The Exorcist. Few films have sparked more controversy. It seems as if this tale of possession that captured everyone’s imaginations just will not go away, and it shouldn’t. The original film can be just as jarring now as it was in 1973, and what a tale to tell there is about its sequels.
Before I get into my review of Dominion, let’s take a look back. First we got a sequel in the shape of John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic. Here’s a film that has most fans split down the middle. Some consider it to be a profound if not unconventional film. Others think it is shit. Count me in with those that think it’s stinky brown. This film is simply unbearable to sit through. Then, years later we were treated to the far superior Exorcist III. William Peter Blatty was at the directorial helm, and this film stands as my absolute favorite in the series. Well crafted and brilliantly written with strong performances from George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, and a returning Jason Miller, Exorcist III is one of my go-to films when I need some real chills! Things were looking up for the series, and in December of 2000 The Exorcist: The Version You Have Never Seen made its way into theatres chock full of enhanced and extra scenes. It’s nearly impossible to remember The Exorcist without the now famous Spider Walk moment. A truly welcome return that did better than moderate box office. In fact, it did enough box office to warrant a sequel in the form of a prequel.
Here’s where things get a bit confusing and of course — controversial. The movie was filmed once and then scrapped and then filmed again by action film auteur Renny Harlin. Released as Exorcist: The Beginning, Harlin’s film was met with scathing reviews, and of course instantly fans wanted to see the originally filmed Paul Schrader version now dubbed Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist. To be honest, I didn’t really mind Harlin’s version that much. I found it to be a nasty little splatter film with some decent atmosphere. But like every other fan out there, I wanted to see it all! I needed to see the original version of this film. Unfortunately, I never got to catch Dominion during its brief and extremely limited theatrical run, but the buzz was for the most part positive, and I was chomping at the bit.
I finally got my chance, and to be honest, I am less than impressed. Dare I say it, I like Harlin’s version better. The story is almost the same in that it takes place in Africa with conflict between a local tribe and British soldiers during the excavation of a long buried church. Some of the cast is the same; and yes, the Nazis, the maggot baby, and even the bad CGI hyenas make a return! Speaking of bad CGI, I’m sorry, but it was much worse in Dominion than it was in Beginning. Everything looks horridly fake. Especially the wildlife and insects. I’ll take that swarm of CGI flies from Beginning over the northern lights effect and a snake that looks like it was cast out of a Sci-Fi original picture any day! It was all needless. It was all silly looking.
Now let’s talk about the possession itself. In Beginning the demon had a debilitating effect on its host similar to that of the original film. In Dominion it heals a crippled child played with true heart and soul by Billy Crawford and turns him into demonic perfection. I loved this idea, and for the most part it worked and was really effective. I was with it all the way until he started teleporting around the room complete with Star Trek like dissolve. This effect(!) took me completely out of the film. For people complaining that Beginning showcased a wannabe Deadite, I can assure you seeing it contort its body and climb around was much more effective than watching Dominion‘s big bad go poof into thin air!
This film’s only saving grace is Stellan Skarsgård’s portrayal of Father Merrin. His back story and his faith issues were better addressed in Dominion, and comparing his performance from film to film makes you appreciate what a fine actor he truly is. Both films’ centerpiece, the Nazi scene, is handled in a much more competent fashion by Schrader except for one thing: The head Nazi didn’t even have a hint of a German accent. Is this so much to ask?! I’m sure someone associated with this film has seen an episode of Hogan’s Heroes at one time or another. Ironically enough, Schrader’s film before this was a little bio-pic called Auto Focus, which detailed the life of Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane. How’s that for spooky?!
So what went wrong with both versions of this film? I think I know. Let’s look back at the entire series for the answer:
Title: The Exorcist. Setting: The United States. Verdict: Great film!
Title: Exorcist II: The Heretic. Setting: Africa. Verdict: Shit.
Title: Exorcist III. Setting: The United States. Verdict: Great film!
Title: Exorcist: The Beginning. Setting: Africa. Verdict: Shit.
Title: Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist . Setting: Africa. Verdict: Shit.
Am I the only one that sees a pattern? Stop making Exorcist films take place in Africa! It does not work! No one cares about tribes and hyenas! This setting has been tried three times, and each one fails even more miserably than the last! All we want is Captain Howdy! There endeth my fortune cookie wisdom.
On the DVD extras side of things, you get a pretty sparse package. A handful of useless deleted scenes and a still gallery are the only things that make it onto the disc other than a super (and I mean SUPER) dry commentary by Schrader. I would think with all the hoopla surrounding this film he’d have something to say. Instead we get a Cliff Notes version on how to film every scene. Not even the power of Christ can compel you to stay awake during this. It was a chore to say the least.
So do you need this newest version? Maybe as a completest you do, and I’m sure the curious masses will be first in line to see it. Horror fans have a curse, and that curse is we must see everything no matter how much we are warned that it will be a waste of our time. I guess the devil makes us do it. Although I cannot imagine the fires of hell being worse than sitting through another bad Exorcist film.
Captain Howdy sez: Sequels suck cock in Hell!
Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2004)
Warner Home Video
Directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar, Billy Crawford, Ralph Brown
Commentary by director Paul Schrader
2 out of 5
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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