Would a Remake of The Exorcist Necessarily Be Bad?

By  · Published on September 30th, 2015

Hold onto your tomatoes for a second.

When Deadline originally reported that Morgan Creek was going to co-ordinate on a remake of The Exorcist, I had the same response as everyone else: vomit-launching disgust. Yes, we’re living through a minefield of remake announcements, waiting everyday for news that something we love will be “updated” or “re-imagined” or “exploited for its name recognition value,” but the added bile-gurgling component to the prospect of seeing William Friedkin’s dramatic horror masterpiece remade is that there’s zero room for improvement.

It’s a non-starter artistically, and judging by the sequels, it’s probably not a great financial decision either.

Fortunately, a concerned citizen spoke out against the potential remake:

Dear HitFix…correction: I COMPLETELY denounce a remake of The Exorcist by Morgan Creek.

— William Friedkin (@WilliamFriedkin) September 26, 2015

That prompted Morgan Creek to respond, claiming that, “despite what was printed,” they will “NEVER EVER attempt to remake The Exorcist.” The Caps Lock lets you know they mean it. Except they probably don’t.

The original Deadline article used information and quotations directly from Morgan Creek CEO Jim Robinson, discussing the production house’s aim to sell its library to companies who want to remake Ace Ventura and Major League and, you know, The Exorcist. What’s more, I’d bet a month’s salary that it wasn’t so much a news item as it was a purchased article to pimp Morgan Creek’s sale to Deadline’s audience.

If they’re liquidating their library, it’s hard to believe that they’ll cling tightly to a few titles out of respect for the masterpieces. So maybe when they say they will NEVER EVER remake The Exorcist, it’s because they will only be selling it to someone else who’s going to remake it.

Point being, we’re not out of the woods yet.

However, as a person with no power or say in the matter, and whose voice will never convince management one way or the other, I’d like to consider the possibility of making a good remake of The Exorcist. There are at least two reasons why it’s not as far-fetched as our jerking knees would have us believe.

For one, it’s been stated repeatedly over the last few years by enthusiasts that we’re living in a new Golden Age of Horror. From the indie world of The Babadook, It Follows, You’re Next, We Are What We Are, We Are Still Here, Housebound, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Big Bad Wolves, Late Phases and on and on and on – and, to a lesser extent, the mainstream studio successes of The Conjuring and Sinister – smart, engaging, scary films are cropping up regularly. It’s practically the ’70s again.

That also means that the talent is out there to tackle an Exorcist remake. In our hypothetical world where a company is hell bent on making it, we could do far worse than the current talent pool of Jennifer Kent, James Wan, Kim Jee-woon, J.A. Bayona, David Robert Mitchell, Ana Lily Amirpour, Scott Derrickson, Tomas Alfredson, Sean Byrne, Matt Reeves, Ti West, Adam Wingard, Benson & Moorhead, Carol Morley and others.

That’s not even counting the heavier hitters like Guillermo del Toro and any seasoned dramatic filmmakers who might want to hang out with horror for a while. After all, Friedkin came on board after making The French Connection, so throw open the doors of your imagination to storytellers who understand tension and loss, but who may not have worked with pea soup yet.

I’m not saying that all of them would be the right fit, or that all of them would even be interested, but the skills are out there, and they’re fairly priced. I don’t at all mind imagining Kent’s moody deterioration, Mitchell’s sympathetic character angles, or Wan’s throwback eeriness injected into the well-loved story of a girl telling Max von Sydow what his mother does for fun in Hell, and that’s just the baseline of what skilled filmmakers might do with these figures.

The second main reason to be optimistic (or to fake it at least), is that almost every exorcism movie is essentially a remake of The Exorcist, and there have been some great ones in the intervening years. There have also been some truly, truly heinous ones, but even with the DNA of The Exorcist firmly in tact, The Last Exorcism, Requiem and others worked well.

The big fear with the specter of an Exorcist remake haunting us is that some schlubby production company (or, worse, one of the Big Six) will mine it for parts, plucking an unknown music video director out of obscurity and into an impossible job. They won’t pick someone interesting, right? Someone who might actually do a great job?

On that front, I concede. It’s possible to dream up an Exorcist remake that doesn’t suck because of the filmmakers (and actors) currently making fantastic horror, but reality isn’t that kind. The studio will more likely view the entire endeavor as a cheap cash crop, exploiting the relatively mainstream fascination with bullshit like a “live televised exorcism” and ghost hunting shows, happy to give control to the lowest bidder with a pulse. This is what we envision when we hear the news.

At the very least, I wanted to prove that a great remake is possible, but when it comes to the reality of the situation, I’m with Friedkin. Who wouldn’t be? Sadly, it seems likely that we’ll get a remake announcement one of these days. My only hope is that whatever studio decides to do it will take it seriously and take advantage of the filmmakers out there who at least have a chance at doing it justice. It would be better for fans and, shockingly, be better for the studio, too.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.