2023 has been a solid year for the horror genre thus far, and that’s before the upcoming sequel to The Exorcist has even hit theaters. 2023 hasn’t quite matched the heights of 2022, but there have been some standouts that have done well at the box office, such as M3gan, Evil Dead Rise, and Scream VI.
This year also marks the 50-year anniversary of what many believe to be the greatest horror film of all time, The Exorcist. Directed by the late William Friedkin, the film was the first in the horror genre to be nominated for Best Picture, a rare distinction that only more than a handful of movies can claim. Those films include Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, and Get Out. William Peter Blatty, who wrote the book the film was based on, won Best Adapted Screenplay.
In just a few months, a new entry into The Exorcist franchise will arrive with The Exorcist: Believer. The movie will be directed by David Gordon Green.
The director at one time was best known for his work in the field of comedy. However, in 2018, he entered the world of horror by directing a new trilogy in the Halloween franchise. Incorporating characters of the past into new stories has become a fad over the last decade. This style of sequel is bestowed with the title of legacy sequel.
In today’s era, legacy sequels arguably began in 2015 with Ryan Coogler’s Creed and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Those films brought back characters such as Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, among others. However, these types of sequels can be traced back to the ’80s.
Psycho II is still an underrated gem that brought back Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in 1983. Martin Scorcese’s 1986 film The Color of Money, starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman, is a direct sequel to 1961’s The Hustler, which starred Newman.
The horror genre, in particular, has seen its share of legacy sequels since Green’s take on the masked killer Michael Myers. There were some before, such as 2013’s Curse of Chucky, that had the killer doll return after almost a decade out of the spotlight. Mike Flanagan was astonishingly able to accomplish a sequel to both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s versions of The Shining while adapting King’s own sequel with 2019’s Doctor Sleep.
However, David Gordon Green is up against a goliath in The Exorcist: Believer, and the odds are against him. Making an exceptional Halloween film is not an easy task. But, much of the formula for making a sequel in that series rests on the look of its iconic character, Michael Myers. More than half of the sequels in the Halloween franchise have a subpar and less than menacing-looking Myers, even in fan-favorite entries such as 1988’s Halloween 4.
In many respects, Green and the team hit a home run with their first Halloween film in 2018’s Halloween. Bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis and, even more shockingly, John Carpenter to do the film’s score led to a huge box office. The film became the highest-grossing slasher film in history.
They put the right ingredients together with a formula highlighted with the best-looking and most menacing portrayal of Michael Myers since the original film. The decision to bypass and ignore all of the sequels in the Halloween franchise was an intelligent decision that allowed Green to tell his own story.
His two follow-ups, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, were met with different results. They were panned by a majority of critics and left the fanbase divided on their quality.
To Green’s credit, Halloween Ends, in particular, showcased his willingness to take a risk. Rather than giving in to audience expectations, in giving Michael Myers another killing field, he focused on a theme of the original Halloween, looking into what causes people to turn evil.
Also, for Green, there are numerous examples of films that received negative reviews when they were first released, only to be thought of as masterpieces years later.
Unlike Halloween, The Exorcist doesn’t have a choose-your-adventure type of lineage where you can pick and choose events.
“I like all the Exorcist movies,” David Gordon Green told Total Film Magazine in July 2021. “And not only do I like them, I think they can all fall into the acceptable mythology for what I’m doing. It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Pretend that The Exorcist 2 never happened.’ That’s fine to exist. They’re all fine to exist, and I enjoy all of them.”
The Exorcist series has a rocky and inconsistent quality of sequels, which is the norm with most horror franchises. 1977’s The Exorcist II: The Heretic is often recognized as one of the worst films in the history of horror. A decade plus later, The Exorcist III is cited as one of the premier psychological horror films. Arguably, it set a template for future classics such as 1995’s Seven.
Green has experience taking the helm of a beloved horror icon. The Exorcist, however, has a level of prestige that will be difficult to uphold. There have been a plethora of possession and exorcism-style films since 1973. Most of them have been missing key factors that made the original resonate and have such a forceful impact on audiences.
With such a large abundance of exorcism and possession films, since The Exorcist was first released in 1973, it will be challenging to make the act of an exorcism scary to audiences again.
Along with the plethora of imitators, there have been parody films that have downplayed and lessened the impact the sight of exorcisms might have on modern audiences.
So what can Green do to make The Exorcist: Believer different?
The most memorable moments in The Exorcist feature Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil and her interactions with Father Merrin and Father Karras. Most of these scenes are embedded into pop culture. But the film isn’t just about an exorcism. It centered around a mother trying to save her daughter and two priests having their belief system tested and shaken.
From the trailer, it looks like The Exorcist: Believer will take a unique approach in having more than one possessed character. It will have two in what’s known as a synchronized possession. This creative direction could help the film succeed, but as a sequel framed with the world of The Exorcist, it needs to stay within the same themes.
“One thing that separates this film from the original, and from a lot of possession films, is about a synchronized possession,” Green told Empire in a recent interview. “Two girls, one demon. It’s not just how one family deals with these hardships, but two girls with families that have different philosophies, different levels of spiritual and medical conversations. But who are trying to find answers to the unexplained incidents that are happening within their daughters, that seem to be linked.”
David Gordon Green will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him with The Exorcist: Believer. Expectations shouldn’t be that he matches the heights of William Friedkin’s classic. Instead, he should make something of his own in his voice. Otherwise, he may be doomed to fail if he tries to recreate the original.
The Exorcist: Believer will hit theatres on October 13th and stars Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Dowd, Jennifer Nettles, and Ellen Burstyn.