Exorcist: The Beginning

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Exorcist: The Beginning
Exorcist the Beginning movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRenny Harlin
Screenplay byAlexi Hawley
Story by
Based onCharacters
by William Peter Blatty
Produced byJames G. Robinson
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Edited by
Music byTrevor Rabin
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • August 20, 2004 (2004-08-20)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million[2]
Box office$76.8 million[3]

Exorcist: The Beginning is a 2004 American supernatural horror film directed by Renny Harlin. The film serves as a prequel to The Exorcist (1973) and is the fourth installment in The Exorcist series. It stars Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, and James D'Arcy.

Exorcist: The Beginning was retooled from Paul Schrader's already completed Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, which Morgan Creek Productions executives feared would be unsuccessful. The film was released in the United States on August 20, 2004, by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Reviews for Exorcist: The Beginning were overwhelmingly negative, and it was a financial failure. Schrader was subsequently allowed to release his version, Dominion, which was somewhat better reviewed than Renny Harlin's film but still earned mostly negative reviews.[4]


In Cairo, Egypt in 1949, a young Father Lankester Merrin struggles with his shattered faith. He is haunted by an incident in a small village in the occupied Netherlands during World War II, where he served as parish priest: near the end of the war, a sadistic Nazi SS commander, in retaliation for the murder of a German trooper, forced Merrin to participate in arbitrary executions in order to save a full village from slaughter.

Merrin is approached by a collector of antiquities named Semelier who invites him to come to a British excavation in a valley called Derati in the Turkana region of British Kenya. The dig excavates a Christian Byzantine-era church built circa 500 A.D. — long before Christianity had reached that region of Africa. Semelier asks Merrin to recover an ancient relic of a demon, thought to be in the church, before the British can find it. Merrin agrees and travels to the dig site. He is joined by Father Francis.

Upon arriving at the site with their translator and guide Chuma, Merrin meets the chief excavator, a brutish man named Jefferies with visible boils on his face and Sarah Novak, a doctor. In addition, Merrin learns that the diggers are disappearing or leaving in droves because the local tribesmen fear the church is cursed. Merrin witnesses a digger inexplicably experience a seizure.

Merrin, Chuma, and Francis visit the dig site and finds only the dome uncovered; the rest of the church is buried beneath the earth. Merrin discovers that the church is in perfect condition, as though it had been buried immediately after its construction was completed. The three enter the church through the dome and find the place in near-pristine condition, but note two disturbing oddities; the statues of the angels holding weapons point their spears downward instead of triumphantly toward heaven. and that someone has vandalized and desecrated the church placing Christ on the cross in an upside-down position. Merrin and Francis deduce the sculptors were trying to depict the angels restraining something that was beneath the church.

Determined to learn more about the archaeological dig, Merrin asks to consult with the lead archaeologist, Monsieur Bession. Sarah tells Merrin that Bession went insane three weeks earlier and was transferred to a mental hospital in Nairobi. Merrin visits Bession's tent at the dig site and sees dozens of drawings of the same demon artifact the collector had asked Merrin to find. Merrin visits Bession, but when he enters his room, he discovers Bession has carved a Hooked Cross on his chest and is speaking in the voice of the sadistic SS commander who tormented Merrin during the war. Bession then slashes his own throat after saying he was "free". Father Gionetti, warden of the asylum, speculates that Bession was not possessed but rather "touched" by a demon, which drove him mad and eventually to suicide. Merrin is very skeptical, but before he returns to the dig site, Father Gionetti gives him the volume of Roman rituals to use in exorcism, although Merrin claims he will never use them.

Upon returning to the village, strange events continue. A local boy is attacked and killed by hyenas that seem to continuously stalk the dig, night and day. His younger brother, Joseph, enters a fugue state after watching his brother get ripped to pieces. The local chief's wife gives birth to a stillborn baby who is covered in maggots and Jefferies, a man involved with the dig, gets attacked in the bar. Around the same time, Merrin discovers a passageway leading to a cave underneath the church that houses an ancient pagan temple with the statue of the demon Pazuzu. He also finds evidence that this temple was used to conduct human sacrifices. Upon his return, he sees the local tribe cremate the stillborn baby. This makes Merrin suspicious, because there are stories of an epidemic that wiped out an entire village in the valley 50 years earlier. He had been told that the dead were buried in a graveyard just outside the valley. When he digs up the graves of the supposed victims of this plague, they are empty.

Merrin confronts Father Francis about it, and Francis reveals to him the history of the Derati valley; a great army led by two priests came to the valley searching for the origin of evil 1,500 years prior. When they arrived in the valley, the evil presence consumed them and one killed the other. When the lone surviving priest made it back, Emperor Justinian ordered a church be built over the site, and then buried to seal the evil force inside of it. The builders of the church never meant it to be recorded in Vatican documents, however, a vague reference to it was recorded and found in 1893. Four priests subsequently came to Derati and enlisted the local tribe to help them. All of the tribesmen and the priests disappeared. The Vatican then ordered that the false graveyard be built and stories of a plague spread around to keep people away from the valley. Francis reveals that it is believed that the valley in Derati was the traditional spot of Lucifer's fall after the war in heaven. Later Merrin, Chuma and Major Granville discover Jefferies tied up in the Church, with his organs pecked out by crows.

The dig's doctor, Sarah, turns out to be the possessed individual and she kills Francis. Merrin has the demon exorcised from her in the tunnels below the church but she dies. Merrin and Joseph emerge from the church, (once again buried in sand) and history has repeated itself. Only Father Merrin and the little boy are left as the British soldiers and the local tribes have annihilated each other. Sometime later Merrin, once again a priest, returns to Rome and meets with Semelier at a cafe, explaining he was unable to find the relic, Semelier replies: "But you found something....Didn't you?"



Producer James G. Robinson first began development on an untitled prequel to The Exorcist in 1997, with the first draft of the screenplay penned byTerminator 2: Judgment Day co-writer William Wisher Jr.[5] In October 1999, Morgan Creek Productions hired Tom McLoughlin, director of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, to helm the film. With a script finally in place, production was slated to occur the following spring in Africa.[6] McLoughlin departed due to issues with the script.[7] In October 2001, numerous publications reported that John Frankenheimer was on board as director, with a new screenplay revised by Caleb Carr. Liam Neeson was attached to portray the character of Father Lankester Merrin. William Peter Blatty was not expected to take part in the production.[8] After a July 2003 release date was slotted, Frankenheimer was forced to step down from the project due to his declining health and was replaced by Paul Schrader.[9] Gabriel Mann joined the cast in April 2002, while shooting was expected to take place in the spring in the United Kingdom and Spain.[10] The following month, the film was officially titled Exorcist: The Begininng and Stellan Skarsgård and Billy Crawford were added to the cast, the former of which replacing Neeson.[11] Principal photography on Schrader's film began on November 11, 2002 in Morocco with Vittorio Storaro handling cinematography duties.[12][13] The crew spent six weeks filming in Morocco and then a further two months in Rome. By the time filming had wrapped in February 2003, six writers had contributed to the screenplay and the budget had nearly doubled.[14]

An early cut of Schrader's film that ran at 130 minutes was shown to the studio in early 2003.[15] The cut was widely derided due to a lack of scares and gore.[16] The studio at first opted to re-edit the film to make it scarier, which Schrader opposed. Additional photography was then planned, which according to Schrader only grew "bigger and bigger" as time went on. Schrader attested that he faithfully adapted Carr's screenplay on screen and that the studio went through "buyer's remorse" during production.[17] Later reports indicated that Schrader was first given the option to re-edit the film twice, with neither cut managing to satisfy the studio. Sheldon Kahn was brought in to re-cut the film without Schrader's involvement. Schrader was "livid" and reportedly demanded that Kahn leave.[18] By then, the studio met with other filmmakers to direct new scenes to make the film scarier.[19] Carr was expected for rewrites, but instead the studio opted to fire Schrader and scrap the film entirely in August 2003.[20][21] Morgan Creek sought for a new director starting in October.[22]

Renny Harlin was among the directors who met with Robinson and suggested rewriting the script, casting new actors, and adding more action. The studio was impressed and hired Harlin.[23] Harlin quickly began overseeing rewrites by Skip Woods.[24] Alexi Hawley and Harlin himself penned subsequent revisions.[25][26] Skarsgård was the only cast member retained from the original shoot.[27] In November 2003, special makeup effects artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe confirmed he would be involved with the film.[28] Filming under Harlin's direction began in the winter of 2003 in Rome. Two weeks into production, the director's leg was shattered after being struck by a car, resulting in a two week hiatus for filming. Harlin shot six weeks on crutches.[29] Production concluded after twelve weeks.[30] By June 2004, work was still being done on the film.[31] The film was finished mere days before its official release.[32] After initially being given a $35 million budget under Schrader's direction, the reshoots and post-production work ballooned the film's budget to over $90 million.[33]


Exorcist: The Beginning was released on August 20, 2004 by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and VHS on March 1, 2005. The film was released for the first time on blu-ray on September 23, 2014. Sony Pictures re-released the film on October 13, 2020.


Box office[edit]

Exorcist: The Beginning grossed $41.8 million in the United States and Canada, and $36.2 million in international territories, for a worldwide total of $78.1 million.[34]

On its opening weekend, the film grossed $18 million, earning the top spot at the box office.[35]

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Exorcist: The Beginning holds an approval rating of 11% from 133 reviews, with an average rating of 3.6/10. The site's consensus reads "A mediocre, gory horror film, nowhere near the quality of the 1973 original".[36] On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average of 30 out of 100 based on 22 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[37]

William Peter Blatty (the author/screenwriter of The Exorcist) said that watching Exorcist: The Beginning was his "most humiliating professional experience".[38] On the other hand, Blatty said that Dominion is "a handsome, classy, elegant piece of work".[39]

Roger Ebert wrote: "I've seen both versions and much prefer Schrader's, and yet it must be said that Harlin did not prostitute himself in his version".[40]

Exorcist: The Beginning was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards, Worst Director and Worst Remake or Sequel, but lost to two other Warner Bros. films, Catwoman and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, respectively.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Exorcist – The Beginning (15)". British Board of Film Classification. September 10, 2004. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  2. ^ Kehr, Dave (May 2, 2005). "Double Your Pleasure? Early 'Exorcist,' Take 2". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2009. [...]not much for a film that cost a reported $80 million ($30 million for the Schrader version and $50 for the Harlin one
  3. ^ "Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 26, 2019.
  4. ^ Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist#Reception
  5. ^ KJB (January 4, 2001). "FilmForce Exclusive: Exorcist Prequel Begins Casting". IGN. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  6. ^ Lyons, Charles (October 30, 1999). "McLoughlin Tapped for Exorcist". Variety. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  7. ^ Hamman, Cody (July 18, 2008). "Director Tom McLoughlin Almost Went From Jason Lives to The Dream Master". JoBlo. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  8. ^ "Liam Neeson Gears Up for Exorcist Prequel". The Guardian. October 31, 2001. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  9. ^ Holson, Laura (February 22, 2004). "FILM; Enough Trouble to Make Your Head Spin". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  10. ^ "Mann and Neeson in Exorcist Prequel". Irish Examiner. April 18, 2002. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  11. ^ "Neeson Replaced in The Exorcist". ShowBiz. May 9, 2002. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  12. ^ "Morgan Creek Productions And Warner Bros. Pictures' Exorcist: The Beginning, Starring Stellan Skarsgard, Commences Principal Photography In Morocco". Warner Bros. November 11, 2002. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  13. ^ "Paul Schrader's Auto Focus (Fall 2002)". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  14. ^ Holson, Laura (February 22, 2004). "FILM; Enough Trouble to Make Your Head Spin". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  15. ^ Stringer, Jason (March 24, 2005). "Exclusive Interview with Paul Schrader". Captain Howdy. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  16. ^ Kehr, Dave (May 2, 2005). "Double Your Pleasure? Early Exorcist, Take 2". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  17. ^ Stringer, Jason (March 24, 2005). "Exclusive Interview with Paul Schrader". Captain Howdy. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  18. ^ Holson, Laura (February 22, 2004). "FILM; Enough Trouble to Make Your Head Spin". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  19. ^ "Exorcist Prequel Bedeviled from the Beginning". Today. August 19, 2004. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  20. ^ Neumaier, Joe (August 17, 2004). "Tough Beginning for Exorcist". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  21. ^ Milmo, Cahal (August 27, 2003). "Exorcist Director is Fired for Not Being Gory Enough for Cinema audiences". The Independent. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  22. ^ Kehr, Dave (May 2, 2005). "Double Your Pleasure? Early Exorcist, Take 2". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  23. ^ Holson, Laura (February 22, 2004). "FILM; Enough Trouble to Make Your Head Spin". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  24. ^ Lee, Chris (August 18, 2004). "A Devil of a Time". LA Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  25. ^ Kermode, Mark (January 25, 2004). "Better the devil you know". The Guardian. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  26. ^ Holson, Laura (February 22, 2004). "FILM; Enough Trouble to Make Your Head Spin". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  27. ^ "Exorcist Prequel Bedeviled from the Beginning". Today. August 19, 2004. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  28. ^ "Interview : Gary J.Tunnicliffe". MovieHole. November 4, 2003. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  29. ^ Lee, Chris (August 18, 2004). "A Devil of a Time". LA Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  30. ^ Holson, Laura (February 22, 2004). "FILM; Enough Trouble to Make Your Head Spin". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  31. ^ Mancini, Rob (June 9, 2004). "Exorcist: The Beginning -- An Exclusive First Look". MTV. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  32. ^ "Exorcist Prequel Bedeviled from the Beginning". Today. August 19, 2004. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  33. ^ "Exorcist Prequel Bedeviled from the Beginning". Today. August 19, 2004. Retrieved August 12, 2022.
  34. ^ "Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  35. ^ B, Brian (August 23, 2004). "Exorcist: The Beginning Spins Big Box Office Numbers". MovieWeb. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  36. ^ "Exorcist: The Beginning - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.
  37. ^ "Exorcist: The Beginning Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved August 17, 2022.
  38. ^ Kehr, Dave (May 2, 2005). "Double Your Pleasure? Early 'Exorcist,' Take 2". New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  39. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (May 21, 2005). ""Dominion" director says he feels vindication with movie's release - Latest prequel on demons matches Harlin's version". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  40. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 19, 2005). "Schrader's 'Exorcist' faces evil". Sun Times. Retrieved November 23, 2022.

External links[edit]