Exorcist: The Beginning is one of two unnecessary prequels to The Exorcist. It seems no Exorcist movie can escape production difficulties, but this is the strangest case yet. Exorcist: The Beginning is actually a retooled version of an already completed prequel called Dominion. I somehow missed hearing about the prequels when I was younger, but I was no less confused when I did learn about them. When the much more psychological Dominion failed to win over the studio, director Renny Harlin shot The Beginning instead.
This version was clearly only made to fulfill the studios need for excessive gore and an ending that desperately tries to recapture the original movie’s possession. It’s a shame, because Stellan Skarsgård looks a lot like a younger Max von Sydow. The Beginning sort of follows the first exorcism performed by Father Lankester Merrin in 1940’s Africa. The archaeological dig was never my favorite part of The Exorcist, so an entire movie centered around one is gonna feel dull regardless.
The main problem is how reliant they are on grotesque and/or upsetting imagery. Something the original film used sparingly. As a Christian, upside down crucifixes made me the most uncomfortable. Just like every single movie in the franchise, Merrin is now the one struggling with his faith. Even though we know he’s gonna become the Exorcist by the end. The weight of his journey is wasted on an over-the-top ending that should’ve been a possessed African boy, but ended up being former Bond girl Izabella Scorupco made to look like Regan MacNeil instead. The unfocused prequel also includes occasional flashbacks in World War II. Exorcist: The Beginning is an unholy mess.
The Exorcist III recaptures the creepy atmosphere of the original, but it never quite reaches the same heights. Exorcist II: The Heretic was so bad that original writer William Peter Blatty had to develop his own story to make up for it. Legion is the official sequel to the Exorcist novel. When movie plans fell through and original director William Friedkin left, Blatty directed the movie himself. The Exorcist III is more thriller than horror with a lot of talking. I was a little confused and a bit bored, but this is the closet an Exorcist movie has come to the acclaim of the original. Although its R rating is almost as tame as The Heretic.
The Exorcist III can feel a little on the nose with less cringy attempts at levity. An unusual dream sequence literally features Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Ewing, and Fabio. The Exorcist III ignores The Heretic to focus on Lt. Kinderman from the first movie now played by George C. Scott. He’s now friends with Catholic priest Father Dyer also from the first movie dealing with another crisis of faith. 15 years after the original exorcism, a deceased psychopath called the “Gemini Killer” reamerges with a new set of victims. The movie is more of a detective story set in a mental hospital. As a Christian, I was most disturbed by what they did with religious imagery. The most well executed scare involves a nurse attacked in a tension inducing build up.
Legion refers to multiple demons possessing one body. Despite falling to his death on the Exorcist steps, Jason Miller returns as Father Karras. Regan MacNeil doesn’t appear since Linda Blair was busy becoming a sex symbol and doing an Exorcist parody called Repossessed released the same year. They understandably never use the name Pazuzu, but Chucky himself Brad Dourif is meant to be the “Gemini Killer” inhabiting Karras’ body. This was meant to be the extent of the movie’s supernatural element until the studio insisted there be an exorcism in a movie called The Exorcist III. The reshot ending is incidentally to blame for the movie’s inconsistencies. The Exorcist III has its defenders, but I can’t imagine the Director’s Cut would make a difference.
Exorcist II: The Heretic overcomplicated a simple story of good vs. evil. At times it feels like a parody. That didn’t stop this unnecessary sequel from suffering from just as many filming difficulties as the original. The Heretic has rightfully been called one of the worst movies ever made. Director William Friedkin and writer William Peter Blatty obviously saw no reason for a sequel and Ellen Burstyn understandably refused to be part of it. Kitty Winn replaces the mother as Sharon (Regan’s tutor from the first movie that I forgot about). Max von Sydow was persuaded to return and a 19 year old Linda Blair returned under the condition of no demon makeup.
As a Christian, I’m still disturbed by the subject matter, but there’s nothing scary about The Heretic. The sequel is loaded with silly music, pseudoscience, ridiculous attempts to recreate the original exorcism, a strange fascination with locusts, and overuse of the name Pazuzu. Despite the R rating, The Heretic is borderline PG. There’s barely any blood, no profanity, and a somewhat juvenile tone. Regan MacNeil is far too casual about formerly being possessed. She mostly takes part in psychiatric procedures performed by Nurse Ratched herself Louise Fletcher.
Regan develops several supernatural powers that are never made explicitly clear. There’s a lot of focus on a brain melding device that’s supposed to bring the demon back through memories of Father Lankester Merrin. At the same time there’s Richard Burton as another Catholic priest struggling with faith. He investigates the first exorcism in an African village with a confusing vision quest from James Earl Jones, and by that point I was completely lost. By the end I was begging the movie to make sense. All I know is that they found an excuse to include the original house at the end. Exorcist II: The Heretic should be cast out of the franchise for being this bad.
The Exorcist remains one of the scariest movies ever made. Nothing has left a greater impact on horror cinema. As a Christian, I knew I could only handle seeing The Exorcist once. It was years before I finally built up enough resistance to finally watch it. Rest assured The Bible was by my side the entire time (even now as I review the film). The Exorcist was originally a book written by William Peter Blatty. Although the book was fictional, it was inspired by an exorcism involving a 14 year old boy in the 1940’s. The Exorcist is terrifying because demonic possession is more real than people realize. I get chills just thinking about it. Blatty wrote and produced the film 2 years after his book became a bestseller.
He even managed to hire Oscar winning The French Connection director William Friedkin. The Exorcist was understandably a very difficult movie to get made. Casting big name stars was a nightmare, sets burned down, there were on set accidents, cast members died, and the movie went over budget. The Exorcist nevertheless became a huge success despite 1970’s audience members passing out, having heart attacks, or throwing up. Although Catholicism is the main focus, at least it got more people to go to church. The Exorcist was once the highest grossing R rated movie of all time and the first horror movie ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards…
Possessed Regan floats in the air
The Exorcist is a modern horror classic, but a lot of people forget how much time is dedicated to build up and establishing characters. The opening is a very lengthy archaeological dig in Iraq that I never knew about. The sequence is meant to set up the evil demon Pazuzu as an ancient statue discovered by Catholic priest and experienced exorcist Father Lankester Merrin. Although A-list actors were difficult to secure, Max von Sydow was the most high profile star in the movie. Sydow is commanding, sincere, and brilliant at conveying the power of the exorcism, but we don’t see him again until the climax. Most of the film’s events take place in Georgetown, Washington D.C. The second and most prominent Catholic priest is Father Damien Karras. Karras is currently a Jesuit psychologist dealing with a crisis of faith. The guilt he feels over losing his mother is another big part of the movie I never knew about. Although Jason Miller was only a playwright at the time, he proved himself a worthy actor in the role.
The true focus is on fictional actress Chris MacNeil played by actress Ellen Burstyn. Chris is filming a movie called Crash Course on location with her daughter Regan MacNeil. Burstyn endured a lot while making the movie. Apart from convincingly playing a distraught mother, Burstyn suffered from a traumatic lifelong injury that was kept in the movie. Before passing away 11 months before the movie’s premiere, Jack MacGowran’s final acting role was as Chris’ alcoholic director Burke. Lee J. Cobb plays the officer investigating his mysterious murder and multiple real life priests play heads of the local church, but Regan is really the primary draw of The Exorcist. A 12 year old girl possessed by a demon was the most challenging thing to pull off. So many child actresses turned down the role thanks to a legion of understandably concerned parents. A 14 year old Linda Blair ended up being perfect for the now iconic role. Blair was surprisingly well adjusted before and after playing such a controversial character, but her disturbing mannerisms make all the difference. Regan is just a normal girl before making the mistake of messing with a Ouija board to contact “Captain Howdy.”
The possession is a slow process that gets gradually more disturbing as time goes on. Noises come from the attic, objects begin to move, and the church is vandalized. Regan’s behavior starts to change when she uses obscene language and pees in the middle of her mother’s party. Everyone from medical doctors to psychiatrists are consulted to no avail. Apparently a realistic cerebral angiography procedure disturbed some viewers more than even the movie’s supernatural occurrences. Regan’s bed violently shaking and her eyes turning white are just the beginning. The infamous crucifix scene alone should have insured an X rating. Yet the MPAA somehow allowed an R rating. Even by today’s standards a lot of the more brutal scenes are shocking. It’s at least fortunate that Eileen Dietz stood in for Blair during the more traumatizing moments. As well as physically portray Pazuzu in almost subliminal flashes of the demon’s face. Meanwhile, veteran actress Mercedes McCambridge lent her gravelly voice to the demon’s more profane and blashamous dialogue.
Makeup artist Dick Smith turned an ordinary girl in a nightgown into a terrifying monster with perpetually worsening scars. A disturbingly realistic puppet was used for one of two infamous head turning scenes. The “spider-walk” was initially cut since most of the horror takes place in Regan’s bedroom. The possessed Regan calling itself the Devil makes consulting a priest the obvious answer. Karras is skeptical, but eventually initiates an exorcism with the church’s approval. The first encounter is a battle of will with the demon taunting Karras and vomiting pea soup in another memorably disturbing scene. The church calls in the professional exorcist Father Merrin who enters the house in an iconic shot where his silhouette looks up at a light from the window. The image became the movie’s poster and the piano theme from Jack Nitzsche was just as effective. The exorcism is the ultimate battle of good vs. evil. The entire sequence was filmed inside a freezer with Regan spinning her head 360º and floating in the air.
Merrin and Karras proclaiming “The power of Christ compels you” is one of the greatest moments in horror movie history. SPOILER ALERT! Sadly all the stress and psychological torment gives Merrin a heart attack. So Karras makes the ultimate sacrifice by possessing himself in order to save Regan and throwing himself onto the equally iconic stone steps below. Regan thanks a priest with a kiss and all is well in the end. The Exorcist leaves a lasting impact that hasn’t been seen since its release in 1973. Parodies quickly followed along with imitators that never quite reached the quality of the original. The Exorcist won Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes, but I think the public wasn’t ready for a horror film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The Exorcist was nominated for 10 Oscars including Friedkin for Best Director, Burstyn for Best Actress, Miller for Best Supporting Actor, Blair for Best Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Film Editing. Only winning for Best Screenplay and Best Sound. The Exorcist is an excellent endurance of traumatizing horror.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 could’ve used a bit more Windex. Apart from a short lived 2003 sitcom, it was 14 years since the highly profitable original movie. I enjoyed catching up with the big fat Greek Patroklos family, but the sequel isn’t nearly as fresh. It’s really hard to recreate the accidental independant success of something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nia Vardalos was bound to repeat herself. As well as give it too much of a Hollywood feel with the entire original cast returning alongside producer Rita Wilson and young star Alex Wolff.
As I expected, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is a multigenerational story that needs to live up to its title somehow. Toula falls back into old habits after years of marriage with Ian. Most of their time is spent on trying to spice things up. The half Greek daughter we saw at the end of the first movie is now a rebellious teenager on her way to college. Most of Paris’ time is spent trying to decide between staying with her suffocating family or attending college further away.
Paris also goes to prom with her crush from school, but it’s very last minute. The biggest fattest greekest focus is actually on Toula’s parents. The wedding happens when her father Gus learns that his marriage certificate was never signed. Leading her mother Maria to make the most out of the situation. Other family members have arcs, but none of them impact anything. The comedy is only amusing compared to the unexpected hilarity of what came before. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is just “Opa!” enough.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. It couldn’t have happened to a more unlikely movie. It has a mostly unknown cast and was very independent, but I guess it just connected with people. Never underestimate the power of a Greek audience I suppose. My Big Fat Wedding is the passion project of struggling Greek actress Nia Vardalos. Her one-woman play based on her family was discovered by none other than Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks. They produced a movie adaptation and Vardalos was adamant about keeping her script exactly the same.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding centers on Toula Portokalos and her loud, enormous, and nosy Greek family. With the exception of mythology, I honestly didn’t know much about modern Greek people. Apart from how delicious their food is (Greek fries are to die for). The film explores Toula’s life as a thirtysomething Greek woman who’s never gotten married or made babies like her father wanted. Her father is an old fashioned Greek man who thinks Windex is the answer to every problem and her mother is an outspoken cooking machine.
The rest of her extremely close family is just as colorful. They’re all genuine Greeks, so I didn’t recognize anyone apart from Joey Fatone. Toula gets educated, has a makeover, and complicates her life by falling in love with the non-Greek Ian Miller. Their charming relationship goes by so fast that they end up engaged in no time. My Big Fat Greek Wedding ended up being pretty hilarious when they introduced the culture clash. Since Toula’s proud Greek family is vastly different from Ian’s small boring family. The wedding itself was more heartfelt than I was expecting. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a big fat breath of fresh air.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor continued to force Ewoks on unsuspecting Star Wars fans. An animated Ewoks show also began to air in between Ewok movies. George Lucas once again had a lot of involvement in the TV movie sequel. Turning The Battle for Endor into yet another children’s fantasy that couldn’t be more different than “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” The Battle for Endor was just as lackluster and initially difficult for me to find (also currently on Disney+), but it was somewhat less painful than Caravan of Courage. That’s not saying much.
The child actress who played Cindel Towani has matured slightly and she can now carry entire conversations with Wicket. Which is just as cheesy as it sounds. At least Warwick Davis gets his paycheck. Although her starcruiser is finally ready to leave Endor, Cindel’s entire family is murdered out of nowhere. A band of lizard alien marauders lay waste to the Ewok village and kidnap everyone except Wicket and Cindel. It’s still a kids movie, but the opening is really dark. Any trace of science fiction is lost the moment they made the villain’s base a castle and his henchwoman a literal witch.
Terak and his sorceress Charal are more hands on threats that want Cindel to unlock a power source or something. The weirder part is a grumpy Wilford Brimley being the adult lead who looks after the girl and her Ewok. Between this and the Holiday Special, I really don’t understand these actor choices. Noa Briqualon lives on Endor with the very annoying furry speedster Teek. The titular Battle for Endor can’t compete with Return of the Jedi. The Battle for Endor killed live-action Star Wars projects for over 14 years. “May the force be with you.”
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is further proof that the Ewoks were only made to sell toys. Arguably the only downside of the Original Trilogy, George Lucas was so confident in their appeal that he allowed a spin-off TV movie to be made. Unlike the despised Star Wars Holiday Special, Lucas is fully to blame for The Ewok Adventure. This is what he chose to follow up Return of the Jedi. It’s not buried like The Holiday Special (since it’s currently available on Disney+), but Caravan of Courage was initially difficult for me to find.
I knew the Ewok movies existed, but I needed to see them to comprehend it. The Ewok Adventure feels more like a children’s fantasy than “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Narration takes us through the daily lives of Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor. They’re every bit the dead eyed tribal teddy bears they were before. Except now they use magic and live amongst ordinary non-alien animals. Nothing feels like Star Wars apart from Warwick Davis continuing to play Wicket. The plot feels like a lousy TV budget version of Lord of the Rings.
The human Towani family crash their starcruiser on Endor where the parents are kidnapped by an alien beast. Cindel and her older brother Mace (not Windu) are the child protagonists. Between the terrible child acting is a kid friendly adventure led by a caravan of magical Ewoks. Along the way, they fight giant stop-motion rat creatures, a giant spider, and the crappy looking Gorax that took their parents. There’s also an unexplained Tinker Bell light fairy and Wicket learning to speak. Caravan of Courage is a lackluster adventure that blue milks the Ewoks for all they’re worth. “May the force be with you.”
The Star Wars Holiday Special is universally agreed to be the single worst thing to ever bear the Star Wars name. Happy Star Wars Day everyone! May the 4th be with you. Today I thought I’d review one of the most notorious TV specials ever made. Believed to be myth by even the most dedicated Star Wars fans, The Holiday Special was the very first follow up to A New Hope in 1978. It only aired once, but it was so unbelievably bad that George Lucas has been trying to bury it ever since. Thanks to fanmade video recordings and underground bootleg copies, The Holiday Special will never disappear. For once, Lucas wasn’t fully to blame for the specials failure. The entire original cast returned to appear in what was essentially a 2 hour variety show. One so bad, I have to talk about it separately.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… – The paper thin plot is strung together by Chewbacca needing to come home in time for Life Day. Life Day is the Star Wars stand-in for Christmas. I have no idea what the meaning of the holiday is supposed to be. Harrison Ford clearly doesn’t want to be here as Han Solo and is mostly seen with Chewie escaping TIE fighters in the Millennium Falcon.
Kashyyyk – The first baffling decision was having the opening 12 minutes be nothing but horrific Wookiee growls (with no subtitles). That decision can be blamed on George Lucas, because it was literally his only contribution. The Holiday Special features the first appearance of Chewie’s home planet Kashyyyk. Along with an entire awkwardly named family no one needed to see. There’s Chewie’s wife Malla, grandpa Itchy, and son Lumpy. It’s only between growls that unbearably long variety segments are watched by the family.
Circus hologram – Lumpy first watches a truly bizarre hologram of a colorful alien circus for no apparent reason. The whole segment ties into nothing and feels more like a drug trip.
Message from Luke – That’s followed by Malla and Lumpy reaching out to Luke Skywalker accompanied by R2-D2. All he does is work on an engine in his X-Wing uniform and give Chewie’s family encouraging words. It’s especially awkward given the fact that Mark Hamill has a stiff tan and stares directly into the camera without blinking.
Trading Post – The first major celebrity in the special is Art Carney of all people. He plays a Rebel trader named Saun Dann who services an Imperial guard. He’s also a friend of the Wookiees who gives presents to Chewie’s family. The only worthwhile part of this extended segment is an appearance from Darth Vader aboard a Star Destroyer. Although it’s clearly James Earl Jones overdubbing a scene from A New Hope in order to tie-in to the plot. Stormtroopers and Imperial officers are thus sent to Chewie’s home to search for them.
Cooking with Gormaanda – The first “comedy” segment is Harvey Korman playing one of three different characters. He plays the brown faced four armed alien Julia Child Chef Gormaanda in a segment where Malla follows her cooking video in the kitchen. It’s easily the worst part of the special, but it’s so ridiculously bad that it’s laughable. Especially for the “Stir whip stir whip whip whip stir” line.
Itchy’s fantasy – Itchy’s Life Day present is the point in the special when you really start to question what you’re watching. Chewie’s father literally watches a pornografic virtual reality simulator. By pornographic, I mean that he gets turned on by Diahann Carroll fulfilling his fantasy by singing in a trippy psychedelic acid trip. The first of far too many endless original songs is “This Minute Now.” It’s uncomfortable and I wanted it to stop.
Message from Leia – That’s followed by Princess Leia and C-3PO giving their own message to Malla about her missing husband. This segment is exactly the same as the Luke and R2 message. Except that Anthony Daniels is actually playing 3PO. Unlike Kenny Baker who had no involvement. You can tell Carrie Fisher was definitely out of it while filming.
Jefferson Starship music video – When the Empire breaks in, one of the Imperial officers smiles while watching a Jefferson Starship music video on a holographic device. The band is only in the special because they have “Starship” in their name. The song “Light the Sky on Fire” is catchy, but they play the entire 5 minute song for what feels like an eternity.
The Story of the Faithful Wookiee cartoon – Lumpy later watches a starlog that is easily the only highlight of the awful special. It’s significant for being the very first animated Star Wars project and first appearance of fan favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett. I’d go so far as to call it worthy of being cannon if the 70’s animation wasn’t so crude. The adventure picks up where A New Hope left off. Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 make contact with Han and Chewie as they crash into the system Panna. They’re searching for a talisman that infects humans with a sleeping virus. Boba Fett has a great introduction atop a giant beast that he leads with a prod. Fett’s friendly partnership soon reveals him to be working with Darth Vader. His appearance was possible due to an uncolored image of the bounty hunter before The Empire Strikes Back was released. It’s all downhill when the cartoon ends.
Instructional video – The most mind-numbingly boring segment features Harvey Korman playing another unfunny character. This time he’s an Amorphian android instructor with frequent malfunctions. Lumby uses his instructional video to build an entire fictional transmitter from scratch.
Cantina closing – Bea Arthur is about the furthest celebrity from Star Wars you can get. Yet she’s given an entire segment and song that doesn’t tie into anything. It’s just Arthur playing Cantina bartender Ackmena on Tatooine before getting shut down by the Empire. Harvey Korman once again holds us hostage by playing a flirtatious alien with a disturbing drinking hole on top of his head. The song “Good Night, But Not Goodbye” goes on forever as she slowly closes up to the tune of the Cantina song.
Life Day – The special is brought to a merciful end when Chewie finally makes it to Kashyyyk in time for Life Day. Han defeats the Stormtroopers and very awkwardly interacts with the Wookiee family. Chewie’s reunion is filled with tender growls that lead up to the actual Life Day celebration. Which consists of unexplained balls of light that take the family to space wearing vaguely cultish red robes. More Wookiees are seen in red robes that were obviously used to cut down on fur bodysuits. The life tree ceremony unites Luke, Leia, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 for a final cheesy Christmas Life Day message. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, they actually force Princess Leia to sing to the tune of the Star Wars theme song.
In conclusion, The Star Wars Holiday Special was absolutely painful to watch. I never knew it existed until I saw a poster in a Star Wars book of mine. I’m glad I could find the special on YouTube, because it really needs to be seen to be believed. The decisions are so wrong that it’s a miracle Star Wars continued to be the success it was. Variety shows are barely relevant today, so I was more bored than anything. I can’t say that I was angered by it since none of it is cannon. Although parts of the special have been referenced and/or repurposed throughout the years. Kashyyyk is practically identical to how it appears in Revenge of the Sith. Chewie’s family is never seen again, but I’m pretty sure Solo was hinting at their existence. Boba Fett’s inclusion was likely forgotten by the time he appeared in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn’t until episode 1 of The Mandalorian that Life Day was overtly mentioned in cannon. More surprising is The Story of the Faithful Wookiee being added to Disney+ separate from the special they choose to ignore. The Star Wars Holiday Special is like a fever dream that messed up the franchise before it was cool. “May the force be with you.”
Leia, Luke, Han, C-3PO, and R2-D2 celebrate Life Day with Chewbacca
P.S. I’ve supplied the full movie underneath for those brave enough to watch it.
One Million Years B.C. made the cretaceous era way hotter than it already was. The 1940 original isn’t remembered nearly as much as this 1966 Hammer Film remake. Despite being primarily known for horror, this was actually my first time seeing one of their British productions. Although One Million Years B.C. has cultural significance, the movie was strangely hard to find. Unlike the original, the campy element is fully embraced with cavegirl Loana front and centerfold. Raquel Welch is easily one of the sexiest women alive, and the biggest reason for the movie’s success.
Loana is practically a prehistoric supermodel with flawless blonde hair, a curvaceous figure, and a stunning fur bikini. The look was so iconic that I completely understand why Andy Dufresne hung it up in The Shawshank Redemption. Welch isn’t the only beautiful cavegirl in the movie. Loana at one point engages in a catfight with another attractive cavegirl played by Bond girl Martine Beswick. The rest of the remake plays out about the same as the original. Narration is the only dialogue before non-stop cave talk.
Tumak is still handsome with John Richardson in the part, but he’s hairy like the rest of the cavemen. The Rock tribe is even more savage with personal feuds that get resolved near the end. The Shell tribe live closer to the beach and are far more civilized. Oversized lizards pay tribute to the original, but most of the dinosaurs were achieved with Ray Harryhausen’s always impressive stop-motion magic. There’s a giant turtle, a T-Rex fighting a triceratops, and a pterodactyl picking up Loana. Now I know the context of those scenes in the Malcolm in the Middle opening. A volcano ends the cave romance on an ambiguous note. One Million Years B.C. marked a new age for modern sex symbols.