The Exorcist: Believer ‘the riskiest thing’ horror powerhouse Blumhouse has worked on
LAS VEGAS – How do you make a follow-up to one of the most influential horror movies of all time?
This is the daunting task faced by the makers of The Exorcist: Believer, which opens in Singapore cinemas on Thursday.
It is a direct sequel to the demonic possession classic The Exorcist (1973) – the first horror film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and a fixture on lists of the scariest movies of all time.
It is also the riskiest project that American producer Jason Blum – whose company Blumhouse Productions made hugely successful low-budget horror flicks such as Get Out (2017), M3GAN (2022) and the Insidious films (2010 to 2023) – says he has been involved in, part of a more than US$400 million (S$547 million) mega-deal by Universal Pictures to make a new sequel trilogy, with a second film slated for release in 2025.
Earlier in 2023, Blum and American director David Gordon Green spoke at an event in Las Vegas, where they teased footage from The Exorcist: Believer.
In it, Ellen Burstyn reprises her role from the original film – Chris, the desperate mother of a possessed young girl, Regan (Linda Blair).
The idea for this sixth instalment in The Exorcist franchise came after Blumhouse successfully made another direct sequel to a 1970s horror classic with its 2018 slasher flick Halloween.
That saw actress Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role from the 1978 original, in which she played a teenager stalked by a serial killer.
The Halloween reboot was directed and co-written by Green, previously better known for comedies such as Pineapple Express (2008) and Your Highness (2011).
Green approached Blumhouse about doing an Exorcist sequel, and Blum, 54, says he felt “David was the right person to honour the original material and bring it into our day and age in ways that expanded and updated it, like he did with Halloween”.
But Green, 48, knew he had big shoes to fill.
The original The Exorcist was directed by American film-maker William Friedkin, whose crime thriller The French Connection (1971) took home five Oscars.
Its story of the attempt to save Regan with an exorcism ritual conducted by priests was a critical and commercial smash, earning 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Friedkin and Best Actress for Burstyn.
It eventually won for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound.
“It struck something primal in audiences around the world with its depiction of innocence corrupted by something evil,” Green recalls.
American actress Blair, 64, served as a consultant on The Exorcist: Believer, but did not wish to reprise her role as Regan.
The film-makers did, however, manage to persuade her 90-year-old former co-star Burstyn – an American actress who won an Oscar for comedy drama Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) – despite her having turned down roles in previous sequels.
And more than one child is involved in this story.
“We tried to delve into what it would be like to have evil take over the body of not just one but two children,” says Green.
The original was made for a mere US$11 million, but grossed more than US$190 million in North America during its original two-year run – a figure that soared to US$441 million globally after it was re-released in 1979 and 2000, making it one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time.
In a podcast earlier in 2023, Blum says The Exorcist: Believer is “the riskiest thing we’ve ever worked on” – not for Blumhouse itself but for its financial partner Universal Pictures – “just because it’s so expensive”.
But he decided to boost the film’s odds by bringing forward its release by a week, to avoid competing with American pop star Taylor Swift’s concert film The Eras Tour, which opens in cinemas worldwide on Oct 13.
Because, the producer jokes in a recent interview with entertainment site Entertainment Weekly, “the one thing that scares me to death is Taylor Swift”.
- The Exorcist: Believer opens in cinemas on Thursday.