The Hollywood Reporter - March 29, 2005

SCHRADER PUTS 'EXORCIST' TALE IN PERSPECTIVE

Director Paul Schrader insists that, if nothing else, his Hollywood odyssey has been unique in film history. Speaking at the premiere of his ill-fated "Exorcist" prequel at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film, Schrader noted that "film schools will now have the easiest example of a compare-and-contrast question."

Said Schrader: "In that sense, this is an asterisk in the history of cinema." 

Schrader had been brought in to shoot "Exorcist: The Beginning" after the original director, the late John Frankenheimer, fell ill. But producer Morgan Creek felt Schrader's version was too tame. They shelved it on delivery and hired Renny Harlin to reshoot the entire movie, which came out last year.

After almost two years in Hollywood purgatory, Schrader allowed himself a moment of vindication at the Brussels Festival which ended Saturday. "If you've made a film that had been shot, and you've been fired, you've been tarred with a brush and it's almost impossible to get that tar off of you," he said. "You can explain until you're blue in the face about how you actually made a good film, and no one will ever believe you, because no one throws away a $35 million good film. It had to be a stinker."

Schrader said it was a close call that his work - now tentatively named "Paul Schrader's The Exorcist: The Prequel" - wasn't entirely junked. "The fact that this film exists owes itself to two phenomena that were not present 10 years ago," he said. "The first is DVD. We were able to say to the financier, 'Don't throw away that film: There is money to be made down the road in DVD.' The other thing is the Internet, whereby through use of fan-based Web sites you can keep talk about the film alive so that the subject never quite dies. Were it not for the Internet, it would have been forgotten."

It was partly because of the horror fan base that Schrader chose Brussels for the screening. "I approached the festival because it was low-key enough that I might get away with Morgan Creek letting me do it. Also, in a more high-profile festival, I would just be in a sidebar somewhere, and here I'm the centerpiece," he said.

"This is a specialty festival," said Schrader - screenwriter of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," and director of "Auto Focus." "The two times Merrin kissed the girl, they were like, 'No, don't kiss her! She's gonna turn into the Devil!' These people are so far ahead of you in the genre: You have an audience that cheers when a woman gets a screwdriver stuck in her eye."

Despite the relief at finally being granted a premiere, Schrader also admits to a certain discomfiture about seeing it. "There are some painful moments watching one's own movie," he said. "Although I can see the good bits, I also see the mistakes. And so there are two thoughts that go through my mind when seeing my work on the screen, neither of them positive. The first is, 'That was really good: Whatever happened to my talent?' The second is, 'That was no good: I never had any talent.'"