Exorcist: The Beginning (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

C'mon, I know it's a silly title, but did you take the time to think about it? I mean, where do you expect a professional exorcist to get his training, for heaven's sake. You think they offer Exorcism 101 at Notre Dame? He has to learn on the job, and it all has to begin somewhere. In this case, it seems that a fortyish Father Merrin first encountered the demon Pazuzu in a buried African city, where the Paz-man was just hanging around waiting to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. The city had originally been built to commemorate the exact spot where Lucifer fell from heaven after directing his revolt. This really doesn't seem to me as good a reason to build a city as a confluence of rivers or a natural harbor, unless Lucifer is going to provide a source of fresh water and generally do a lot better job of protecting the city than he did here, when he let it sink under the African sands.

Anyway, Merrin has to contend not only with Lucifer and Pazuzu, but also some Nazis who were involved in the excavation for their own nefarious purposes. I'm not precisely sure what those purposes were, but "evil world domination" is always a good guess for movie Nazis.

Real ones, too, now that I think about it.

The film derives its shock from "boo" cuts and children being graphically eviscerated by wild beasts or shot point-blank by Nazis. Additional atmosphere is derived from furrowed brows and a permanent orange hue which looks like neither daylight nor darkness  It is not without positives: Stellan did a good job at bringing humanity to Father Merrin, the burnt orange look of the film looked kind of stylish and spooky, and the narrative seemed comprehensible. On the other hand, the pace dragged, and it got mighty boring in spots. I never could get involved, but this movie certainly seems better than the last two installments in the Exorcist franchise, so I don't know precisely why critics hated it as much as they did. Audiences were lukewarm, as evidenced by a decent gross and a C+ score from Yahoo visitors. That pretty much says it all. General audiences found it to be a mediocre movie rather than the bad one limned by critics.

This film had quite a history. The studio originally ponied up thirty million dollars to have the late, once-great John Frankenheimer direct it. Frankenheimer made the correct career move, namely death, and the project was inherited by Paul Shrader, who didn't see the sheer genius  in Frankenheimer's decision, and opted instead for life. Shrader took the thirty million and made, according to all accounts, a movie with no horror in it at all. The studio then fired Shrader and turned the film over to Renny Harlin with yet another fifty million dollars, and it was Harlin who finally delivered the serviceable but uninspiring theatrical version.

Variety had rumored that the DVD of the Harlin film would also include the rejected Paul Shrader version. That would have made for a very interesting package, at least for film students and industry insiders. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. The DVD does include a full-length commentary by Harlin, but I didn't check it out to see if he had any good dish to deal about the other directors. As for Shrader's version, it remains buried under the African sands with Pazuzu, probably on the very spot where George Lucas fell when cast from heaven after directing The Phantom Menace.



  • anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer
  • Commentary by director Renny Harlin
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette


Isabella Scorupco showed her breasts from the side-rear.


The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: one and a quarter stars. Mail 1/10, Telegraph 4/10, Independent 1/10, Guardian 5/10, Times 2/10, Sun 4/10, Express 3/10, Mirror 5/10, BBC 2/5.

  • The tag team directors (Paul Shrader/Renny Harlin) were co-nominated for the Worst Director Razzie.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was originally budgeted at $30 million for Paul Shrader's abandoned version, then Renny Harlin received another $50 million to deliver it. It grossed $41 million in the USA and $35 million overseas. (It slowed down after a respectable $18 million opening weekend.)
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. It is not a great horror film or theological horror film, or whatever it is supposed to be, and critics hated it, but most people found it mediocre rather than poor.

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