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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

The Exorcist: Believer Nods to the Original's Big Trailer Controversy

The trailer for The Exorcist: Believer promises a return to the terrors of the legendary original, topped by the return of star Ellen Burstyn to the franchise for the first time since 1973. Director David Gordon Green and his creative team have just come off the rebooted Halloween trilogy, and while the creative results were mixed, their respect for the original made the effort distinctive. The Exorcist: Believer looks to capture that same nostalgia for 1973's The Exorcist.


The big reveal -- at least in the trailer -- points to a huge controversy that accompanied the first film. The original Exorcist's preview ended with 60 seconds of strobing images depicting Regan MacNeil's possessed face in black-and-white. The Exorcist: Believer's trailer repeats the effect with its own possessed girls, though it limits the run to a few seconds. It's an overt nod to the furor that arose the first time around.


Warners Played Up the Strobing Effect of the First Exorcist Trailer


The strobe effect in the original film's trailer resulted in seizures, vomiting and similar reactions from test audiences. Rather than release it to the public, Warner Bros. instead played up the physical effects as a sign of how scary the film was. It didn't hurt that the sequence's demonic images were unsettling over and above their effect on sensitive viewers. (Warners has released the trailer on YouTube, though trigger warnings apply.)

It's an old carnival barker's trick: suggesting something horrifying beyond imagination and letting the audience's minds determine what that is. In the case of The Exorcist, it had the benefit of a legitimately terrifying movie to back up its claims, and indeed, the film generated further controversy around its religious overtones and some of the shocking things Regan does while under demonic possession. The Exorcist was outright banned in parts of the country and remains a hot-button film even today for its troubling theological implications.


The Exorcist: Believer Understands Its Predecessor's Power

For all the flaws of the recent Halloween movies, they understand what makes the 1978 original tick. Now, The Exorcist: Believer trailer uses the strobe as a nod to the first movie in the same way. Two girls from different families go missing in the woods and return exhibiting signs of demonic possession similar to Regan's. The baffled parents seek out Regan's mother Chris, who has since written about her experiences and become something of an expert.

But the real hook -- besides Burstyn's return -- is the strobing shots at the end of the trailer, reminding audiences of just what made the first film so compelling. The Exorcist always carried an air of taboo about it, which the Warners PR department hyped in the wake of the trailer's effects. Believer clearly intends to tap into that same energy, and while it keeps the effect short, it carries the same punch as the strobe effects in the original.

It's one thing to evoke the trailer, but quite another to repeat the impact of the movie itself. The Exorcist remains one of the scariest movies ever made, and while the strobe lighting can remind viewers what that felt like, the movie itself needs to follow up on that promise. Burstyn's presence is reassuring, at least, and the trailer demonstrates the proper respect for treading on such sacred ground.

The Exorcist: Believer will be released in theaters on Oct. 13.




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