Archive | Horror

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SDCC: Sam Raimi Announces EVIL DEAD TV Series In Development

Posted on 25 July 2014 by Rich Drees


Writer/director Sam Raimi revealed at San Diego Comic Con today that he is working to bring his signature horror franchise The Evil Dead to television. Raimi told a packed panel discussion that he and franchise star Bruce Campbell were actively developing/writing a TV series version of his iconic films.

Raimi didn’t divulge much details so we don’t know if it will follow in the continuity of the original trilogy of films in which he directed Campbell, if it will pick up from last year’s remake or if it will stand on its own. He also did not hint as to whether the tone of the series would be more straight-up horror of some of the entries in the franchise or veer towards the black comedy of other of the series’s films.

It strikes me as that the success of the Evil Dead films is due to their compactness. A single setting in an isolated location and the tension being ratcheted continually up makes for some gripping filmmaking. I am not quite sure how Raimi and Campbell will manage to broaden the story out to support a whole TV series. Of course, I thought that way when it was announced that Robert Rodriguez was expanding his film From Dusk Till Dawn into a 13 part series for his new El Rey cable outlet and that turned out to be pretty good. And this is Raimi, and if there’s anyone who knows the workings of the franchise, its him and Campbell. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

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MARBLE HORNETS Adaptation Already Shot And Stars Doug Jones

Posted on 01 November 2013 by Rich Drees


Troy Wagner, creator and director of the internet series horror series Marble Hornets, dropped a bombshell on the series’ fandom yesterday when he announced that the planned big screen adaptation of the film was actually already completed.

Writing on his blog, Wagner revealed that shooting had already wrapped on the project and that it would feature Hellboy and Falling Skies actor Doug Jones in the lead role of the creepy Operator.

The movie itself, believe it or not, has already been shot! Remember our super secret trip to LA this summer? That was to visit the set. It was an awesome experience to see everyone bustling around and getting things done. Got to meet and chat for a bit with pretty much everyone on the team, including all the actors that were there that day. Oh yeah, speaking of which… As some of you have already suspected, it’s totally true, the one and only Doug Jones is in the movie as The Operator. Yeah man, THAT Doug Jones. He was the nicest guy to meet and hang around with, yet was able to turn instantly unsettling once the cameras were rolling. I can’t think of a better person to play the part and am so pumped that it all worked out.

Wagner was not forthcoming with any more details regarding release dates and such, but he did note that the film would not be a direct continuation of the internet series.

That’s still set to finish up at the end of season 3, so no cliffhangers that will require you to go to a movie theater to see resolved. Instead, the story of the movie will take place in the same universe as the webseries, and there’s definitely a reason for that, but speaking more on that ventures into spoiler territory.

Exciting news for fans of the series to be sure. It will be interesting to see how writer/director Ian Shorr’s take on the material will still pack the same creepy, paranoid punch that the web series does or if the transition to the big screen will lose something along the way.

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Bradley Not Back For New HELLRAISER

Posted on 23 August 2010 by Rich Drees

Did the poor reception that recent horror franchise remakes like Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street receive cause producers at Dimension to rethink their plans of relaunching their Hellraiser series? It certainly looks like they have abandoned their strategy of producing a new theatrical version of the first film in the series, based on author Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, in favor of continuing things the way they have been for the last ten years as straight-to-home video releases.

But the one thing that will be different about that latest installment, titled Hellraiser: Revelations, is that it will proceed without Doug Bradley, the actor who has breathed life into the series’ demonic centerpiece Pinhead, since its inception in 1988. The actor was recently approached about appearing the sequel, which is prepping to start production in a week or so, but declined. As he told Dread Central

I know that many of you will have caught up with the sudden burst of Internet chatter about a new Hellraiser film going into production, and will be keen to know whether I’ve been approached to play Pinhead again, so here’s the deal … I have been approached just in this last week (w/b 16 August) regarding a proposed new Hellraiser film. This is not the ‘remake’ which has been endlessly discussed for the last three years: with the working title Hellraiser: Revelations, it will be the ninth film in the series. I would stress that I have had no contact from, or negotiations with, anyone from Dimension Films: rather these contacts have been by way of private discussion with individuals involved with this project.

Following these discussions, and after reading the script and giving it due consideration, I have decided not to participate. The ink is barely dry on the script, and it is scheduled to be in front of the cameras in two weeks time and in the can by the middle of next month (September 2010). The miniscule shooting schedule is more than matched by the budget.”

Whether or not this means that somebody else will be stepping up to play Pinhead, I have no idea. I guess we can watch this space together …

At the risk of sounding snarky. I think the other bit of real news here is that there has now been eight Hellraiser films made! I remember seeing the first two in college on video and catching parts three and four in theaters in the 1990s. But the disappointment I had for those two installments certainly didn’t fuel any desire to follow the series when it shifted over to direct-to-video releases with 2000’s Hellraiser: Inferno.

With the series having such a life as a direct-to-video franchise, I can see why producers are looking to do this quickly and cheaply to maximize a very probable minimum return. I’m sure though, that fans are disappointed that such a penny-pinching approach has

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RING Sequel Comin’ At Ya In 3D

Posted on 27 April 2010 by Rich Drees

The 3D juggernaut continues to roll on, fueled by studio execs with dollar signs in their eyes.

The latest film to be getting the treatment is The Ring 3D, a second sequel to the 2002 English adaptation of the 1998 Japanese film about a cursed video tape that kills anyone who views it within a week. Although I found the original Japanese version a better film than the Naomi Watts-starring Hollywood version, but it managed to thrill audiences to the tune of $129 million at the box office. That kind of money sparked a wave of English-language remakes of Japanese horror films, most of them substandard to their foreign originals. Although its 2005 sequel, The Ring Two, managed to still pull a respectable $76 million in ticket sales, the wave had burnt itself out and no one has really been clamoring too loudly for a third Ring movie in the intervening years.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film’s storyline is still being kept secret but will “reinvent the franchise” and be “more teen-centric than the first.” Dream House writer David Loucka has been hired to script the film.

And while audiences may or may not have moved on from the Ring films, technology certainly has. Video tape is disappearing fairly fast from American’s homes as the medium of choice for recording television programs and home movies in favor of DVRs and other digital mediums. I have to wonder if the idea of a cursed video tape will not seem anything but quaint in this upcoming movie.

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More Hammer Films Coming To DVD

Posted on 13 April 2010 by Rich Drees

Synapse Films has picked up three cult classic horror films from Britain’s Hammer Studios for their first Stateside DVD release later this year.

Twins Of Evil, Hands Of The Ripper and Vampire Circus will all be making their way to store shelves sometime in the third quarter of 2010 with brand new high definition transfers. Additionally, Synapse will also be bringing out a box set of all 13 episodes of the television series Hammer House Of Horror.

Special features for the discs have yet to be finalized, but knowing the folks at Synapse they will be impressive. The company is reportedly considering a Blu-Ray release for the three films, but have not made a definite decision yet.

Via Fangoria.

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Edison’s FRANKENSTEIN Turns 100 Today

Posted on 18 March 2010 by Rich Drees

Today marks the 100 anniversary of the release of cinema’s first horror film, an adaptation of Frankenstein from Thomas Edison’s Edison Studios. To mark the occasion, we’re re-presenting our look at the history of the film and how it was rediscovered after being thought lost forever.

One of the most sought after short films by fans of the silent era is the 1910 production of Frankenstein from Thomas Edison’s Edison Studios. For many years the only image thought to exist from the 15-minute feature was a single photo of wild haired, shambling monster grimacing at the camera. Fortunately, recent years have revealed that it’s not as lost as one would think.

Frankenstein was filmed at Edison Motion Picture Studios located on the corner of Decatur Avenue and Oliver Place in the Bronx, New York, one of several dozens pictures the studio produced that year. The studio was built between 1906 and 1907 in response to the growing demand for films. Edison had been the leading pioneer of first kinetoscopes and then projected motion pictures. His first film studio, located near his laboratories in Orange, New Jersey, was too inconvenient to the majority of actors based in New York City. A studio opened on the roof of a building on 25th Street in Manhattan proved too small to keep up with the demand. The Bronx location was designed to be a state of the art facility to handle all of the Edison Company’s production requirements. It’s proximity to the end of the recently constructed Third Avenue El subway system is believed to have been so actors could slip away to make films without attracting the attention of their peers who may have disapproved of participating in the new and vulgar medium.

By 1908, the studio was in full operation, putting out several short, one-reel films a week. The motion picture arm of Edison’s business was also quickly becoming its most profitable- pulling in $200,000 plus an additional $130,000 from the sale of projectors. Still, Edison was losing his grip on being the sole technological innovator for the new medium as more studios sprang into existence with legitimate rights to certain patents.

To combat the problem, in 1909 Edison and his lawyers approached nine of the other top studios with the plan to form The Motion Picture Patents Company, commonly known as The Trust, to share patents, pool resources and keep control over everything from the manufacture of production equipment like cameras to film production itself. The Trust then set up the General Film Company to buy out the 52 leading film distributors, just so they could control the distribution of their films. Theatre owners were forced into paying a $2 a week fee for the rights to screen Trust films. (Never mind the fact that Edison’s company was earning almost a million dollars a year on from the other Trust members through patent royalties.)

As the popularity of motion pictures grew, so did the attention they received from moral crusaders and reform groups, who decried the new medium as being dangerous and encouraging of immorality. Some called for strict laws governing film content and some communities banned theatres all together. Knowing that these groups could pose a serious threat to his bottom line, Edison ordered that not only the production quality of his films be improved, but also their moral tone. The Trust even set up the first Board of Censors, consisting of film executives and religious and education leaders.

Frankenstein was the perfect choice to kick off production under this new moral banner. It’s a story that deals with the extremes of the human condition, life and death, and the dangers of tampering in God’s realm. Plus, Edison made sure that publicity stressed that some of the more sensational elements of the Mary Shelly’s novel had been toned down. The March 15, 1910 edition of The Edison Kinetogram, the catalog that the Edison Company would send to distributors to hype their new films, described the film as such-

To those familiar with Mrs. Shelly’s story it will be evident that we have carefully omitted anything which might be any possibility shock any portion of the audience. In making the film the Edison Co. has carefully tried to eliminate all actual repulsive situations and to concentrate its endeavors upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale. Wherever, therefore, the film differs from the original story it is purely with the idea of eliminating what would be repulsive to a moving picture audience.

One of those changes made to the narrative concerns the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. While Shelly’s novel did not go into specifics about the monster’s creation, the creation scene in the film certainly owes more to alchemy than science. The film certainly didn’t stress the danger of unchecked scientific experimentation, not when the boss has transformed the world with his own scientific marvels. Instead, the monster is cast more as a reflection of Frankenstein’s baser instincts and dark reflection of a mind that presumed to meddle in God’s domain.

The part of the monster was portrayed by Charles Ogle. He joined the Edison Stock Company Players in 1909 and had essayed parts as far ranging as Scrooge in a 1910 production of A Christmas Carol to George Washington in a series of films on the history of the United States. Since actors at the time were responsible for their own wardrobe and makeup, Ogle was probably the one who developed the monster’s shambling appearance, perhaps inspired by drawings of how actor Thomas Porter Cooke looked for an 1823 English Opera House stage production of the novel called Presumption or the Fate of Frankenstein.

Edison Stock Company Player Augustus Phillips was chosen to portray the role of the monster’s creator Frankenstein. Very little is known about this actor beyond the films that he made at Edison and then Columbia Pictures. He continued to make features into the early `20s at Pathe, Metro and Goldwyn studios.

Rounding out the cast is Mary Fuller as Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth, though she is never referred to by name in the film. She had joined the Edison Stock Company Players in 1909 and would ultimately appear in a reported over 500 productions, often with Charles Ogle. She was also one of the first motion picture stars to receive an on screen credit in 1911 for her lead role in Aida.

The film’s director was J. (James) Searle Dawley and had started at Edison as a writer in 1907. He was soon apprenticed to director Edwin S. Porter who had shot the landmark The Great Train Robbery in 1903. A quick study, Dawley was soon directing his own films at Edison within a year. Stylistically, Dawley was the antithesis of Porter though. Porter is generally credited with the development of much of the language of cinema including matched edited shots and the close up. Dawley preferred to shoot each scene as if it were a play, with the camera stoically removed from the action.

As director of the film, Dawley was responsible for personally overseeing every aspect of the production from writing the script to approving the set construction and Ogle’s makeup design. In this respect his job was more synonymous with what both a producer and a director would do today. He was only answerable to studio head Horace Plimpton. As was the case with most of his films, it is assumed that Dawley wrote the scenario for the film himself. It is unknown whether Edison himself encouraged or approved the production at its start as he made only rare appearances at the Bronx studio. More than likely, the go ahead was given by the Studios managers, making sure that the script would conform to the decrees of the Trust’s Censor Board.

The film opens with Frankenstein leaving to study at University, bidding goodbye to his sweetheart. Two years pass and Frankenstein has finished his contemplation of the mysteries of nature and seems ready to try his own hand at God’s work. However, his attempt at creating life goes awry, with a hulking, twisted creature emerging from the alchemical vat. Aghast at his creation, Frankenstein returns home to marry his fiancée and escape his mistake. But the creature follows him and confronts his creator, tormenting him. But, as the film’s final title character tell us, the creature “is overcome by love and disappears” into a mirror in Frankenstein’s study.

Most films were shot in a day, but due to the special effects work involved Frankenstein’s production lasted nearly a week, stretching from some time between January 13, 1910 to January 19, 1910. (What little records survive are unclear. It is known the Dawley was out of the country filming in Cuba by January 19th. Some sources state that studio head Plimpton approved the film’s scenario on January 14th.) The film was completed and sent over to the Orange County, New Jersey offices for approval on January 28th and received that approval on February 1st. Over the next two weeks, musical accompaniment was picked and certain scenes were run through a stenciling machine to be tinted.

Edison had pioneered the idea of tinting films to add color in 1884. Edison Studio’s Annabelle the Dancer, featuring music hall performer Annabelle Moore recreating her stage act “The Butterfly Dance,” was one of the first commercially projected motion pictures and was first exhibited at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia in mid-September 1885. Since her act used a projection of colored stereopticon slides as she danced with long silk draperies, Edison touched on the idea to have prints of the film hand painted frame by frame, in the same manner that some photographs and portraits were tinted at the time. By 1910, tinting of films had become common, with blue often being used for night scenes, green for woodland scenes and so on.

In the second half of February, the film was assembled with each scene was pasted together to form a complete print. In early March, Edison Studios copyrighted the picture and submitted paper prints of several scenes to the Library of Congress. In a cost cutting measure started right before the turn of the century, the studio had begun to have a positive print of each film developed on sheets of paper instead of actual film prints for submission for copyright. (The studio would later switch to paper rolls.) That a number of Edison films that have survived did so mainly through the existence of these paper prints. Currently, the Library of Congress only has selected scenes from Frankenstein, not a whole copy.

The film premiered on Friday, March 18, 1910, a mere two months after it had finished shooting. Such a quick turnaround was not uncommon at the time. There was great demand for films and the week of Frankenstein’s release there were over 30 films released by Trust members. The film was received favorably by critics. The New York Dramatic Mirror in a review published on 3/26/10 stated “This deeply impressive story makes a powerful film subject, and the Edison players have handled it with effective expression and skill.”

However, Frankenstein did not generally do well with audiences. There are several possible reasons that may have contributed to its less than stellar reception. Frankenstein was the first horror movie and audiences possibly weren’t sure what to make of this weird story. Moving pictures were already becoming more sophisticated with the use of close-ups and editing within a scene becoming more common. It’s possible that audiences found director Dawley’s stage-y, wide shots to be old fashioned.

It has also been reported that in some communities there was objections to the film due to its perceived blasphemous content. Debates were ongoing around the country over Darwinism and a film that could be seen as mocking the creative power of God was sure to draw fire from the pulpit. Regardless of the reasons, the film made its distribution rounds and was then withdrawn from circulation. While some films like 1903’s The Great Train Robbery remained popular and in circulation for years, Frankenstein quickly faded from the public’s minds.

At the time, Edison Studios would only strike approximately 40 prints of each of their productions, which would then be sent out for distribution. After the films had circulated for seven months or so, they were returned where they were stripped for their silver content. The films were quickly forgotten by the studio and the public and no thought was given to any future value they may hold. That even a handful of Edison Studios films still exist on celluloid is only due to the efforts of private collectors.

And the fact that just a single print of Edison Studio’s Frankenstein still exists is all due to one Wisconsin film collector, Alois Felix Dettlaff Sr., and a little bit of luck. The print in his possession had originally belonged to his wife’s grandmother who used to screen it along with a silent version of Hiawatha. As he relates in Frederick C. Wiebel Jr’s self-published book Edison’s Frankenstein, “She dressed up as an Indian and danced on the stage, and she had short subjects along with it, and one of them was Frankenstein.”

However, the film would take a roundabout way to Dettlaff’s possession. After his wife’s grandmother left show business, she passed her film collection and projector to her son, who in turn passed them on to his son, Dettlaff’s brother-in-law. Not knowing what he had in the collection, Dettlaff’s brother-in-law sold the entire collection to a film collector, who then sold it to another collector of Dettlaff’s acquaintance, from whom Dettlaff purchased them in the mid 1950s. Since he was running silent films for his children as a way of teaching them to read, he did screen the film. However, noting that the film had some wear and tear, and about 8% shrinkage due to age, he placed the print aside, so as not to damage it further.

It was in 1963 that a film historian discovered the March 15, 1910 edition of The Edison Kinetogram with its picture of Charles Ogle in full make up on its cover in the Edison archives in New Jersey. The picture was published in numerous magazines and books, sparking interest among film buffs worldwide. But no print could be found. In 1980, the American Film Institute declared the 1910 production of Frankenstein to be one of the top ten most “Culturally and historically significant lost films.”

When Dettlaff heard of the film’s placement on the AFI’s list, he announced that he had indeed had a copy. However, knowing the worth of such a treasure, Dettlaff has been reticent about releasing the film to be seen. In the late 1970s he had allowed a few minutes to be shown as part of a BBC documentary, later released to home video. These snippets would later wind up in various silent cinema video compilations without attribution or payment made to Dettlaff. Feeling slighted and perhaps not appreciated for his archival efforts, Dettlaff has been guarded in allowing the film to be screened. In 1986, he donated a “copyright protected” version of the film, with a copyright notice that scrolled across the center of the film making viewing difficult, to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He has also reportedly made numerous safety copies of the film on 16 and 35 mm.

In 1975, at the urging of TV news photographer Charles Sciurba, Dettlaff undertook making a copy of the film with the aid of Clarence Stelloh, who had worked as an engineer at Western Electric during the early days of sound film. Working over several weekends, the pair used a 16mm camera and a modified step printer to copy some 14,000 to 15,000 images at a rate of one to two frames a second to create a 16mm backup copy of the film. Complicating the project was the fact that the film had shrunk by up to 8% at some spots, necessitating Stelloh to make changes to the printer to accommodate for the varying space between the sprocket holes.

Detlaff held the first public screening of Frankenstein in decades on October 30, 1993 at the Avalon Theater in his hometown of Milwaukee. It was the first of several annual screenings at various venues in the city. In April 2003, Dettlaff screened the film at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey as part of a weekend long festival of Frankenstein films. Both evenings’ shows were packed with people curious to see the fifteen-minute short that has so captured the imaginations of film buffs through just one frame. The screening was also used to launch the film’s release on DVD, available from Dettlaff’s own A. D. Ventures, International.

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Sasha Grey Tries Chastity For New Horror Film

Posted on 18 March 2010 by Rich Drees

Adult film star Sasha Grey is taking a purity pledge for the upcoming horror film Hallows in which she’ll be appearing very much against type as a young christian woman who has vowed to abstain from sex before marriage.

Director Richard O’Sullivan states that Grey’s casting fits in with what he wants to do with his film-

Hallows basically takes the standard kids-in-the-woods-running-from-a-killer genre and flips it on its ear. The deaths aren’t random. They’re not cookie cutter. Each character dies in a fashion relating to the way they live their life. I’m less interested in gore-for-the-sake-of-gore (although there is gore in this film and plenty of it) than the psychology behind the characters and how they react to what happens. That’s why we’re happy to be working with Sasha. She’s more interested in the psychology behind the action than just the action itself. That’s what she conveys in her work in the adult genre and that’s what we’re going for in this film.

Grey’s appearance in the film isn’t the only bit of cross-expectation casting going on. O’Sullivan has also hired Christina Cupo, best known for her work in Christian-themed films, to play a pierced and tattooed goth girl who likes rough sex.

There’s nothing new in porn stars crossing over to work in mainstream films. Traci Lords has even managed to leave behind her old career entirely and carve out a decent, if low-key, post-porn filmography. But most of the times that adult entertainers crossover, the roles they play generally play into the audience’s knowledge of the actor as porn star. This is probably the most counter-intuitive casting since former Playboy Playmate Stella Stevens played a nun in 1968’s Where Angels Go Trouble Follows.

Grey has made quite a name for herself in the adult entertainer business in just the few short years she’s been in it. In the documentary 9 To 5: Days Of Porn, she discusses her credo of self-empowerment through her work. In addition to proving to be a popular actress, she is demonstrating savvy business sense as well. She has already made a few mainstream acting appearances, including a solid performance in Steven Soderburgh’s drama The Girlfriend Experience. I should be interesting to see what she does with the role.

And looking to the future, will it be possible for Grey to continue working in both adult and mainstream films? Common wisdom would say “No,” but I think that Grey may have a few more career surprises up her sleeve.

Via Horror Squad.

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First Batch Of EVIL DEAD Midnight Screening Dates

Posted on 01 December 2009 by Rich Drees

EvilDeadRereleasePosterIn October, we told you that Sam Raimi’s classic horror film Evil Dead was returning to theaters for a limited run of midnight screenings. Now we’ve got the first set of dates for the revival. If you don’t see a location near you don’t worry, Grindhouse Releasing is promising more dates to come.

January 8-9:
Uptown Theatre, Minneapolis

January 15-16:
Esquire Theatre, Denver

January 29-30:
Sunshine Cinema, New York

February 5-6:
Egyptian Theatre, Seattle

February 19-20:
River Oaks Theatre, Houston

February 26-27:
Inwood, Dallas

March 5: Nuart Theatre,
Los Angeles

May 22
Hudson Horrorshow
Poughkipsie, NY

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Friedkin And Blatty Mounting EXORCIST Remake?

Posted on 16 November 2009 by Rich Drees

Exorcist1A remake of The Exorcist may be in the works according to William Peter Blatty, author of the original novel and the classic film adaptation. In an interview recently published in Cemetery Dance magazine, Blatty mentions that he has penned a new, expanded screenplay of his novel for a proposed television miniseries. His admission came while discussing whether or not he wished he could change anything in the 1973 film-

Yes and no. I would love to have been able to include the subplot involving Karl and his daughter Elvira which I did in my first draft, but that script ran to 172 pages, much, much too long. But I might have it my way in the near future, inasmuch as I’ve written an Exorcist miniseries script that not only faithfully includes all the main elements of the novel, but also some rather spooky new material and scenes, as well as a totally new (and perhaps much more satisfying) ending. I’ve also updated it. Billy Friedkin has agreed to direct.

If anyone else was looking at remaking The Exorcist, I would have immediate strong reservations. The film is as perfect a thing as it could be. It claims its own identity separate from the original book, while still touching upon the novels major themes. And Blatty seems excited by the opportunity a miniseries allowing him to add more of the novel’s material back into a retelling of the story.

I do have reservations though about a “totally new (and perhaps much more satisfying) ending.” What makes the original work so well, is that the ending contains a certain moral ambiguity as to whether the God or Satan won the battle for souls that raged in that famous Georgetown brownstone. It was one of the main things about the project that attracted star Jason Miller. I’m anxious, and not in a good way, to see what Blatty has in mind.

Of course, there’s no mention of an actual outlet for this proposed miniseries, so right now we can just assume that this is still just a project looking for a home.

Via Bloody Disgusting.

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From The Vault: Jason Miller Talks EXORCIST

Posted on 27 October 2009 by Rich Drees

In August 2005, we presented a piece in which Jason Miller talked about his star making role in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. With Halloween coming at the end of the week, we re-present it to you today.

“There’s two ways to look at The Exorcist,” stated actor Jason Miller who portrayed Father Karras in the horror classic. It is September 2000, and Miller is speaking about the film during a workshop at the Pennsylvania Film Festival being held in Scranton, Pennsylvania. “One way is that he [Father Karras] gives his own life to save the girl. He jumps out the window and Satan has been thwarted. The other way is that if Satan really wanted the two priests, and he was just using the girl as the instrument, he’s up by seven points. That’s why the theologians got a little crazy about it. Because when the start looking at it at that level they said, ‘Wait a minute. What kind of picture is this guy making?’ It’s that existential ambiguity that makes it go. You don’t have that in movies anymore.”

It’s no surprise that the script’s powerful and ambiguous ending intrigued Miller. Growing up in Scranton, he attended Catholic high school and graduated from the Jesuit-run University of Scranton. It was this background that attracted Exorcist director William Friedkin to the idea of casting Miller in the role of Father Karras, following seeing the actor in the Broadway production of the Miller-penned play That Championship Season.

“My picture’s in the program and there’s a whole lot of stuff about Jesuit schools in Championship Season and he had a hunch,” Miller recalled. “He said ‘Do you want to go on a screen test?’ I thought I was dreaming. I went out and did a screen test and the rest is history.”

Miller faced some stiff competition for the role. Warner Brothers, the studio bankrolling the film, was pushing for an actor with star power for the role. Jack Nicholson and Ryan O’Neill had already tested for the role of Father Karras. But the fact that Miller wasn’t a big film star ultimately played to his advantage.

“They [the producers] preferred an unknown because they wanted the story to be the star,” he said. “They had to convince the powers that be at the studio and that was quite a bit of salesmanship.

The Exorcist had 56 weeks on the [New York] Times best seller list. They didn’t really need a star, they had a built in audience. Fifty-six weeks for a book on the best seller list means there’s an enormous amount of people reading that book, which means an enormous amount of people are going to go see that movie. They also don’t want people to say ‘Wasn’t Jack Nicholson great?’ They want someone like me with no face at all to lend a sense of honesty and truth to the character. They didn’t want people to go see the movie because of Jack Nicholson. They felt they didn’t need Jack Nicholson because the movie itself was strong enough, if they cast it right, which they did all the way around. Ellen Burstyn was terrific. Lee J. Cobb hadn’t worked for years and he’s a great, great actor. Max Von Sydow was known as a European star. The story was the star. And the director, Friedkin was at the top of his game. He was just coming off The French Connection.”

Over his career, Friedkin would develop something of a reputation for his unorthodox directing methods, which Miller confirmed. “Friedkin’s a lunatic,” he recalled with a chuckle. “He’d shoot guns off behind [an actor’s] head to get a surprise out of them. He’s not very respectful to actors. He’s afraid of them. He doesn’t understand the process.”

It didn’t help that Miller’s stage training didn’t prepare him for the decidedly different process of filmmaking.

“I had never acted in a movie before,” he stated. “It was quite different. On stage, we have to project. In the movies you read your lines like you’re talking on the phone. That’s the only real discipline I gave myself.”

“I love rehearsals. [But in film,] you don’t get rehearsal. They want to catch spontaneity. They love spontaneity. A lot of time spontaneity can be dreadful. Being a theater person, I like rehearsal because you can discover things. I’ll tell you this, if you get a guy who is great in the movies and get him on stage with you, they’re out of the building. They don’t have the concentration and the stamina to go the two hours, nor the technique. Let’s face it, in any good movie the most movie acting will be a long shot, two minutes than cut. And you’ll do that scene maybe fifteen, sixteen times. Most actors in movies, in the wide shots and the long shots will just be [waves hand dismissively]. Once the close ups start coming, then you start to see their acting and their talent.

“I insisted that we rehearsed the night before. Lee J Cobb liked the rehearsal because he’s a stage guy. Ellen Burnstyn liked the rehearsal because she was a stage girl. We’d go grab a beer after the day’s shoot and then go rehearse for about an hour.”

It was out of one these rehearsal sessions that Miller found a way to help refine his character’s climactic scene.

“What they wanted me to do was walk over to the window, say this very lyrical prayer, and then jump out the window,” Miller recalled. “I went in and said ‘The devil is already in him’ and they said ‘Well, how are you going to show that?’ Well, he’s lost any idea that this is a human being. To him that little girl is the devil. That’s the way he sees it. And so I said ‘I’ll show you what I want to do.’ We go in and she starts to laugh, so I went over and I rip the place to pieces and said ‘That’s what he’s really feeling.’ Otherwise me walking to window and saying ‘Oh save my soul’ and all that kind of stuff is melodramatic.”

Released on December 26, 1973, The Exorcist would become a sensation, scaring viewers around the world and would go on to become the decade’s fifth highest grossing film. Such revenues insured that it would spawn two sequels and a recently released prequel as well as numerous imitators. Even though Miller’s character died at the end of The Exorcist, that certainly didn’t stop him from appearing in one of its sequels.

“I did [Part] 3,” Miller recalled. “I didn’t see the second one, the Richard Burton one. Blatty and Friedkin weren’t involved with that. They had sold the sequel rights. They didn’t care. Part 3 wasn’t a bad film, but they weren’t going to be able to top the first one.”

“It is weird to go make a classic film right out of the box,” mused Miller on the success of his first Hollywood venture. Even though Miller went on to appear in numerous other film and television productions, including the college football drama Rudy (1993) and directing a film adaptation of his play That Championship Season shot on location in his adopted hometown of Scranton, it’s his first role that Miller is best remembered for. Although the past three decades have elevated The Exorcist to the status of a classic horror film, Miller felt that the film transcends its genre categorization. “I think The Exorcist in someway is not a genre horror film. It’s something else. It’s more of a philosophical horror film.”

A portion of this interview was previously published in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader on October 13, 2000.

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