You have to be either bold or crazy to follow in the footsteps of one of Hollywood’s most chilling films of all time. During his career, director Renny Harlin has been called both, so perhaps the director behind “Die Hard 2″ and “Cliffhanger” is the perfect choice to bring “The Exorcist” back to life.
Harlin is currently wrapping up work on “Exorcist: The Beginning,” a prequel to the 1973 demonic-possession classic. The original — starring Linda Blair, Max von Sydow and Ellen Burstyn — centered on a 12-year-old girl who was overtaken by a satanic power that fueled a million nightmares. Von Sydow’s Father Merrin did battle with the demon in the original, and this time around, Stellan Skarsgard stars as Merrin during his younger days as a missionary in Africa who crosses paths with the demon Pazuzu.
But the film’s own story may be almost as compelling as the one Harlin is trying to bring to the screen. John Frankenheimer (“Ronin,” “The Manchurian Candidate”) was originally chosen to direct before his death in 2002. Paul Schrader (“Auto Focus,” “Affliction”) was then tapped and charged ahead with the project, but Warner Bros. decided not to release his version. Harlin was brought in to begin the film again virtually from scratch.
“Two weeks into the shooting, a car hit me on the streets in Rome and put me in the hospital for two weeks,” Harlin recalled. “Some people say the movie is cursed. I don’t know, but for me this was an opportunity to revisit my favorite movie of all time.”
Reverential when talking about “The Exorcist,” Harlin said he hopes that his prequel will play to that film’s strengths and give fans of the original more of what they loved. “What I tried to do is set up a lot of those unanswered questions that we see in the original,” Harlin said. “There are a lot of open plotlines that are never explained, so I tried to make it so that if you watch this film and then watch the original ’Exorcist,’ the original will seem like the sequel.”
It’s a daunting task, and now audiences can get their first look at how the prequel is shaping up. The film won’t hit theaters until later this year, but you can check out the exclusive trailer for “Exorcist: The Beginning” here.
For more on how the horror movie genre has returned from the grave, check out “It’s Alive! Horror Is Reborn (Again).”
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