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SYFY WIRE The Exorcist

Was the Late William Friedkin Involved with The Exorcist: Believer?

While the sequel never got Friedkin's blessing, it does bend over backwards to do justice to the 1973 original.

By Josh Weiss

When David Gordon Green set out to revive the Halloween franchise alongside Blumhouse and Universal Pictures, the writer-director had the blessing of the master himself: John Carpenter. Not only did Carpenter agree to serve as an executive producer on the reimaging, but he also signed up to compose the music with his son, Cody, and godson, Daniel Davies.

Green wasn't so lucky on his forthcoming Exorcist trilogy. The first installment, The Exorcist: Believer, serves as a direct sequel to the original feature directed by the late William Friedkin, who sadly passed away last month at the age of 87.

Was William Friedkin involved with the new Exorcist movie?

No, Friedkin was not involved in the new sequel. But it wasn't for lack of trying. "We reached out and never heard back," Green admitted during an interview with Empire for the magazine's October 2023 issue (now on sale).

RELATED: The Exorcist: Believer Throws Back To Regan's Possession in Latest Terrifying Trailer

It was right in line with Friedkin's apathy and antipathy toward the sequels produced after his own movie. "I haven’t seen them," he remarked in 2012, also mentioning the 1975 follow-up to The French Connection, another film he famously directed. "I view them as s-it. They were simply made to cash in on the title. The public isn’t stupid. They can see a rip-off when it’s coming."

Despite that blatant disinterest, Green didn't waver in his mission to bend over backwards (and perhaps rotate his head a full 360 degrees) in order to do justice to the 1973 original and its recently-deceased auteur. In particular, he wanted Believer to feel somewhat untouched by The Exorcist's wide influence on the horror genre over the last half a century, although he came to realize that would be a near-impossible task.

"My main ambition was to preserve the dramatic integrity, and not lean into what's evolved within the genre as a result of the original film," he explained. "But that's impossible: you have to acknowledge that there have been so many movies that are derivative copycats of The Exorcist. It has evolved as a concept, so making a slow-burn, dramatic, provocative, horrific film is different with today's audience than it was 50 years ago."

He later continued: "I think today's audience maybe does have a little bit of a shorter attention, and maybe does need a bit more of a startling effect of a moment here and there. But if you think about what gets under your skin in the original film, we're trying to emulate a little bit more of that dramatic fabric."

To further underscore his point, Green cited the scene where Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) interrupts the dinner party and urinates on the floor. "It's making you uncomfortable, but in a way that feels like it could happen to you. And you're experiencing that: you're one of the guests at that party."

How The Exorcist: Believer remains true to the 1973 original

Linda Blair and William Friedkin on set of The Exorcist (1973).

The good news is that Green managed to gain the support of other Exorcist veterans like Ellen Burstyn, with the 90-year-old actress singing on to reprise her role of Chris MacNeil (mother to Regan) for the first time in five decades. "Working with her is monumental," the director added. And while Blair doesn't star in the new movie, she did occupy an advisory-type role, providing demonic wisdom to Believer's two young leads: Lidya Jewett and Olivia O’Neill.

Then there was the issue of securing the rights to Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," which has become inextricably linked with the supernatural series, as well as figuring out how to use it in the most effective way.

"You don't want to just play it for an hour-and-a-half," Green said. "You have to think when it is meaningful to drop it in. We're doing cooling things, deconstructing it and disintegrating the theme a bit and then building it back up. We're in a very experimental process."

RELATED: The Exorcist: Believer Director David Gordon Green Teases “Synchronized Possession” in New Film

The last piece of the puzzle was a commitment to practical effects. "All the makeup is inspired by Dick Smith's original makeup work," the director concluded. "Most of the effects are practical outside of some clean-up and some kind of technical things that we did from a visual effects standpoint. It's time-consuming, but it just feels more real that way."

What is The Exorcist: Believer rated?

Like all of the sequels that followed the '73 movie, The Exorcist: Believer is rated R. It received this designation for "some violent content, disturbing images, language and sexual references."

When will The Exorcist: Believer be released?

The Exorcist: Believer will spew a mouthful of bright-green pea soup all over the big screen Friday, October 6. The film was originally slated for a Friday the 13th debut, but moved up its release date last week, so as not to conflict with Taylor Swift's Eras Tour concert film.

David Gordon Green shares final screenplay credit with Peter Sattler (Camp X-Ray). Inspired by characters created by William Peter Blatty, the screenplay is based off a story from Green conceived alongside his Halloween trilogy collaborators Scott Teems and Danny McBride. Green and McBride serve as executive producers on Believer with Stephanie Allain, Ryan Turek, and Atilla Yücer. Jason Blum, David Robinson, and James G. Robinson are producers.

Two sequels have already been confirmed. The first of them, The Exorcist: Deceiver, is currently scheduled for a wide bow in April 2025.

Want more demonic thrills in the meantime? The Exorcist III and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist are now streaming on Peacock!