The passing of Oscar-winning director William Friedkin at the age of 87 sent shockwaves through Hollywood and resonated deeply with film enthusiasts. In the dynamic 1970s, Friedkin emerged as a trailblazer among a fresh cohort of Hollywood auteurs, driven by the successive releases of “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.”
The news of William Friedkin’s demise at 87 reverberated through both Hollywood and the community of cinema lovers. In the vibrant landscape of the 1970s, Friedkin stood out as a pioneer among a new wave of filmmakers in Hollywood, thanks to the rapid succession of his acclaimed works, “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.”
The year 1973 saw Friedkin directing “The Exorcist,” a horror masterpiece that defied its genre confines. Adapted from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name, this film sparked a far-reaching cultural discourse and bestowed unprecedented critical legitimacy upon the realm of horror—a feat previously unparalleled in genre cinema.
This cinematic tour de force unraveled a chilling narrative of a young girl ensnared by demonic possession, and her mother’s relentless struggle to rescue her through a harrowing exorcism conducted by two Catholic priests. Its revolutionary impact on critics led to multiple Academy Award nominations, including a remarkable nod for Best Picture.
The Exorcist Is a Horror Classic Like No Other
Beyond its resounding critical acclaim, the movie achieved staggering box office triumph, amassing a remarkable $190 million in its initial run against a modest $11 million budget. With subsequent reissues, this figure expanded to an impressive $441.3 million on a global scale. This triumph further cemented Friedkin’s status as a pioneering cinematic visionary unafraid to engage the essential elements required to craft a profoundly impactful film.
An undeniable tribute to the commanding influence of “The Exorcist” within its genre lies in the persistent attempts at replication, occasionally even by its own sequels.
Yet, the enchantment woven by Friedkin remains elusive, untouched. This reality magnified the challenge that director David Gordon Green undertook with “The Exorcist: Believer.” Presently, scrutiny will inevitably scrutinize the parallels between the two films with meticulous attention, as Green shoulders the responsibility of upholding the legacy initiated by Friedkin.
Legacy sequels to revered horror works are no unfamiliar territory for Green. His audacious venture into the realm of “Halloween,” in 2018, mirrored the title of its predecessor from 1978, constituting a direct continuation of John Carpenter’s iconic horror masterpiece. Green’s admiration for Carpenter’s creation was palpable in his execution.
It could be contended that Green’s approach closely mirrored the original essence and visual potency conceived by Carpenter.
The film functioned as a poignant tribute to its predecessor, all the while forging a distinct path to perpetuate the saga of Laurie Strode (embodied by Jamie Lee Curtis) and the enduring aftermath of the trauma she weathered since her fateful encounter with Michael Myers.
In a large part, Green’s interpretation resonated positively with the majority of fans, propelling the film to become the highest-grossing installment within the Halloween franchise, amassing a global box office revenue exceeding $259 million. This accomplishment was further amplified by its critical acclaim—a rarity among franchise sequels.
This triumph set in motion a trilogy of sequels, giving rise to “Halloween Kills” and “Halloween Ends.” Reactions to these subsequent films exhibited a spectrum spanning from mixed to divisive, with numerous enthusiasts feeling that they fell short of the standard set by Green’s 2018 legacy sequel.
The response to these concluding two installments underscores the skepticism that arose when it was revealed that Green would be undertaking a similar revitalization for “The Exorcist,” akin to his accomplishments with “Halloween.” Given the potential uncertainty stemming from the closure of his Halloween trilogy, concerns emerged about how he could approach the genius of Friedkin’s horror masterpiece—a work arguably more profoundly ingrained in cultural consciousness than Halloween.
Much like his strategy with “Halloween,” “The Exorcist: Believer” constitutes a direct continuation of the original 1973 film, inevitably inviting comparisons between the two works. However, rather than following one of the later sequels, fans must embrace the notion that this legacy sequel emanates directly from the very essence of Friedkin’s creation.
Further deepening their connection is the inclusion of Ellen Burstyn reprising her role as Chris MacNeil, the mother of Linda Blair’s character Regan MacNeil, the young girl subjected to the initial demonic possession.
The involvement of Burstyn is a noteworthy delight for horror enthusiasts, signifying a genuine homage to the source material’s legacy through her participation. However, inevitability looms: witnessing her in scenes will inevitably trigger reflections on the even more impactful sequences skillfully crafted by Friedkin back in 1973.
Can David Gordon Green Match William Friedkin’s Directorial Power?
The director subjected his ensemble to a rigorous emotional trial, and their portrayals from that time continue to command esteem even today. While nobody disputes Burstyn’s remarkable skill, the question arises: can Green evoke analogous moments of brilliance from her in this instance?
Will he succeed in coaxing his supporting cast to parallel the performances seen in “The Exorcist”? A definitive evaluation remains elusive, given the absence of firsthand exposure to the film, yet it’s reasonable to acknowledge the formidable challenge of replicating Friedkin’s commanding prowess and his capacity to extract performances teetering on the precipice of emotional depletion from his actors.
Subsequent to the unveiling of the trailer for “The Exorcist: Believer,” it became evident that the horror enthusiast community held divergent opinions on the initial glimpses of Green’s creation.
There’s a raw authenticity ingrained in Friedkin’s approach within “The Exorcist” that augments the film’s overall intense impact. Per the trailer, the new installment emanates a certain polish, accompanied by visuals that seem to be borrowed from imitators of “The Exorcist,” rather than sharing the same inherent essence.
The teaser serves as a testament to the fact that “The Exorcist” possesses an iconic and unique quality that makes it extraordinarily challenging to emulate Friedkin’s remarkable achievement.
Even the most esteemed filmmakers would encounter considerable difficulty in reproducing the cinematic marvel that Friedkin originally unveiled on the grand screen.
Following Friedkin’s passing, both Green and producer Jason Blum expressed their grief over the departure of the prolific director.
Green conveyed how Friedkin had served as a wellspring of inspiration, lauding his audacious and forward-looking body of work, which undoubtedly will cast an enduring influence on filmmakers for generations to come.
No truer sentiments could have been articulated concerning Friedkin. His audacity and visionary spirit were undeniable, and presently, his most esteemed creation casts a shadow over the imminent release of the legacy sequel.
The passage of time will ultimately determine whether aficionados will welcome it as a fitting companion to the revered 1973 classic or dismiss it as an affront.
Regardless of the outcome, all attention converges upon “The Exorcist: Believer,” and the weight of expectation rests on its capacity to attain a stature that Friedkin would deem worthy of affiliating with his profound legacy.