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