Vulgar Display of Power Pt 6 (The Devil and Father Amorth, 2017)

The_Devil_And_Father_Amorath_PosterFather Amorath was one of the Vatican’s most prominent Exorcists, in fact, he was the Exorcist in Chief.  William Friedkin, the director of the original the Exorcist presents one of his final exorcisms in the film.

Friedkin notes that at the time of the original film, he had never witnessed an exorcism.  He wanted to explore the topic, noting that he is a believer in the idea of supernatural forces.

He gives background into the film and book on which it was based, and the film includes bits of interviews with the late William Peter Blatty.  He explains when he wrote the book, originally he had planned on writing an account of a true life event. However, as time had gone on, sensitivity for the family resulted in Blatty choosing to make a fictionalized tale.

Friedkin meets with Father Amorath, who agrees to let him witness and film an exorcism of an Italian woman named Christina (there is a stipulation that Friedkin must film it himself, without a film crew present).

Friedkin interviews the woman Christina(she is revealed to have been through nine unsuccessful Exorcisms, which kind of challenges the notion of the power of the ritual) and her family. But Friedkin also interviews mental health experts and neurologists. I admit, the voices Christina utters are certainly unsettling, but still, the film leaves some doors open, in spite of Friedkin’s personal lack of skepticism.

Its is an interesting documentary and Friedkin’s involvement gives it an interesting perspective. It is not truly conclusive, and I suspect will, much like Friedkin’s 1973 film will impact the viewer based on what they bring to the film. The faithful will feel affirmed, the skeptical will remain skeptical.

Vulgar Display of Power Pt 5 (Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, 2005)

the_Exorcist_Dominion_PosterSo, Paul Schrader completed his Exorcist movie.  The studio did not like it. They hired Renny Harlan to make a whole new movie. It bombed. To try and recoup their losses, they released Paul Schrader’s film shortly after the Exorcist: the Beginning hit DVD.

So…uh…what did we get?

Well, the basic concept is the same as what we got from Renny Harlin’s film. There is a church discovered in Kenya where one should not be (in other words, it pre-dates the recorded arrival of Christianity in the region). Father Merrin, suffering a crisis of faith after a traumatic experience in World War II is the lead archeologist.

He finds himself facing off against a great evil that he will one day face again in the future.  But this is pretty much where the similarity ends. There is no twist here as Merrin finds a young man with several physical deformities.  The young man turns out to be more than they thought as Merrin and his friends attempt to save the boy and maybe even correct his weakened condition.

Dominion is definitely more thoughtful and nuanced, saving much of it’s special effects for the big exorcism battle between Merrin and the possessed young man.  the film focuses heavily on the tension between the African locals and the occupying colonizing forces overseeing the excavation of the church. The film is pretty careful to avoid presenting the tribesmen as savages.  They are certainly seen as superstitious, but not without reason. They believe the church houses evil, and the film certainly does not deny that.  Merrin deals with tragedies within the small community of more westernized and Christian Kenyans.

There is a bit during the exorcism in which it is suggested the demonic has infected the entire region with the exploding conflicts between the military forces, the tribe of the region and the small modernized village.

The film has some more gruesome moments, and the exorcism is a bit of a spectacle.  But the film is hurt by some rather weak digital effects (the digital animals look downright awful).

While Schrader clearly was going for something more thoughtful (and generally succeeds) the film is nowhere near as powerful as the first and third entries in the franchise.  Dominion is significantly better than the Exorcist: the Beginning  It is, however, not a great film, and the franchise closes with a bit of a whimper.

Vulgar Display of Power Pt 4 (the Exorcist: The Beginning, 2004)

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Where was there to go, but back to the beginning? Father Merrin is on an archeological dig and having a crisis of faith.  He is brought into see a Christian Church where none should be. Within the church they find a sarcophagus. All this work seems to set free a demon that is controlling the local animal population (mainly hyenas) and seems intent on  reigning down destruction.

So…the movie is not really the interesting things.  See, Morgan Creek had hired Paul Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and the Last Temptation of Christ) to write and direct the film. His intent was to create a intelligent psychological thriller. He was very vocal about this and when he turned in his completed film, the studio had a heart attack.  Where was all the blood and guts?!

Schrader was fired and they brought in Renny Harlan. Harlan looked at the film, claimed it was “absolute shit” and said they would need to start from scratch. The studio signed Harlan on, almost the entire film got recast (in part because most of the cast refused to come back, the main exception being Stellan Skarsgård) and a completely knew story was created. They reshot about 90% of the film.

Renny did not, in the end, provide a superior product. The film is far more obsessed with gruesome imagrey and excessive violence than any of the previous films. It lacks any of the thoughts and nuances of the issues of faith and doubt in the first and third films. Harlan seems wholly uninterested in that.

A lot of the visuals have pretty bad digital touches and there are sequences that are meant to be dramatic that are downright comical.

The Exorcist: the Beginning was received…to say the least, poorly. Harlan gave the studio what they wanted, but he is not a director you go to for the thoughtful explorations mixed with horror that you need for the series.

And so, the studio got an idea when it was time to release the film on DVD. Why not also release Schrader’s cut?  And that is how we got…

Vulgar Display of Power Pt 3 (The Exorcist III, 1990)

the_Exorcist_3_PosterThe Exorcist III (originally titled the Exorcist III: Legion) came thirteen years after the Heretic.  It may have seemed like a pointless act to revisit the long dormant franchise. But the screenwriter of the first film (and author of the book upon which it was based) William Peter Blatty believed he had something to say.

Picking up seventeen years later, the film simply ignore the second film.  Maybe it happened…but it has no bearing here.  Lt Kinderman is older and wearier.  His work has devastated hope within him.

When a young boy is murdered in a fashion related to a case from about the same time as the first film, he becomes convinced dark works of the Gemini killer have resumed.  However, the one problem there is that the Gemini Killer has been dead for about 17 years. In spite of his lack of belief in any supernatural force for good, he starts to become desperate for answers, including talking to a mysterious patient that looks a lot like the late Father Karras.

Where as the second film veered off into insanity, Blatty seems far more determined to explore the questions of how can there be a good God in the face of all our depravity.  Kinderman has looked at the face of man and found it wanting.  He sees only the ugliness…the unworthiness.  And this is what makes the film so compelling.

The sincerity that was the undercurrent of the first film is back.  And for much of the film, Blatty is content to avoid the sensational, saving it for a dramatic confrontation with the Gemini Killer and the host of demons inhabiting the body of Father Karras.

George C. Scott takes over the role of Kinderman from the late Lee Cobb. He brings a wonderful gruff and tired feel.  Brad Dourif brings his skills as a character actor portraying the face of the Gemini Killer.  It is terrifically confident and angry.  The Gemini Killer and the demons housed with him mock faith, they see his mission as a dark and unholy one to spread despair through violence and carnage.

My one criticism is the final resolution. In some ways it is reflective of the first film, but at the same time it chooses murder over sacrifice. It undermines the whole idea of Kinderman accepting a larger world. The film does not give many other options, and you can argue the spiritual forces of good intervene so that Kinderman can act…but still, I kind of wish Blatty would have chosen a different option.

The Exorcist III is a powerful watch and a definite gem.

Vulgar Display of Power Pt 2 (the Exorcist II: The Heretic, 1977)

the_Exorcist_2_PosterLooking at the basics? The Exorcist II seems like it could be a winner. Returning cast members, an established director and dependable new cast members…

And yet?

Father Lamont is in Rio. He is struggling with his faith, and attempts to exorcise a demon from a young woman, but he fails and she kills herself. When he returns to the United States, the Diocese assigns him to investigate the death of Father Merrin four years prior.

This brings him into contact with Regan, now eighteen and having pushed the horrors of the first film from her mind.  She is working with the psychiatrist Dr. Tuskin who believes she can help Regan recover those lost memories.

The investigation takes Lamont deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole leading to one of Father Merrin’s early exorcisms.  And then things go crazy. Giant Locusts, exploding houses, duplicate Regans…and the end result is a crazy mess.

This film is just so bizarre and it’s attempts to build off the first film miss a distinct aspect.  Sincerity.

Here, we see Lamont is a man struggling with his faith.  And that is something that horror really can explore well. The first film does that. In part, it features Karras and his doubts, but how they are played out against Merrin’s confidence.  The Exorcist II tries to recapture the spiritual horror of the first film, but instead ends up seeming like a hilarious joke.

Vulgar Display of Power Pt 1 (The Exorcist, 1973)

the_Exorcist_PosterIt is hard to come into the Exorcist without preconceived notions. The stories of people vomiting or running out of the theater in terror may even set some people up for disappointment.

On an archeological dig Father Merrin discovers some rare and mysterious artifacts.  He suspects this is a portent of coming evil.

Elsewhere, Young Regan lives with her mother, a well known actress. Regan is exhibiting strange behaviors, and at first, her mother seeks medical intervention. In addition, there are strange noises heard in the house.  But as Regan’s actions get more and more disturbing and hard to write off as “puberty”, she becomes more desperate.

Meanwhile, Father Damien Karras is a preist who tends to favor psychological answers over faith ones. He finds his own faith in a precarious place.  Karras is brought in by the Catholic Church for consultation. He initially pushes for psychiatric treatments, and believes there is nothing darker at play.

Karras is also being questioned by a police Detective, Lt. Kinderman.  Kinderman seems genuinely interested in Karras and they strike up a friendship through the course of the film.

Reluctantly, it is determined that Regan is afflicted by a demonic entity. Father Merrin is brought by the Church t lead the exorcism. What follows is a battle of will and faith.

The Exorcist has earned it’s status very honestly. Even today it is an unsettling watch.  It is not the special effects or shocks that are behind this. Instead it is the film’s steadfast sincerity.  The movie does not treat this as entertainment or a joke.  And it is this sincerity that gives the more shocking stuff their real power.   And it also makes it easier to overlook some of the more outlandish moments, such as a head turning all the way around.

The performances are top notch.  Jason Miller plays Karras with a genuine pain… a man plagued with hurt and doubt. Max Von Sydow imbues Merrin with a strong gentleness.  And Linda Blair takes Regan from an adorable child to gut punching monster.

I have often said that you take from the Exorcist what you bring to it. If your world view is hopeless, it will seem like a hopeless film. I have always tended to a more positive approach and feel that the film ends on a truly hopeful note.

The Exorcist is not schlock, even when it indulges more standard horror tropes.  Instead, it uses those shocks to explore faith, life and meaning.  There is a wonderful and brief exchange between Karras and Merrin. Karras asks Merrin why the demon chose Regan.  “Why this Girl?”

Merrin responds: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.

I think the movie seeks to challenge that. That it aspires to refute the demon’s assertion.  That maybe we are not merely animal and ugly. That we can be more.

Panic Inducement

satanic_panicHello and welcome to October at Tripping Through Gateways!!! As with Every October, this month is going to be filled with the scary movies. This year’s theme is Satanic Panic.  This means all the movies I am looking over will have religious connections.  Of course, God and the Devil, angels and demons…light versus dark…all at war with each other. The Exorcist Films and the endless series of films they spawned. The Prophecy movies, the Omen films…countless knockoffs…and also, I am throwing in Hellraiser for good measure.

Hellraiser really doesn’t get all that religious, to be honest, certainly not in the fashion of, say the Omen or the Exorcist. But I have not gone through the series on the blog yet. To be quite frank here, the Hellraiser franchise has one of the worst bad to good ratios of any iconic franchise…often, even when there is a good idea…it gets buried under crap.

So, everybody…let’s panic!

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