Cain vs. Abel. Kobe vs. Shaq. O.J. vs. The Man. There have been many epic rivalries in history, but few matched the clusterfuck that was the fourth Exorcist film. That respected director Paul Schrader’s original film (Dominion) was shelved in favor of a nearly complete re-shoot (The Beginning) by the not-so-respected Renny Harlin is by now well known, but the racial element of the story remains intact throughout both versions.
Certainly, the tale of demonic possession in an African village is central to each movie, but there’s an intriguing subplot of racial tension between the British colonial military and the local tribesmen that propels the story beyond the typical horror gorefest — sort of like a satanic Do the Right Thing. That said, these are horror movies, and even though Schrader’s might be the more thoughtful and subtle film, it fails to scare, shock or, at times, even keep you awake. The climax was so uneventful, I thought that the studio might’ve pulled the plug before Schrader had a chance to finish it.
The Beginning, meanwhile, is an unabashed popcorn movie, but at least it entertains. The racial tension, for instance, erupts in an epic battle that becomes an orgy of blood, while in Dominion, the exorcism occurs just in time to prevent bloodshed (Gee, thanks.). And while the exorcism in Harlin’s film is a far more over-the-top affair, wouldn’t you consider levitation, head-spinning and pea soup-spewing pretty over-the-top? Why is the original Exorcist considered so much more high-brow than The Beginning? Certainly, there’s nothing shocking about either of these two prequels, but at least Harlin’s version revels in the fact that it is indeed a horror movie. The artsy-fartsy types can have their Dominion and eat it, too.