Upon hearing that one of her most famous movies, The Exorcist, is going to be redone as a television series, Ellen Burstyn was having trouble picturing how the 1973 shocker could translate to the small screen.
“I don’t quite see how they’re going to do it, but all right. Fine,” says Burstyn, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Chris MacNeil, mother to the demon-possessed Regan. “There are some pretty sensational things in the film. I don’t know if they can do them on television. To me, The Exorcist was a work of art, a classic movie. Billy Friedkin really directed it in a way that not anybody else in the world could have at that time. So what they’ll do with it on television, I have no idea.”
The 10-episode series is reportedly being helmed by Martha Marcy May Marlene director Sean Durkin, but the author of the novel, William Peter Blatty, denies the project is going to happen. He says he still owns the rights and that he and Friedkin are shopping around their own miniseries treatment. This fight has been going on for a while now, with Blatty having feuded with Morgan Creek — the company behind Durkin’s would-be series — since they forced changes to his film version of The Exorcist III back in 1990. Then there was the saga of the prequel(s), when Morgan Creek hired Paul Schraeder to direct only to fire him after they saw a cut that apparently didn’t have enough projectile pea soup, and hired Renny Harlin to reshoot the entire thing. Both versions — Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist — eventually were released, neither to much fanfare.
Though I’m naturally inclined to side with the original creators, I have to share Burstyn’s ambivalence over any TV version that may come to pass. The Exorcist is the greatest horror film of all time, a harrowing, unforgettable experience that simply cannot be replicated. Especially when you have to include commercial breaks.
Photo: © Warner Bros.