The Exorcist Begins

You might want to reconsider ordering the pea soup at lunch today as Warner Bros. releases the long-awaited fourth installment in the Exorcist film series. This prequel just may have moviegoers coughing up plenty of the green stuff–money that is–during its campaign to cast 20th Century Fox’s Alien Vs. Predator out of the top spot at the box office.

Featuring visual effects by KNB EFX, Pixel Magic and Proxima, Exorcist: The Beginning explores Father Merrin’s first encounter with the demon Pazuzu in post-World War II Africa. Stellan Skarsgård plays a younger Merrin, a role originated by Max Von Sydow in the 1973 original, which refers the events of this latest entry.

Whether or not it connects with audiences, The Beginning may be best remembered as the movie with two versions. Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver and director of Affliction and Auto Focus, originally crafted a version of the sequel but the studio thought his take on the story wouldn’t play well to a wide audience. Action helmer Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) was then brought in to entirely re-shoot the film. Harlan’s version is the one arriving in theaters and Schrader’s will end up on video.

Exorcist sequels have been hit and miss, starting with director John Boorman’s The Exorcist 2: The Heratic, which brought Linda Blair back as Reagan MacNeil but failed to deliver the shocks and scares of the first pic. The Exorcist III, starring George C. Scott (Patton, The Changeling) and the underrated Brad Douriff (Wise Blood, HBO’s Deadwood), brought the chills but also failed to turn heads like the original did.

Also debuting in wide release today is Paramount’s Without a Paddle, which stars Seth Green, Mathew Lillard and Dax Shepard, and plays like City Slickers meets Deliverance for a younger generation. In addition, Lions Gate’s shark tale, Open Water, gets wider distibution, expanding into 2,654 more theaters.