For many horror fans, william Friedkin’s The Exorcist is the holy grail — something you just don’t mess with. And yet so many have. Since that film’s 1973 debut, there have been two sequels and a prequel — no, make that two prequels: last year’s Renny Harlin-directed Exorcist: The Beginning, and another version of the same movie that never made it to cineplexes. Why? Because production company Morgan Creek fired director Paul Schrader (Auto Focus) after the film was shot, shelved it, and hired Harlin to start from scratch. Oh, the horror! ”I’ve been living in a world of righteous paranoia [ever since],” says Schrader. But this month came good news: His flick gets a hard-won limited release on May 20.
The resurrection of his film is bizarre — and unprecedented. Schrader’s $40 million take on demon possession got the shaft because Morgan Creek chief Jim Robinson deemed it too short on gore for horror fans, one of Hollywood’s most reliable audiences (witness The Amityville Horror‘s $23.5 million debut). ”Paul’s version was very cerebral,” Robinson tells EW. ”I had concerns as to how well it would play to the mass audience.” Not that Harlin’s (Cutthroat Island) $44 million attempt fixed that problem. Telling roughly the same story (a conflicted priest encounters the devil in 1940s Africa) and even featuring some of the same cast (Stellan Skarsgard plays the priest in both), The Beginning was skewered by critics and grossed just $41 million.