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Exorcist: The Beginning is a 2004 prequel to the 1973 film The Exorcist. This is the second version of the third Exorcist sequel. It was adapted by William Wisher Jr., Caleb Carr and Alexi Hawley, and directed by Renny Harlin. The movie stars Stellan Skarsgård, Izabella Scorupco, James D'Arcy, Ben Cross, Ralph Brown and Alan Ford.

Exorcist: The Beginning was retooled from the already completed Paul Schrader's Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (not released until later) which Morgan Creek Productions feared would be unsuccessful. Reviews of Exorcist: The Beginning were mostly negative, and the project (both Harlin's and Schrader's films together) was not successful upon theatrical releases (despite Harlin's version being more financially successful and #1 at the box office at that time).

William Peter Blatty (the author/screenwriter of The Exorcist) said that watching Exorcist: The Beginning was his "most humiliating professional experience." [82710] (On the other hand, William Peter Blatty said that Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is "a handsome, classy, elegant piece of work." )


The plot revolves around the crisis of faith suffered by Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgård) following the horrific events he witnessed during World War II.

After WWII, Merrin is an archaeologist in Cairomarker, when he is approached by a collector of antiquities who asks him to come to a British excavation in the Turkana region of Kenyamarker. This dig is excavating a Christian Byzantine church from the 5th century — long before Christianity had reached that region. Further, the church is in perfect condition, as though it had been buried immediately after the construction was completed. Merrin is asked to participate in the dig and find an ancient relic hidden in the ruins before the British do. Merrin takes the job, but soon discovers that all is not well — something evil lies in the church and is infecting the region. The local tribesman hired to dig refuse to enter the building, and there are stories of an epidemic that wiped out an entire village. However, when Merrin, growing suspicious of these rumors, digs up one of the graves of the supposed victims of this plague, he discovers it is empty. Meanwhile, the evil grows, turning people against each other and resulting in violence, atrocities, and more bloodshed.

Beneath the church lies the ruins of an even older temple — but not a Christian one. Rather, in the ruins under the church, Merrin and his allies find demonic icons, and other signs of evil and Satanism. This land is where he first encounters the demon that calls itself Pazuzu, which he will encounter again in The Exorcist. This demon is said to "brush" several people, including a child named Joseph, who falls ill because of it, and the former head of the dig who is driven insane by visions.

At the end of the movie, the dig's doctor, Sarah (Izabella Scorupco), turns out to be the possessed individual and has the demon exorcised from her in the tunnels below the church but dies. Dr. Merrin and Joseph emerge from the church, (once again buried in sand) and history has repeated itself. 50 (and 1500) years ago, everyone at the site was killed by an evil presence from the church, except for one priest. Now, only Father Merrin and the little boy are left as the British soldiers and the local tribes have annihilated each other. Merrin returns to Rome and meets with the collector at a cafe, explaining he was unable to find the relic, the collector replies, "But you found something....Didn't you?"



The making of the movie was itself full of drama. John Frankenheimer was initially set to direct, but stepped down just before his death. He was replaced by Paul Schrader, but the producers were completely unsatisfied with the completed film he presented them. Schrader aimed for a psychological film, and delivered what he described as "footage without any of the bloody violence the backers had wanted."

The producers fired Schrader and replaced him with Harlin. Screenwriter Alexi Hawley was called to retool the previous script, and he cut off some characters of Paul Schrader's version, besides adding some new ones. Harlin went back and re-filmed most of the movie, adding new characters and deleting others. The character of Father Francis, originally played by Gabriel Mann, had to be recast with D'Arcy because Mann had a scheduling conflict. A character played by Izabella Scorupco was introduced.

Though the film's plot centers around Father Merrin's exorcism of a boy in Africa many years before the events in The Exorcist, little effort was made to keep the story consistent. Both versions of this prequel take a strong departure from the scenes depicted in Exorcist II: The Heretic, which showed Merrin exorcising a teenage boy named Kokomu in flashbacks. In both Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist the location and setting is different, the boy is not named Kokomu, and he is eventually discovered to not be the possessed victim. That said, Exorcist II: The Heretic is universally despised by fans of the series and is also ignored by Exorcist III: Legion. Though Exorcist: The Beginning also conflicts with accounts from The Exorcist as well since it's revealed at the end that the boy is not possessed. Dominion does not share this inconsistency.

The film is shot in Univisium (2:1) aspect ratio (developed by Vittorio Storaro, who also acted as the cinematographer), although the theatrical release was presented in 2.39:1.

In 2005, the Schrader version was released to theaters as Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. The critical reaction to Schrader's version is only slightly better than Harlin's version, but Schrader's version also received high praise from William Peter Blatty (the author/screenwriter of The Exorcist); he said that Schrader's version is "a handsome, classy, elegant piece of work." )


Critical responses were mostly negative, with Exorcist: The Beginning earning a low 11% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Prominent critic 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."

The project's estimated budget was $80 million ($30 million for Schrader's version and $50 million for Harlin's). Estimated worldwide theatrical gross was $78 million. Although it had beaten Harlin's film's budget, it failed to beat the whole overall project's budget.

It was nominated for two Razzie Awards, Worst Director and Worst Remake or Sequel.

Production errors

  • In one close-up, during the final exorcism of Sarah, Izabella Scorupco's prosthetic demon makeup is clearly detaching from her face. This is most visible around the eyes.


  1. Bruce Westbrook, " "Dominion" director says he feels vindication with movie's release - Latest prequel on demons matches Harlin's version ," Houston Chronicle, May 21, 2005
  2. Exorcist: The Beginning at the Internet Movie Database
  3. Bruce Westbrook, " "Dominion" director says he feels vindication with movie's release - Latest prequel on demons matches Harlin's version ," Houston Chronicle, May 21, 2005

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