William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist is violent, disturbing, and polarizing – which is exactly what makes it such an interesting part of film history and pop culture. Based on the novel of the same name, the 1973 film has been met with both controversy and critical acclaim and has garnered a cult following of fans over the years.
And now, nearly five decades since the original flick first shocked audiences with its terrifying premise, stomach-churning imagery, and boundary-pushing performances, David Gordon Green, of recent Halloween acclaim, is revisiting the pulp fiction horror story.
Here’s everything we know so far about Green’s remake of The Exorcist.
What Happened in the Original Exorcist Story?
The story follows a little girl named Regan (Linda Blair), who is displaying new, incredibly disturbing behavior for a child her age, such as urinating on the floor in a room full of people and wielding a foul vocabulary that would make even the most hardened sailor blush. After many fruitless doctors’ tests — including the infamous arteriogram scene which made many movie-watchers physically sick — Regan’s mother, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), seeks the help of Jesuit priests at nearby Georgetown University. At this point, Regan is beyond the point of simply ruining her mother’s dinner parties, and Chris suspects that her daughter may even be responsible for the death of an old family friend.
Two priests, the wise Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and the troubled Father Karras (Jason Miller), answer the spiritual call and visit the MacNeil home. It is there that they perform an exorcism on Regan, an act which Father Merrin refers to as “a dirty little secret the Catholic Church has kept hidden in the closet over the years.” What unfolds on screen is some of the most gut-wrenching stuff in film history to that point — including a head-spinning, demon-quoting, and vomit-hurling Regan — which left audiences shaken, disturbed, and with some even seeking the aid of their local hospital or church groups. As such, the film was met with pushback from many communities that didn’t want The Exorcist shown in their theaters.
Additionally, many industry insiders have criticized the film’s R-rating as opposed to the more appropriate X-rating, with the R-rating given at the time simply so that there would be a better return on the cash that had been dumped into the drawn-out production costs.
What is the Exorcist Curse?
The entire production of The Exorcist was said to be cursed, as an unusual amount of strange and unfortunate events occurred during the making of the film. For instance, the whole set burned to the ground in one night, crew members and castmates were injured or died during production, and eventually, the crew arranged for the set to be spiritually cleansed.
Additionally, William Friedkin, director of the original 1973 film, is notorious for his malicious antics on the set of The Exorcist. Allegedly, Friedkin allowed the violent special effects on Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair, which resulted in serious spinal injuries for both actresses, and he often manipulated the cast in cruelly unexpected ways in order to gain authentic reactions for the camera.
The film and Friedkin also hold connections to a real-life murderer and suspected serial killer, who is even featured in the film. The doctor’s assistant portrayed early in the film is played by Paul Bateson, who would go on to brutally murder Addison Verrill, a film reporter. It is suspected that Bateson is also the “Bag Murders” serial killer, who is responsible for the murder and dismemberment of six men in the late 1970s. Friedkin claims that Bateson told the director that he is in fact the killer behind the bag murders, but this has never been substantiated. After The Exorcist, William Friedkin would go on to direct Cruising in 1980, inspired by the bag murders.
The ‘Exorcist Curse’ is also rumored to be the reasoning behind failed sequels, prequels, and spinoffs to the original film.
What About the Other ‘Exorcist’ Films?
The original Exorcist won an Oscar for the best-adapted screenplay, which is a difficult status for additional remakes and sequels to live up to—cursed production or not.
The Exorcist II is widely seen as a failure, but The Exorcist III is viewed as a singular success in its own right. However, attempts at prequel stories such as Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist have largely failed to win over audiences. A television sequel to The Exorcist was released in 2016 and starred Geena Davis, but only ran for two seasons.
The creator of the new Exorcist trilogy, David Gordon Green, has implied that they may not ignore these additions to the original Exorcist, as these other iterations of the story “can all fall into the acceptable mythology.”
‘The Exorcist’ Trailer
When Will ‘The Exorcist’ be Released?
This latest iteration of The Exorcist will be delivered as a trilogy, with the first film set for release in theaters on October 13, 2023.
With the first of the three films still early in development, it’s not completely clear yet when and where the second and third films will be released. Since the trilogy is part of a deal with Universal, the subsequent Exorcist films may go to straight release on Universal’s streaming service, Peacock.