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By Steve Anderson | December 12, 2006

Truth is stranger than fiction… but will it make good movie? The answer is a resounding “absolutely” from “Blackwater Valley Exorcism.”

So what we have here is, basically, the same exorcism story you’ve already seen about a dozen times before. Catholic priest called in, with “a troubled past”, and “demons of his own,” to start pounding demon a*s. In perhaps one of the most overt exorcism titles of the last ten years, we actually kick things off with a possession. This is not something that you see very often, but this does give it a little extra edge. Most exorcism stories require some kind of buildup, but here, you’ll actually see a possessed person within the first five minutes.

And yes, of course it’s a Catholic priest called in to hand this particular demon its a*s. Who else do you call in an exorcism based movie? Only one I can think of that didn’t start screaming for the diocese shock troops is “The Visitation,” which gave Randy Travis the land-speed record for exorcisms. It’s just a basic fact of the horror movie landscape–if you got demons, you call Catholics, you put up with a whole lot of chanting in Latin, and you get a big pot of maybe as to whether or not they can even get rid of the thing to begin with. The track record for exorcisms is, at best, spotty. From “The Exorcist” to “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” the priest vs. demon record is a crap shoot to say the least.

Which isn’t to say this is going to be a foregone conclusion. Proving that someone in the movie business has been paying attention to my coverage, once again, they’ve brought in the man himself, Jeffrey Combs, to handle some of the acting duties.

So you’ve got one plus for Jeffrey Combs, who will indeed yield his standard excellent performance as part of the local constabulary. He is in fact so good in this that I couldn’t even tell for most of five minutes that it was him. But, there’s also one minus in a very familiar plotline. Thus it’ll be left to pure execution to determine just how “Blackwater Valley Exorcism” turns out.

Give due credit to “Blackwater Valley Exorcism”… they went for authenticity like a son of a bitch here and they got it. Not five seconds into the movie and they’ll run a text scroll describing how the exorcism scenes were “conducted under the supervision of Bishop Jason Spadafore”, and then proceed to give a whole bunch of reasons why this should mean anything at all.

And I have to admit to being impressed by the wholly innovative plot stroke of a possession being part of some kind of master plan, as we’ll discover early on. This is not something that’s done very often–usually a demonic possession is treated like some kind of pocket natural disaster, on par with a hurricane in someone’s body. But here, it’s just a part of a much, much larger scope of events. Which is in itself extremely rare.

Even better, I don’t know how many of you follow Bravo, but what they call the scariest part of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was the sheer capability of the actress portraying Emily. I’ll make it clear right now that the chick handling Isabelle’s part could put her in the DARK. Not kidding. Not even close. Emily Rose was downright creepy, sure…but I was pretty well convinced with Isabelle.

Although it’s not without fault around here–most of our Bible quoters throughout seem to have nothing resembling a clue what they’re talking about. At least two separate citations don’t even vaguely mesh with reality. Which is, on the whole, a relatively small trouble. It doesn’t get in the way of the story at all, which is very well executed, despite its familiarity. In fact, even though the base itself is familiar, what they will do with it will prove to be anything but.

The ending is an absolutely amazing plot twist, the likes of which has not yet been seen in any exorcism movie I know of.

The special features include Spanish subtitles, audio options, a commentary track, a making of featurette, and trailers for “Blackwater Valley Exorcism”, “An American Haunting”, “Are You Scared?”, “Dark Fields”, “Black Dahlia”, and “The Feeding”.

All in all, I’m very impressed. “Blackwater Valley Exorcism” manages to take a base that should have been so familiar and so ultimately trite as to be pointless, and yet makes something new and original from it. In the end, a silk purse has been made from a sow’s ear.

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