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The Exorcist: Unborn opened to bad reviews and what looked like a lot of money to me, but it’s a box-office disappointment against what the rights cost to make the film.
I don’t like horror movies—except for two, which are all-time masterpieces: Rosemary’s Baby and the original Exorcist. I could watch those over and over again.
But it looks like the makers of this new movie forgot a simple truth about all the Exorcist sequels: people hate them. They all bomb.
I think it’s the simple and obvious fact that the first movie was so startling, and well-executed, and a product of its time—and that copying it just feels boring and derivative.
Unlike Michael Myers, who is cool in a way, the demon that tortured that little girl is an asshole. It’s like, go away.
And it’s so tedious waiting around for the parents to realize what’s going on, then bring in the exorcist, etc.
Plus it’s been easy for rival producers to copy the schtick and put it in a rip-off movie, which are so cheap to make (they all basically take place in a house), that it feels like there have already been 20 of these movies. As much as I love Ellen Burstyn, there’s little gained from the original film’s characters and mythology.
Finally, I think people forget how oblique and weird the original film is. We never see the girl actually get possessed. It pretty much happens off-camera. It’s not even clear who the protagonist is—is it the mom? The kid? The priest?
Ultimately it doesn’t matter because the actually exorcist scenes are so awesome, and the possessed kid is so terrifying and gross, that it’s like, holy cow, this is the most amazing movie.
One last point about the original Exorcist is how simple the mythology is. So many of these horror movies are about the evil, where it comes from, what or who it wants—but in the original film, just as the characters try to figure it out, Father Merrin cuts them off: “There is only one.” It’s at the end of this clip:
It’s brilliant! That’s all you need: “There is only one.” He’s a demon, and he’s evil, and we gotta get it out of the kid. Bam! The audience is like, “Ah, clarity.”
You just can’t go back to 1973 and try to do it over again.