Is It Just Me... Or Is The Last Exorcism Better Than The Exorcist?

Taking the oft-cited greatest horror film of all time down a peg or two

"Ghost stories,” complained comedian David Mitchell, “are like an anthology of whodunits entitled Tales In Which The Butler Did It.”

The Exorcist(or The Devil Did It) has the same problem, taking two hours to build to the obvious conclusion, “Hmmm, this girl could really use an exorcist.”

At least The Last Exorcism has the good grace to ponder, “Did the devil do it?” before answering, “Er, yes.”

Director William Friedkin says The Exorcist (TE) investigates “the mystery of faith”, but where’s the mystery?

Father Karras (Jason Miller) almost loses his religion until a wanking antichrist vomits him back to God. Mystery solved.

It’s a film about becoming certain. Daniel Stamm’s The Last Exorcism (TLE), meanwhile, explores the crimes committed in the name of certainty, depicting faith as both a tyrannical chain around poor Nell’s (Ashley Bell) skinny ankle and a benevolent white lie.

“The church doesn’t run on love,” says TLE’s Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a Baptist preacher – part charlatan, part saviour – who uses the devil’s tools (conjuring tricks) to do God’s work (bringing peace) for cash.

The sadsacks and stereotypes populating TE can’t hope to compete with his flawed dynamism.

“They get all the press because they’ve got the movie,” decides Marcus of his Catholic rivals. He’s not wrong.

With a face like a smacked arse, and about half the acting range, Miller sucks the life out of Friedkin’s film; Regan (Linda Blair) is a spoilt little pony girl; Burke (Jack MacGowran), Karl (Rudolf Schündler) and Lieutenant Columbo, sorry, Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) are all terrible cliches; and Father Dyer (William O’Malley) is Father Ted’s Dick Byrne with added jazz hands.

Clunkiness runs right through William Peter Blatty’s script, infecting the dialogue (“You’re the best we’ve got,” Karras is told, as if being put back on the case by an angry police chief), the pacing (Max von Sydow’s titular Father Merrin vanishes for so long he needs a re-introductory scene 93 minutes in) and the plotting.

When dramatic events happen off camera in TLE it’s like we blinked and missed them. When they do in TE, it’s like Blatty did.

Though both films are essentially about child abuse, TLE probes the evil that men do in the name of incest, ignorance and religious intolerance, but the only thing animating TE (bar the (nasty) medical scenes and (cheaty) subliminal inserts) is a quasi-paedophilic prurience focusing on Regan’s violently hijacked sexuality (“Lick me!”) and, in one egregious shot, her pants.

Freidkin’s trickbox is exhaustive, but Stamm shows us exorcism for what it really is – special effects – and what climaxes the former is merely pantomime in the latter.

The abuser in TE might as well be an alien or an evil robot; the abusers in TLE are Nell’s family and community – and that’s genuinely scary.

Frankly, if the greatest trick the devil ever pulled is making a posh teenager turn green, swear and puke, we can all sleep soundly, levitating bed or otherwise. Or is it just me?

Which exorcism film do you prefer? Let us know below


    • thedanieljson

      Oct 28th 2012, 11:31

      The Last Excorcism IS a spectacular film, bar that terrible TERRIBLE ending - can't help but feel as if there was studio interference to make the end less disturbing and more grandiose - and that The Excorcist certainly looks somewhat dated now. Yet the film's massive influence cannot be denied, nor can the fact that it's still bloody disturbing - spider walk down the stairs anyone?

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    • jadesweeny

      Oct 28th 2012, 13:13

      The Last Exorcism is one of the worst horror movies of the past decade and this article has made me lose a lot of respect for Total Film for allowing it to be published when the person who wrote it clearly has no idea what they are talking about. I hate to say "they didn't get it" when someone dislikes a movie I like, but in this case it is true. They have zero understanding of The Exorcist and such ignorance shouldn't land someone a featured article on a respected website for film buffs. Sounds like it was written by an immature teen girl.

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    • davebe

      Oct 28th 2012, 13:29

      @thedanieljson Agree. Terrific film with a f**k-awful ending. But no, it isn't better.

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    • GrandpaSeth

      Oct 28th 2012, 13:56

      I think neither film is particularly outstanding frankly. TLE's 1st half was excellent, with very good questions being raised and all that before the second half threw all the thought out the window to focus on pointless shock imagery all winding up to a brainless ending. The Exorcist has the point of being amongst the first posession films, certainly the first 'mainstream' one that I know of which in itself should earn it a degree of respect, and it's shock factor in the 70's earned it notoriety and fame. Watching it nowadays, it of course has it's interesting subtexts (like any respectful horror movie has), but this writer makes some fair points about it's failings in the clunky script, acting and such. It's fame has earned it untouchable status of being a film that's 'great because everyone says so', so unfortunately if someone suggests anything else we get an almost demonic backlash, here demonstrated by @jadesweeny. If TLE continued as well as it's first half it would certainly be better as I see it, but as it doesn't, they're both quite flawed films in thier own ways that don't take pride of place on my DVD shelf.

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    • bevilacqua

      Oct 28th 2012, 13:56

      You are trolling, right? 'Sadsacks and stereotypes', 'terrible cliches', 'clunkiness' and, God help me, 'paedophilic prurience'? This kind of article is just jabbing at people to get a response and create a spurious 'debate' in the comments section. The result is that you get your debate, you get to be a bit, ooh, controversial, and people start leaving the site and going elsewhere for their movie news. Eventually you end up like Movieline, jabbing harder and harder, trying more and more to be 'controversial' to a smaller and smaller audience, until you fall into complete irrelevance. Alternatively, you really do believe that The Exorcist is that bad, and that The Last Exorcism is much better, in which case film criticism might not be your calling, honey.

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    • Jeffbiscuits

      Oct 28th 2012, 14:02

      The Last Exorcism is c**p, but saying that I'm not a big fan of the Exorcist. I prefer The Exorcist 3.

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    • Igrayne

      Oct 28th 2012, 16:08

      Nice article, could not be more offensive to the millions of Christians who do not have backwards families and persecute young girls, maybe people who are balanced and interested in the facts should write such reviews not angsty Twilight loving angry idiots with the mental agility of a ten year old girl.

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    • Hadouken76

      Oct 28th 2012, 16:08

      This whole section is about various TF staff playing Devils Advocate, which in this case is rather apt given the circumstances.

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    • gbollard

      Oct 28th 2012, 16:18

      No, it's just you. The Exorcist is a very well made film based on a very well written book. The Last Exorcism is a good attempt at mostly stealing the best moments of the Exorcist but making it to the standards of a modern (impatient) audience. While the Exorcist builds slowly over the course of the film towards a great ending, The Last Exorcism loses control of the film at the end and becomes a garbled mess. Comparing these two films is like comparing Jaws and Piranha 3D.

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    • devilsfoxes

      Oct 28th 2012, 19:43

      if you're not sympathizing with Karras then obviously that's a good segue into not liking the film. I find his priest a far more realistic prospect from which to deduce and relate emotional complexity. a mama's boy painfully losing his mother and as a result losing his ability to understand or care about the dogmatic world around him. when he faces the devil who takes the form of his mother and berates him for not being there for her, that was utterly heart wrenching and a universally relatable fear. to have disappointed a parent in their death. really am i making that up? and that's just one point. i cud go on. Just for the sake of comparison, Cotton Marcus is a more unrealistic movie creation. Unsympathetic d*******g turned predictable hero, turned moron who shouldn't run towards the devil. how many times have we seen that arc? i also was enjoying the film until the last scene.

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    • devilsfoxes

      Oct 28th 2012, 19:45

      also nice use of a lower res exorcist pic at the top to make last exorcism look more 'vital' :)

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    • deedeedragons

      Oct 28th 2012, 23:56

      This is the stupidest one so far! Please stop reviewing films and take those meds the nurse gives you.

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    • Kubrick1979

      Oct 29th 2012, 12:16

      @jadesweeny Well said jadesweeny you hero, The Exorcist is one of my all time favourites. This is a pointless exercise.

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    • JamieTSB

      Oct 29th 2012, 17:30

      I much prefer The Exorcist as a complete film experience, it still shreds the nerves, but it really isn't the demonic horror that gets the better of me, it is the brutal treatment of Regan under the hands and guidance of the medical inquisitors and equipment that freaks me out the most. The Last Exorcism, was an an enjoyable horror, however the ending was to me so bad, that it hasn't tempted me into repeat viewings, unlike Friedkin's master work.

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    • garethhaynes

      Oct 30th 2012, 1:46

      ITS JUST YOU! Last ex was/is garbage whereas Fridekins film is still a classic. Total Film does write some bollocks sometimes, like the top50 films of the past 15 years that didnt contain a single film by Aronofsky but had LOTR as numero uno, ridiculous, and you guys 'write' about films

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    • julianchan

      Oct 30th 2012, 8:01

      JUST YOU. Find something more intelligent to write about. The 2 movies shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath.

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    • DSpeirs

      Oct 30th 2012, 15:36

      Next time... Is it just me...Or is Twilight better than Citizen Kane? Wouldn't surprise me...

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    • Asmodeus

      Oct 31st 2012, 4:48

      This sounds like it's written by someone who a) doesn't know good cinema, and b) hates Christianity. The Exorcist is a skillfully crafted, slow burn that builds in a terrifying conclusion. Father Karras' story of not being able to cope with the real world because of an unresolved parental death is at the crux of The Exorcist. The same about a neglectful mother stuck in an affluent bubble, clueless of her child's plight. And of Father Merrin, who is back to fight a demon he met earlier in his life. The film treats religion and demonolgy with the right amount of incredulity and skepticism until there is no other option but to perform an exorcism on Regan. The Last Exorcism has a much less sympathetic protagonist who is a fraud. Already a knock against him. That and, The Last Exorcism doesn't build upon the foundation of it's two predecessors that influenced it the most....THE EXORCIST and The Blair Witch Project. Without The Exorcist, there is no Last Exorcism. And it also follows in the footsteps of the "lost footage" genre that worked so effectively with the Blair Witch Project. The Last Exorcism had some creepy moments and a really interesting concept, but unfortunately, it's mainly just a very effective gimmick. It doesn't build defining characters and create a true sense of doom like the Exorcist, and it's not nearly as engaging as the Blair Witch Project because frankly...we've seen it done before, we've seen it done THE EXORCIST and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And finally, about this writer's apparent hatred for Christianity, at least an intense dislike. Fine, hate it all you want. But, if you're going to write about how much of a fraud you think it is, write it in a personal blog, not on a movie site comparing two films. It's clear you like The Last Exorcism better than the Exoricst based solely on the fact that one embraces religion (or at the very least respects the mystery of faith) and the other, the Last Exorcism, treats it as a sham or a cult (the film never really makes up it's mind on this one), and does it laughably. And what the hell is with that ending? It completely unravels. What is it saying? Christians are cultists? Was the really a devil inside her? The prophecy came true and he was wrong? This movie can't make up it's mind. Yes. It's you.

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    • tomfallowfield

      Oct 31st 2012, 12:46

      As someone who hasn't seen either film, I can state with a near-absolute certainty that I agree with the author of this hilarious and well-constructed argument. All else being equal, anything which portrays Christianity as the morbid cult of human sacrifice it really is must in my book be a lot (really a lot) better than any plot the resolution of which is its protagonist being barfed back to belief by an onanistic archfiend and it seems a pity such points even need making.

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    • pixelatedscraps

      Oct 31st 2012, 13:52

      I have to say I agree with the author on the parts about The Exorcism. I haven't seen The Last Exorcism but I do find the original to be one of those movies that gets the hype and credibility due to it being - if not the first, than at least near enough to the original - the classic mystic horror film. It's not a great film, there's no denying that. Purists will cry foul but can probably be lumped in the same sandbox as the fans who still think Star Wars is the best sci-fi film ever made. Predictable, yes. Scary, fairly. Best horror film ever made? No way.

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    • pixelatedscraps

      Oct 31st 2012, 13:55

      --And whoever wants to bring Christianity into a defence of a seminal, yet perhaps granted too much staying power, film deserves to either finish higher matriculation, take a holiday abroad where there may exist another "god" in equally misguided form, or for better of worse - gain a little perspective.

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    • spannerpuss

      Oct 31st 2012, 18:29

      Lolz to this - exorcist is rubbish, I laughed my a*s of !!!! And I was only twelve anyone who thinks this is a scary film is lame. Exorcism of Emily Rose is a much better film anyway. Also all this christianity stuff, your overthinking it and missing the point if you read too much into it.

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