Patrick Fabian Gives His Last Exorcism

As horror archetypes go, the “demonic possession” subgenre is one that didn’t really hit its stride until the 1973 release of the William Friedkin production of William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel The Exorcist. Before that there were sporadic cinematic mentions of demons taking over the bodies of the living, but it was The Exorcist and the cultural phenomena it created that set the tone from then on.

After reports of people literally throwing up in theaters, passing out in their seats, and – most importantly – record box office numbers being tallied, the list of films that wanted a piece of the demonic action came fast and furious with titles such as Ovidio G. Assonitis and Robert Barrett’s Beyond The Door, aka The Devil Within Her (1974); the great Mario Bava’s La Casa Dell’Esorcismo, aka House of Exorcism, aka Lisa and the Devil (1974); and on through the years until the recent 2005 release of Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism Of Emily Rose.

Last year Strike Entertainment, StudioCanal, and Arcade Pictures stepped up to the plate and released The Last Exorcism (Blu-ray/DVD review here), a demonic possession film shot in a “cinéma-vérité” manner. Starring Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell, it’s the tale of a preacher who’d begun to question his own faith and his role in the supposed possession of a young farm girl. The film (which was budgeted at just around $2 million) was picked up by Lionsgate in short order and went on to make an estimated $40,990,055. Those are the kinds of numbers that make the Hollywood machine sit up and take notice, kids.

On January 4th, 2011, The Last Exorcism will hit shelves on DVD and Blu-Ray (with multiple commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and even some actor audition footage) and make itself known to a whole new sector of horror fans. Dread Central caught up with The Last Exorcism’s Patrick Fabian recently and discussed the film, religion, faith, and the triumphs and tribulations of bringing them all to the screen.

One small word of warning for those who haven’t seen the film: In the following interview there are aspects of the story that are discussed openly. So be warned ... there is a spoiler or two contained herein.

Dread Central: First of all, I wanted to tell you that I recently saw the film and enjoyed it. I went into it, to be honest, with a little trepidation since I grew up in the 70s and had seen so many “possession” films over the years, but I was pleasantly surprised by The Last Exorcism. So, good job all the way around.

Patrick Fabian: Thanks very much. You know, I like to call it “a smart thriller that has a bit of a horrific ending” because I thought it had good character work in it and it was a new telling of a tale you think you already know. I think a lot of people’s reactions were like yours… sort of pleasantly surprised.

DC: With films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose having come out a few years prior, I could easily imagine that people were thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be another one of those kinds of things.” I think the genre is usually looking for the next thing and so much ends up being recycled that it was nice to see something we were a bit familiar with, but it also gets turned on its head. And you’re right; the performances are so solid in the film, which always helps.

PF: You come in sort of waiting for the dresser drawer to slam or the bed to move. You go to it because you want to have that feeling, that sensation that you had when you saw something that was really good. We’re all chasing that, I think.

DC: That’s the interesting part of the film. The audience is waiting for the kid’s head to spin and waiting for the pea soup, and when that doesn’t happen – and I’m trying not to give too much away in case some readers haven’t seen it – when that doesn’t happen, you think, "Oh wait… it wasn’t that. It was this!" Then the ending comes, and it all gets explained in an even darker way than the one they’d imagined.

PF: Right. It’s like getting the audience in the car with you and you’re just driving down the road. Then, in the second third of the film, the car is driving sideways and the audience is thinking, "Hey, we’re driving sideways" and the filmmakers are like, "What are you talkin’ about?" The car then turns upside down for the final third and the audience thinks, "Hey, I think I want out of here!" and the filmmakers aren’t listening at that point.

DC: So, how did you come to be a part of the production? How did you get cast?

PF: A casting office here in Los Angeles – Lauren Bass Casting – is one I’d been seeing here for years for projects. There was more improv for the audition. They didn’t really show you a script, they just gave you the breakdown for the character and they asked you to come in. Danny Stamm (LAST EXORCISM’s director) was there and I did some improv with Ashley Bell. Then I went away and they had me come back another time and they asked me, "Would you please come back with a ten-minute sermon?" So I wrote a ten-minute sermon and I came back and did that. Then I got cast and then we read the script and then I went to New Orleans and we talked about what was going on. So it was sort of a “cart before the horse” way to get a role, but it was interesting because what they had talked about was the style of shooting and, having seen Daniel’s other films like A NECESSARY DEATH, I was curious about working with him because he had a reality-based kind of directorial viewpoint, but it didn’t look like somebody was shooting it with an iPhone.

DC: Like, say, Cloverfield.

PF: Right, and I’m not trying to throw CLOVERFIELD under the bus. That was just too shaky for this forty-six-year-old. [laughs] Therefore, I couldn’t watch the story they were trying to tell because I was so taken out of it by the camera work. I know many people who very, very much liked that film. I liked what our cinematographer, Zoltan Honti, did, which was not to get shaky with the camera until they were running for their lives, until things go crazy. He’s really there to document what is going on, and since the premise is I hired them to come along and show what was going on, I think he does a great job of covering the action emotionally and also being that fly on the wall for stuff that the audience might want to be looking at as well.

DC: Well, I think that so much of that style gets you reaching for Dramamine, you know? [laughs] And you guys managed to balance all of that out where it did indeed document what was going on, but you still got that immediacy and that kinetic feel.

PF: Well, Danny was very much going for the idea of bringing the audience in. From the time we are settled in, by the time we reach our destination in the van, people are then shocked by what goes on when they meet Caleb. All of a sudden, they’re like, "Oh, right! We’re down here alone. What’s going on?" And I think at that point the audience has that mentality that they are there.

Patrick Fabian Gives His Last Exorcism