Nothing is sacred when it comes to movies. If you make a successful movie, you can rest assured that somebody will come along to remake it ten or twenty years from now. When you push that timeframe out to thirty or forty years, a remake becomes a virtual certainty. There isn’t a big-money movie out there that hasn’t been considered for a remake at some point, and a few of those proposed remake projects are finally seeing the light of day. Take The Exorcist, for example. After years of rumours, the Universal Pictures reboot of the original trilogy is in production. We now know we’ll see the first of the three films in October 2023.
The creation of three new (or “reimagined”) Exorcist films is a collaborative project between Universal and Blumhouse Productions, the studio that seems to make just about every horror movie that reaches the big screen in the 2020s. The choice of October 2023 for a release date is probably down to more than just practicality. October is, of course, Halloween month. It’s the best time of year to release a horror film. 1973, though, will mark fifty years since the release of the first Exorcist movie. The film made a star out of Linda Blair and terrified audiences at the time. Religious organisations protested its very existence, and it was said to be so scary that people passed out in movie theatres out of sheer terror.
We’ll never know whether anyone truly passed out because of the film because studios were prone to creating false stories as a way of building hype back then. Their theory was that if someone read about a film so scary that it might knock you unconscious, you might want to check it out yourself to find out how tough you are. The theory proved to be correct. Even with protests outside theatres, negative press coverage, and outright bans in some territories, the film made $112m in its first year of release after being made for a budget of only a tenth of that. After being expanded into other cinemas after its limited initial release, It became the second-biggest grossing film of 1974. That was a huge shock for Warner Bros and an even bigger shock for the protest groups.
Even now, so many years later, the film enjoys a certain notoriety among fans of the genre. It’s still routinely described as the scariest film of all time. Its reputation for being scary is especially strong in the United Kingdom, which might be down to the fact that nobody could see it for almost thirty years after its release. The film was denied a license for home release on video in 1984, by which time only a limited number had been printed. They were sold for high prices on the black market for years as British horror fans clamoured to see a movie that was now said to be “so terrifying that it’s banned.” It wasn’t until 1999 that the ban on the Exorcist was lifted. It would be another two years beyond that before it got its first airing on British television.
Given the fearsome reputation that the first Exorcist film holds, people will ask why Universal and Blumhouse want to tinker with perfection. Aside from the point we made earlier about all remakes being inevitable eventually, think about the power of the Exorcist brand. People will come and see it just because it’s an Exorcist movie. If you doubt that, go to OnlineSlotsUK.com and check out their extensive range of online slots based on horror films. We grant you that the Exorcist isn’t one of them, but Friday 13th and Halloween are. A popular, well-regarded movie franchise can persuade players to play online slots even if the content of that slot is no better than the unbranded one that lines up next to it. That’s the way marketing works. The companies that make online slots know it, and movie studios know it too. That’s why they go back to the well so many times. Universal could easily make a new horror film that has no connections to The Exorcist, but it would be a bigger risk than making something with a name that they already know will sell well.
While the new trilogy has been described as a “reboot,” there are conflicting reports on what’s meant by “reboot” in this context. We’ve heard that Ellen Burstyn, who played the mother of Regal McNeil in the first film, will play the same character in the 2023 movie. Burstyn will be ninety years old by the time the film is released. She can’t possibly be playing the parent of an infant child, so it sounds more like a series of sequels than a re-telling of the first three films. Instead of going back to the past and worrying about continuity, Blumhouse may instead re-tell the events of the first three films but set the action in the 2020s, with Burstyn’s character there to act as a bridge between the old and the new. This would solve the problem of having to include 1977’s Exorcist II and 1990’s Exorcist III in the reboot trilogy, both of which were flops.
There isn’t much more we can tell you about the film while we’re this far out from its release date. We know that Halloween director David Gordon Green is involved in the project and that Leslie Odom Jr has an unspecified role. Odom Jr is a name that’s likely to be unfamiliar to film fans, but if you know your musicals, you’ll recognise him as the originator of the role of Aaron Burr in the smash-hit musical Hamilton. Some reports say that a budget of $400m has been allocated to make the three films, which is solid rather than spectacular when broken down to a per-film amount. The new Exorcist films should look and sound great. The content of the scripts will determine whether they succeed or fail.
This is likely to be a tough assignment for everybody involved in it. Audiences are harder to shock now than they were in 1973, and a re-treat of what we’ve already seen from the Exorcist films of the past will feel tame by modern standards. The producers and writers need to find something that horror audiences have never seen before, but we doubt the project would have been green-lit if they didn’t have the right ideas. Still, the film is two years away, so we’ve got nothing to be frightened about – yet!