The Exorcist: Believer and the history of The Exorcist

The Exorcist: Believer - Courtesy Universal Pictures
The Exorcist: Believer - Courtesy Universal Pictures /

When William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist was released in 1971, it was a very controversial best-seller; of course, the film version took The Exorcist into an entirely new realm. The film was released on the day after Christmas in 1973, and is still considered to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time.

Nothing like it had ever been done before, and audiences couldn’t get enough. It was the story of 12-year-old girl named Regan (played perfectly by Linda Blair) who becomes possessed by a demon. Her desperate mother (Ellen Burstyn) brings in Father Karras (Jason Miller), who has begun to lose his faith by that point. Moved by Regan’s plight and her mother’s anguish, Father Karras and Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) finally attempt an exorcism, which does not go smoothly.

For its time, The Exorcist was extremely controversial. It’s graphic depiction of young Regan’s possession, including convulsions and projectile vomiting (not to mention the infamous masturbation with a crucifix) was unheard of. There were rumors of the set being cursed, due to several unsettling events that happened. There were reports of people fainting in movie theaters, and EVERYONE wanted to see it.

I was ten years old when the film was released, and already being a horror nerd, I was really desperate to see it. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I have a vivid memory of watching some other film at a double screen drive-in, and totally ignoring the movie we went to see. Instead, I was looking back at the other screen, which was showing – you guessed it – The Exorcist. When I finally saw it with sound several years later, it did not disappoint.

Naturally, with it being such a huge monetary success, a sequel was eminent. In 1977, Exorcist II: The Heretic was released. It was probably doomed from the start, since neither William Peter Blatty nor the original film’s director William Friedkin would have anything to do with it. Linda Blair returned as Regan, but refused to don demon makeup, and Ellen Burtstyn declined to reprise her role.

The Exorcist
The Exorcist. Image Courtesy Shudder /

The rather muddled storyline involved another Priest wrestling with his faith and being assigned to investigate Father Merrin’s death. As part of his investigation, he visits Regan, who claims to have no memory of her own possession.

The film bombed so badly that the franchise remained quiet until The Exorcist III was released in 1990. This time, William Peter Blatty both wrote and directed, and it was better-received critically than the second film. Still, though, it didn’t hit as hard as the original. Now it is mainly known for the excellent performance of Brad Douriff, who plays The Gemini Killer, imprisoned in a mental hospital. It also boasts one of the very best jump scares in cinematic history, and it’s worth watching the film for those two reasons alone.

2004 brought a prequel, Exorcist: The Beginning, and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist was released in 2005. Neither made much of a splash.

In 2016, Fox ran the first season of The Exorcist television series, which is, in my opinion, highly underrated. It told the story of the Rance family, whose daughter becomes possessed. Two priests attempt to help the family, and to tell anything more would be to ruin your chances of going in blind if you decide to watch (which you should). There is a reveal in the fifth episode that was so brilliant, I almost burst into tears of joy while watching.

The second season was also excellent, bringing back the priests, but introducing Andrew, who is foster parenting a group of kids at his Nachburn Island home. Of course, possession ensues. It’s a solid series throughout, and I am kind of sad it wasn’t renewed for a third season. You can watch it on Hulu, or rent the series on Amazon Prime.

All of this brings us to The Exorcist: Believer, which will release in theaters on October 13 of this year. It’s coming to us from Blumhouse and David Gordon Green, who brought the Halloween Franchise back to life with the newest trilogy (Halloween, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends). Co-producing are David Robinson and James G. Robinson, of The Exorcist tv series.

It tells the story of Victor Fielding, who has raised his daughter Angela alone since his wife died 12 years earlier in an earthquake. When Angela and a friend go missing in the woods, they return several days later and claim to have no memory of what happened. Obviously, possession is suspected, and Victor finds Chris MacNeil, Regan’s mother to ask for her help. Notably, Ellen Burstyn is returning to the role she originated 50 years ago.

The Exorcist: Believer is the first of three sequels planned by Blumhouse, with The Exorcist: Deceiver planned for 2025. The third film has no title or release date as of yet. Watch the trailer for The Exorcist: Believer below.

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