God, I hate that long winded title...
Anyways, no point in discussing the troubled history of this film, since you surely know it all already. If not, it's time to pull your head outta the sand! I like good ol' pulpy films as much as the next genre fan, the only difference being that when I find numerous internet folks raving about numerous so-so 80's horrors that made all their cash on the vhs market and then foaming at the mouth about how shite the likes of the Rez Evil or Alien vs Predator films were, I find it to be a truely astonishing level of hypocrisy. But hey, that's just me. Apparently.
But now and again, I want to watch a rather thought provoking and far more intelligent type of horror/chiller. Let's face it, there's not too many out there (and it sure ain't for lack of searching). Hence my excitement over Schrader's cut of an Exorcist prequel finally getting a region 2 dvd release. First impressions? Um. Hey, it's okay. Admittedly, it's actually better than merely okay but it's still not anything to wax lyrical about. Plot wise, we get to see Merrin's past and experience his first encounters with Pazuzu and possession whilst in Africa. Thing is, whilst the picture contains a truly ultra brilliant performance by Stellan Skarsgård and some great creepy moments, it also has some really horrible shit which sometimes rears it's ugly head and badly lets it down.
I can just about handle the truly horrific examples of surely unfinished cgi seen when both a pack of hyenas and a laughably inept portrayal of a snake make brief appearances during the first half of the film but the major problem is the supporting performance of Gabriel Mann as Father Francis which feels as out of place as a rendition of The Sun Has Got His Hat On at a Mormon funeral. Presumably the clumsy computer effects are due to the stinginess of Morgan's Creek when allowing this aborted version to be finally pieced together for the dvd market. But being a film of mostly excellent acting performances and one which relies heavily upon that factor, one man's depressingly below-par acting turn stands out by a bloody mile.
There's some great stuff in here, but now and again, one feels that left eyebrow raising. Fine during a 007 Moore entry (especially if you happen to be Moore) but not so good when the viewer is looking to be fully engaged or emerged in an intelligent entry in this sadly mucho troubled Exorcist franchise. The film's rather unlucky individual certainly looks bloody creepy during his initial outbreak of possession but later on, he merely becomes some sort of floating baldy critter instead. I almost kept waiting for Dan Dare (the space vicar) to turn up and show him the error of his ways.
I thought long and hard about a score and the film does merit a 3.5 award. But only just. Be prepared for some moments of genuine crappiness hidden amidst an otherwise impressive, above par, and dare I say it, rather highbrow chiller. But to anyone who still prefers the Renny Harlin cut, you should certainly hang your head in shame - 'cause you are Satan! Or Pazuzu. Although ultimately after watching this kinda thing, the viewer is left wondering why either of these prequel cuts was even attempted in the first place. Having said that, this original version is probably as good as it gets without the direct involvement of Blatty. Unsurprisingly Blatty far prefers the Schrader cut of the film! In fact, he's said some very positive things about it.
Morgan's Creek clearly doesn't understand the intelligent nature of the franchise, as it seems astonishing that they would balk at both Blatty's original cut of Legion and then this film. But let's put it this way, since Exorcist II was once delivered, I can rest my case! The studio execs are clueless when it comes to this sort of thing. Plus one can't help but wonder why Schrader's script would be green-lit but not the actual film itself. Doesn't anyone bother to read scripts anymore? On the other hand, Morgan's Creek could maybe be a bit more intelligent than I'm thinking, after all, they have suckered some folks (poor bastards) into buying two versions of exactly the same damn concept, even if neither cut exactly set the box office afire.
The dvd case states 2,40:1 as the ratio hence my complete astonishment at the film being presented in a roughly 1,85:1 size. Hmmm, okay. 5.1 sound?? Check, what a relief!! And it's pretty cool too, there's some nice ambient African night sounds to be heard. The usually excellent print suffers from occassional white speck syndrome, a common ailment amongst dvds for films from numerous days gone by, but on a film this recent?? Just what the hell is going on here?! Where exactly was this film stored, under Schrader's armpits or something??
Extras wise, we get a Schrader commentary, some deleted footage (sadly Harlin's cut is not included) and a gallery. Hmmm again. At least the cheapish brand new retail price kinda reflects this new dvd's shortcomings. I haven't listened to the Schrader chat yet but am looking forward to it, I can't wait to hear if he's gonna spend the whole thing moaning about getting the sack!!