This summer everything old is ”boo” again. More than two decades after audiences first watched Linda Blair spew pea soup in ”The Exorcist,” supernatural thrillers are back with a vengeance. The top 3 movies this past weekend were ”Stigmata,” ”The Sixth Sense,” and ”Stir of Echoes.” And ”The Blair Witch Project,” filmed for a paltry $60,000, has already scared up more than $135 million. Who better to explain this frightful box office trend than one of the original masters of the genre — William Peter Blatty, the Oscar-winning writer of ”The Exorcist”?
EW Online: We’ve heard you’re working on another sequel to ”The Exorcist.” Is this true?
BLATTY: The Internet has persistently reported this, but it is simply not true. There is an ”Exorcist IV” in development, but I have had nothing at all to do with it. As to when we might see it in the theaters, my profound and fervent hope is NEVER. I have caught a whiff of what they are up to [and I’m not pleased].
Why are supernatural thrillers reemerging to rule the box office?
There is in my opinion no ”reemergence” of interest in the supernatural thriller. That interest always has been there. What has newly emerged is the studios’ realization that these films can earn a huge return on investment. One of the prime allures of the supernatural thriller is that there is a world of spirit and that death doesn’t mean our final destiny is oblivion. So when the film of the supernatural is a truly good one, the public is strongly drawn to it. The necessary distinction is that you can’t give the audience junk, such as the recent remake of ”The Haunting,” though notice that filmgoers rushed to it on its opening weekend, before they discovered how dreadfully the film had been executed.
How do you think audiences have changed since ”The Exorcist” came out in 1973?
The young audiences of today are largely spiritual and mental troglodytes. I went to a public showing of a film I directed, ”The Exorcist III,” in Santa Barbara and heard a college-aged youth behind me groan with impatience and exasperation, ”Ahh, come on, show it!” when I had discreetly refused to let him see a character who had been both decapitated and totally exsanguinated.
Do you think we’ve lowered our standards?
Yes, far down into depths of moronic sadism. I made my mark originally as a comedy writer. Having witnessed a few ”comedies” these past years, I can assert without challenge that much, if not most, of the young audience today is dismally lacking in a sense of humor. They can only yuk and bray, and the more tasteless and sadistic the ”joke,” the louder the yuks and brays. You couldn’t make the great, classic comedies of the ’40s today because only old people would laugh at the jokes.
How do you think ”The Exorcist” would be received if it were released today?
We don’t have to speculate much. It played at Radio City Music Hall in the late ’90s for one night, and it was reported that ”the audience left the theater shaken.” It was also rereleased theatrically in the United Kingdom last year and became Warner Bros.’ biggest grosser there for 1998. In the meantime, [director] Billy Friedkin is working on a longer and recut version of the film for release in the U.S. around March-April . When Billy first showed me his completed first cut — on a Movieola in an office at, believe it or not, 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan — it was approximately 12 minutes longer and 12 times better. God willing, that’s the version you’ll be seeing next spring.
How do you feel about the use of special effects in movies today?
I have high hopes that the new ”Haunting” has sounded the death knell for today’s surfeit of cheesy, unbelievable special effects, especially the endlessly overdone ”morph.” Good movies are built around characters, story and language. Lately, it’s been, ”Here are these effects, what kind of story can we build around them?”
The filmmakers behind ”The Blair Witch Project” have just signed on for a sequel. Any advice for them?
These filmmakers need no advice from me, and I would gladly take some from them about how to write for today’s young audience.