It’s interesting, from David Gordon Green’s perspective, it’s not like he just jumped straight from doing three Halloween movies into, now doing three Exorcist movies. For him, The Righteous Gemstones is in between and it’s more of a back and forth. But for horror fans looking at Green’s filmography, it sure does feel like he’s going straight from one classic horror franchise to the next. But it would be impossible to argue with Green’s success: his three Halloween movies combined cost around $60 million and the three movies combined grossed around half a billion. (With the second and third movies being released on streaming the same day as theaters.)
In The Exorcist: Believer, Leslie Odom Jr. plays Victor Fielding, a widower father raising a teenage daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett), on his own. Angela and her friend, Katherine (Olivia Marcum) go into the woods one day and, three days later reappear possessed by demons (as what happens in Exorcist movies), as now everyone frantically tries to figure out how to save the two girls. A woman with some experience with possessed daughters is enlisted to help, marking Ellen Burstyn’s first return to an Exorcist movie since the original.
Ahead, Green explains why he wanted to make three Exorcist movies, what he thinks of the original sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic (now that’s one crazy movie), and how he plans on figuring out how to tie this Exorcist movie in with the next two.
Explain to me how this happens. You just did three Halloween movies. So you and Danny McBride get together and say, “Let’s do three The Exorcist movies now?” Was it brought up that people will think you just make classic horror trilogies now, or did you not care and moved forward?
It does seem weird now when you put it like that. But we’re juggling horror movies at the same time we’re doing The Righteous Gemstones comedy series. We go back and forth. So, for us, if you’re just in our creative workshop in our office, it never feels redundant. First of all, because you finish a project, you go into a comedy, you go into a horror movie, whatever it is. But then also with this movie, it’s so different from Halloween in terms of horror. Until marketing started happening, I don’t even think I thought about it as a horror movie. The Exorcist is certainly a very unnerving, fucked up movie that affected me in my nightmares as a youth and forever, but it doesn’t feel like what I’ve at least come to know in the vernacular of genre horror movies. It doesn’t fit into that category, the original film.
The original film, yes, but I think where it does fit in is because they did make a bunch of sequels to it that once again, like Halloween, we’re ignoring? Do I have that correct?
We’re not really ignoring… I guess we are ignoring them. We’re not dismissing them. I don’t think anybody steps on anybody’s creative toes.
Where do you stand on Exorcist II: The Heretic then?
Heretic is one of the boldest, fucking craziest art films I’ve ever seen.
It is bold.
It’s certainly worth a re-watch.
It is fucking nuts.
It is absolutely bonkers. I was actually talking to Linda Blair about it yesterday. It’s so funny just hearing her stories from that set.
What did she say that you could repeat?
None of it.
None of it, but you know what? I’ll follow up with her and make sure she puts it in her biography that she’s writing because it’s so fun.
It’s a crazy cast.
It’s so legit in so many ways, and then it just goes buck wild so I don’t know. There’s an affection I have for anybody taking bold swings and not just trying to recreate… I don’t know, I just remember seeing Revenge of the Nerds II, and being like, “You’re just making a larger, longer belching contest.”
Nerds in Paradise.
Yeah. Can’t you do something different with nerds?
I love that Anthony Edwards had just done Top Gun and I assume he didn’t want to do Revenge of the Nerds II but had to. In the movie he has a broken leg and he just calls to check in on the guys every now and then.
So good. So I’m sorry for him. He missed paradise.
He did miss paradise.
But that being an example of a movie that you’re like, you’re just making a different version of the same movie again. And I love somebody saying, “Ah, let’s shake it up and let’s do it this way.” So not that it’s a success or my favorite movie in any way, but it’s something to watch and ponder.
Is that why you put the line in that Chris MacNeil hadn’t seen Regan in so long? Because the events of Heretic could have still happened then.
One hundred percent.
Regarding Ellen Burstyn returning as Chris, this is a Jamie Lee Curtis situation where she had come back in the past for Halloween movies before yours. Ellen Burstyn hasn’t been in an Exorcist movie since the original.
Yes. It was an ingredient that I thought would be really helpful to have, some sort of grounding to the original film and not just licensing tubular bells and playing the theme song. But Jamie brought so much integrity to what we were doing on Halloween movies, and she’s a respected person in culture…
And now just won an Oscar…
Well now, yeah, but at the point when we’re making that movie, she’s a charismatic celebrity of interest and brings credibility to something that can just be a slash genre that people can roll their eyes at. And so I guess that’s what my hope was in this movie, too, is not seeing it as a traditional horror movie, but a drama in the sub-genre of possession movies. Can I try to bring some pedigree to it that would help us navigate the drama and as scary as we want to make it? And as unnerving as we want this movie to be? I think if we don’t have a real human story within the movie that’s relatable, that has history to it, I think it’s less dramatic.
So the idea of bringing her back was important to me. And then getting to know her, and talking to her about what she might be interested in, and trying to structure something that felt personal to her and appropriate for her, it was fun. It took a little bit of trust and a few tea parties at her house before she signed on. And those were extraordinary moments, too, and if it had not gone any further, I would’ve thought I’ve had a brilliant insight into one of the icons. But the fact that she trusted us and dove in with us was amazing.
So how will this trilogy fit together? Because when you start doing Halloween, we didn’t know exactly where it was going, but it’s like, well Michael Myers and Lori Strode are going to have their showdown over the next two movies. But this one seems a little more complicated, at least to me, how they will all fit together.
And we’ve got a roadmap, but also, like we did with Halloween, our first Halloween, 2018, was two-thirds of our first script. And then the success of that gave us permission to just make the second one just anarchy and go ballistic. In this one, we have a roadmap of where we go with two and three, but nothing sacred, nothing confirmed. Wherever you go, there are problems. I literally finished the movie last week…
I haven’t seen it finished yet. We finished the sound mix, I approved the credits in their own separate entity, and the music is all done. Tonight I’m watching it all for the first time. You saw the fucking completed movie before I did. So the ink is still wet on this movie in reality and, in my mind, I haven’t reread our notes from where we wanted our ambitions of the trilogy since before we started shooting.
So it’ll be really interesting. I’ll say three weeks from now, four weeks from now, after I go and take a deep breath after the release of a movie, which is where I always just disappear for those weekends and go somewhere and vacuum my brain because it’s not healthy to read reviews and box office reports and that kind of stuff. I’m going to be off in Mexico running around on some sort of weird adventure. And then I’ll come back with a clear head and I’ll watch the movie again. And before I say goodbye to it for a creative chapter, I’ll watch it one more time and say, all right, now having processed it, completed it, done the journey… And at that point we can acknowledge the realistic relationship our film will have with the world, then let’s see where we want to go. And sometimes it is making a longer, louder belching contest. But, for me, usually, it’s reinvent it, fuck it up, shake it up, do something different, or take a deep breath and do a pallet cleanser. So what becomes the priority is yet to be seen.
And that does make a lot of sense why you like Heretic so much, from everything you just said.
“Like” is a strong word.
“Admire,” is that the right word?
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Great. I totally admire John Boorman. A guy at that point in his career, John Boorman made the choices he made. I salute him.
Well, that and Zardoz alone.
Yes! Oh, come on. Of course.
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