winner for “The Last Emperor,” “Reds” and
“Apocalypse Now”); and several of the same supporting players.
But as any filmgoer familiar with their work might expect, the final
products from Harlin and Schrader are quite different.
After all, Harlin’s credits include “Deep Blue Sea,” “A Nightmare on Elm
Street 4: The Dream Master,” “Die Hard 2,” “Cliffhanger” “The Long Kiss
Goodnight,” and, most recently, “Mindhunters.” Schrader wrote “Taxi
Driver” and “Raging Bull” and directed “Affliction.”
Harlin’s metier is horror and action; Schrader’s the tortured souls of
Both “Exorcist” prequels begin in the 1940s, and show a pivotal scene in
which Nazis try to force Father Merrin (Skarsgard as a much younger
version of the Max von Sydow character in the original) to pick 10
people in his town to be executed. Merrin refuses, and his indecision is
met with a summary execution of a capriciously chosen victim — a young
woman in Schrader’s version, a cute little girl in Harlin’s version.
Demure Clara Bellar plays Merrin’s doctor-friend in Schrader’s movie;
hot Bond girl Izabella Scorupco (“GoldenEye”) in Harlin’s (where she
swigs booze and wears a towel).
A sickly young man is possessed in Schrader’s rendition; the hot Bond
girl in Harlin’s (and what comes out of her mouth, while not “pea-soup”
vomit, would challenge Linda Blair’s Regan in a World Champion Foul
The AP’s Dave Germain called Harlin’s “Exorcist: The Beginning,” which
came out last August, “a cinematic abomination that’s about as bad as
you could possibly imagine.” AP movie reviewer Christy Lemire called
both movies “needless” but allowed: “You have to give Schrader credit,
though, for being more interested in Merrin’s interior journey than in
loud, cheap gimmicks.”
Harlin’s movie — made for about $55 million — was savaged by most
critics, and took in about $42 million in domestic box office.
Follow-ups to the classic cursed
“The Exorcist,” directed by William Friedkin and written by William
Peter Blatty based on his own novel, became a modern classic. It
collected 10 Academy Award nominations, including best picture, and won
for best adapted screenplay and sound.
It told the story of an adolescent girl apparently possessed by the
devil, and two priests trying to exorcise the demon — young Father
Karras (played by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Jason
Miller, the father of actor Jason Patric) and aging Father Merrin, who
encountered evil years earlier in Africa — which offered the faint
sketch for a prequel.
But every attempt at a follow-up has seemed cursed.
Two sequels — “Exorcist II: The Heretic” in 1977 with Richard Burton,
and “The Exorcist III” in 1990 with George C. Scott — spun no one’s
Then bad things happened when Morgan Creek decided to make a prequel
after a director’s cut of the original pulled in almost $40 million —
fat box office for a re-release.
Director John Frankenheimer left the project and died shortly afterward.
Star Liam Neeson quit.
That’s where Schrader and Skarsgård came in.
“The train had left the station,” said Schrader, recalling that just
about everything — script, financing, cast, locations — was set. “And I
loved the fact that it was going to get made in a second. For someone
who spends years and years trying to get films financed, to hear that
‘We’re going to be shooting in three months’ is a powerful enticement.
“So I eagerly jumped on board that moving train.”
He delivered the film he thought Morgan Creek wanted, then got caught
“in a case of buyer’s remorse.”
“After I finished, the decision was made that we had bought the wrong
film,” Schrader said, offering the metaphor that they thought they
wanted a Lexus then decided they really wanted a Hummer. “We got the
wrong car. Shucks!”
Brian Robinson, senior vice president for worldwide marketing at Morgan
Creek, did not return calls or e-mails.
Two cows instead of one
Harlin also didn’t respond to attempts to contact him. But in an AP
interview last year he acknowledged being wary of an “Exorcist”
prequel/sequel curse. “It’s not very funny, if you think about it. I
believe in it,” said the filmmaker, who was hit by a car during
production and spent the remainder of the shoot on crutches nursing
crushed bones held together by 14 pins.
Schrader said the upside for him was that his movie was not “tarted-up
or misshapen.” What we see on the screen is pretty much what he wanted
us to get.
“I had prepared myself for having to disown the film. It was going to be
turned into some kind of two-headed cow ... But by making a second cow,
actually the integrity of what I had done was preserved,” Schrader said.
And as it turned out, Harlin’s version opened the window for his, he
He saw the film with Blatty and recalled:
“During the course of the screening, I just kept feeling better and
better. Because I was saying, ‘Boy, this is really bad. If this gets
much worse, maybe my film has a chance. Maybe there will be a curiosity
about what my film was like.’ Because what would have been the worst
scenario for me was if Renny’s film was pretty good. Then we wouldn’t be
sitting here, and my film would be forever lost.”