In William Peter Blatty’s The meet Father Lankaster Merrin. He has this mystique about him, and eventually we learn a little about his past and he preformed and exorcism that nearly killed him. The film opens with a very powerful scene of good vs evil. In the Heretic we get a little more about then exorcism and the intrigue grew. It felt like it was only a matter of time before a prequel to the “scariest film of all-time” would get a prequel.
The road to the Exorcist Prequel began I the mid-1990s, right around the time The Exorcist- The Version You’ve Never Seen was being re-edited. The first draft was penned by William Wisher, who co-wrote Terminator 2. One thing that surprised me, Tom McLoughlin was tagged to direct the prequel. You remember McLoughlin, huge fan of Universal Horror, Gothic Horror and oh yeah, directed Friday the 13th: Jason Lives. He left the project in October 2001. Which is a shame, he had issues with the script and John Frankenheimer was brought in to replace McLoughlin. That didn’t last long. Neither did the casting of Liam Neeson as Father Merrin. I love Neeson, but his. replacement was terrific.
With a July 2003 release date set, Frankenheimer left the project due to poor health. He was soon after replaced by Paul Schrader who wrote Taxi Driver and wrote and directed Cat People. Stellan Skarsgard replaced Liam Neeson and they were off!
Once the film was completed and edited the studio got involved and said it wasn’t scary enough and there wasn’t enough gore. There was an edit because Schrader’s first cut was 130 minutes. Originally the studio planned to re-edit the film which Schrader was against. When reshoots were discussed and a new editor was brought in, Schrader had enough and was so pissed, the studio scrapped the film and opted to rewrite and reshoot the entire film. The entire cast was replaced, with the exception of Stellen Skarsgard and Exorcist the Beginning went to production with Renny Harlin directing.
Fast forward to August 2004, Paul Schrader and William Peter Blatty writer of The Exorcist, saw the Beginning together on opening weekend. Schrader told The Independent.
“This is really bad. If it stays this bad, I bet there’s a chance I can get mine resurrected”
It did, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist would get a small amount to finish what Schrader needed and was released limited in 2005 and eventually hit DVD. It did however have two alternate titles. The Exorcist: The Original Prequel and Exorcist IV and Dark Angel. Eventually settling on Dominion, which is great.
Haunted by terrible acts the Nazis forced him to participate in, the disenchanted Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) focuses his energies on helping with an archaeological dig in the northern part of Kenya. There, the crew uncovers a church that predates Christian missions into the area, but the discovery also causes strange events to start occurring — including physical changes to a young, disabled boy (Billy Crawford), whom Merrin grows to suspect has been possessed by a demon.
The idea of this film versus the Beginning are relatively similar. Personally, I do find Paul Schrader’s version way better. The Beginning was slow and really moved at a snail’s pace. It wasn’t gorier and the finale wasn’t as good as Schrader’s film. But, if we’re talking about continuity, which Morgan Creek doesn’t seem to care about, I guess the Beginning is the official prequel. Schrader’s film may be better, but both fall kind of flat and are pretty much forgettable.
I say you be the judge. Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is streaming on Peacock and YouTube currently. Exorcist: The Beginning will cost you, your soul in rental fees. Or, find physical copies of each. I grabbed an Exorcist 5-movie set about 10 years back, it included both cuts of the original film.
Looking back on the saga of the making of the prequel to the “scariest film of all-time”, it was doomed and should have never been made. But, we have two of them and it’s your choice which is the better film of the two. I prefer Dominion over The Beginning. I say watch them both and report back.
Now, we have three new Exorcist movies coming over the next few years and excitement levels are mixed. But we will see after David Gordon Green’s The Exorcist: Believer is released in October. I’m excited and we will discuss these films as their released, with the sequel Deciever set for an April 2025 release. If none of this excites you, watch the Heretic and enjoy that film.
Thanks for reading. Let us know what you think of Dominion, is it better or worse than The Beginning?