Green-lit after its progenitor’s surprise re-release reap-load, Exorcist: The Beginning comes trailing a fascinating shadow: Ethical explorer Paul Schrader had originally shot and cut the film his way when Warner wrested it from him due to lack of shock and awe, and then reassigned hackster Harlin to shoot it all over again, using maybe 10 percent of Schrader’s footage, if any at all. We’re told both versions will be on the DVD—thus, this film comes already with a phantom twin movie, a doppelgänger haunting its periphery but bound, we can assume, to eventually replace it. If they press the discs in time, Schrader’s film could be one of 2004’s secret triumphs.
The gooseberry Harlin came up with will win no proselytizers, but it does have a pleasant matinee modesty, a cool sepia-period look, and an interesting flashback relationship with Nazis. Ostensibly the prequel-tale of how the guilt-tortured Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) originally uncovered the demon Pazuzu in Africa (sans fighting dogs), E:TB comes predictably overinvolved with digital childishness (including menacing hyenas, fly swarms that look like they’re painted on the film, and a Mummy sandstorm). Of course, the first film worked wholly because of its ’70s hardcore grit; this fourth slot in the duck march, climactically stealing from Star Trek‘s “Day of the Dove” episode, is as shocking as an Dokken album cover and, finally, as pious as The Passion of the Christ.