Universal has mostly been on a roll with horror movies of all shapes and sizes, from killer dolls (“M3GAN”) to killer bears (“Cocaine Bear”) to killer boogeymen (“Halloween Ends”), and now they are making a go of bringing one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time into the Universal/Blumhouse umbrella. “The Exorcist: Believer” a legacy sequel to William Freidkin’s 1973 horror classic, will debut theatrically on October 13.
That’s the same general weekend where David Gordon Green’s previous three “Halloween” movies opened in 2018, 2021 and 2022. The filmmaker helming this presumed trilogy of demon possession melodramas will be doing the “three new films that serve as a direct sequel only to the first one in the franchise” thing for a little while longer.
Universal brought the intense and frantic first look to CinemaCon and scared the hell out of those in attendance.
The footage centers on two missing children and their respective families initial attempts to find them. Both are found and think they have been gone three hours, but it’s really been three days. Cue the various possession symptoms, including floating, convulsions and one of them waltzing into a church screaming “the body and the blood” while covered in blood. Cue an elderly Burstyn being recruited due to her previous experiences, with the reveal that this demon is the same one as before. We get a slew of violent, bloody imagery with a reveal that both girls have hearts beating in sync. Spooky!
Universal and Peacock had previously notched a stunning $400 million deal with Blumhouse for three new “Exorcist” movies. At the time, the deal seemed intended to emulate the ridiculous streaming deals typified by Netflix shelling out $450 million for two “Knives Out” sequels. Ironically, the sentiment has since changed on this “endless money for endless content” mentality, but those who like big-scale horror will probably find something to enjoy.
It’s the kind of “throw money at IP for the sake of IP” gambit that hasn’t fared that much better on streaming (“Resident Evil,” “Cowboy Beebop”) than it has in theaters (“Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves”). To be fair, religious horror is and remains a vibrant niche, as seen by the under-the-radar success of Sony’s “The Pope’s Exorcist” which has earned $53 million worldwide on an $18 million budget. And “The Exorcist” remains the biggest-grossing R-rated movie ever in adjusted domestic earnings ($232 million in 1973 and 2000, $1.1 billion adjusted).
That said, “The Amityville Horror” ($86 million in 1979/$300 million adjusted) remains in third place behind “The Exorcist” and “It’ ($327 million in 2017), and none of the other “Amityville” movies have broken out over the last several decades. None of the four previous “Exorcist” sequels have broken out either, and the notion of Ellen Burstyn returning to her Oscar-nominated role isn’t exactly Jamie Lee Curtis again facing Michael Myers.
Universal is hoping that Blumhouse and friends can do for “The Exorcist” what they did for “Halloween.” However, “The Exorcist” is essentially known for one smash hit modern classic, has no real marquee characters and has far less pull with younger moviegoers than the perpetually rewatched Michael Myers flicks. That said, the footage for the Leslie Odom Jr. and Ellen Burstyn-starring horror flick certainly made the initial pitch to those in attendance, and hope springs eternal when God is on your side.