This year, the Cap’n and I did our double features a bit different, so feel free to check out his review of Exorcist: Believer.
Me? I’m taking the script of the original.
1.) Marketability of the Idea
Do you know it’s been 7 years since the Cap’n tricked (not treated) me into reviewing Halloween 3: Season of the Witch for our very first Double Feature?
(With those stupid evil masks…)
This year we’re following up with another horror staple, each taking a look at The Exorcist series.
First, in case you’re new, I’m not a fan of watching horror. I’m a big baby when it comes to it.
However I can read horror, mostly because I see the appeal in terms of marketability in the genre.
If you’re a new writer, it’s something we strongly consider writing, both because horror scripts are consistently in demand with producers/studios, but they also have one of the most dedicated and forgiving audiences compared to other genres.
The last (repeated) point I’ll make here is that horror projects are generally very lucrative, which is why producers and studios are so attracted to them.
As for The Exorcist?
In addition to it now being an established franchise, these religious themed horror films seem to be popular, even if The Nun 2 underperformed.
How well do the others do? Depends, but most turn such a high profit that Reals and I are constantly yelling at you to write one.
The Exorcist Box Office Stats
2.) Plot Stability
This script was roughly 95 pages for the “shooting” draft.
(We’ll discuss more on this format later, as there were some issues and I’m skeptical of it being a legitimate shooting script.)
We don’t get to Regan and anything “fun” in terms of her demonic possession until around page 70 or so.
That’s a huge issue and one you can’t repeat today.
(In fact I seem to remember this being a sticking point for Reals in some of his lower budget horror film reviews, the lack of anything scary until the third act. That and jump scares.)
Sure Regan pisses on the floor around page 33, but there’s really nothing more until that 70ish page mark.
Now there were certainly a few instances of where things felt “off” with her, but in terms of interesting?…
There’s a ridiculous amount of time spent with Chris taking her to see doctors.
Imagine a script where a character caught Covid early on in the pandemic and a large chunk of the story involves that character being diagnosed at progressively serious hospitals and clinics.
A bunch of professional opinions of what’s going on and exhausting every avenue until the character is diagnosed.
That’s what this felt like to me.
(And can we just acknowledge that around the time the bed floats a foot or more up in the air that we’re going to tell doctors and specialists to “fuck off” when they try to explain it away as a seizure from a brain lesion or tumor?)
Get to the fun stuff! We’re here to see a little girl possessed by a demon and having the priests question their faith as they try to save her.
And I already know I’ll get a lot of shit for this, as The Exorcist is considered a horror classic.
I’m sure for the time it had some great special effects that hadn’t been seen before, particularly if they kept the scene in where a little girl is trying to masturbate with a crucifix while shouting, “Fuck me, Jesus!”
Shit like that’s presumably going to get some jaws to drop.
But the first two thirds of the story, at least in this script, can you argue that’s good storytelling and something you should emulate in any spec today?
I’d wager no, you would not.
One of the first scripts I optioned was a sci-fi horror. More than one producer compared it to Rosemary’s Baby.
Having never seen it before, I sat down to watch, mainly because I wanted to see if the note was a compliment or insult.
One of the things that fascinated me about it, aside from thinking 1960s New York would be a cool place to visit, was that the “off” factor with Rosemary’s pregnancy was a psychological mind fuck for the audience.
Was her baby truly evil, or was she just a stressed housewife with too much time on her hands?
Then you’re treated to the answer at the end.
This story lacked any of that intrigue, being that we knew Regan was possessed and we just wanted to get to it already.
But if you’re entertaining the idea of writing a horror script, perhaps compare the two projects, whether script or film form.
It’s good to comprise your own list of what you think works and what doesn’t in any genre.
3.) Quality of Characters
Can I be honest for a second?
I really didn’t like any of the characters aside from maybe Kinderman, who just wanted someone to go the movies with him.
Everyone else comes off as unlikable nuisances.
Chris…I mean fuck off…
What kind of a mother doesn’t take her daughter Trick or Treating on Halloween?
And she seemed kind of clueless in practical situations (like dismissing that she was on the fucking bed when it floated), not to mention gives Regan’s dad a hard time for not being there when it seems she dumps Regan off on Sharon any chance she gets.
Karras, I get he’s supposed to be the “doubting his faith” priest who feels guilty for his mom dying, but I don’t know…nothing there really won me over.
Merrin shows up at the beginning, apparently feeling responsible for unleashing this demon on the world, then doesn’t reappear until the end when he does try to go through with the exorcism, but then gives up?
For some reason, I really thought he was going to take a pill, have the demon jump to him, and then he’d die trapping “evil” forever.
From what I gathered I don’t think this happened.
Perhaps this script suffered from the fact that there were too many characters and it took too long to connect them.
Did we need Karl and Willie when we already had Sharon?
Did Karras need to be unknown to Chris until Father Dyer introduces them?
Can we eliminate characters like Father Dyer, Willie and Karl altogether?
Edits like this strengthen the other character relationships which helps develop them more as individuals.
Something to think about.
For a horror, it may be required to have “meat for the grinder” in some circumstances, but for horror thrillers? Less is more.
4.) Dialogue and Description
The dialogue was awful.
In fact, and we’ll get to exactly what I thought this script was in the next section, part of me hoped that this wasn’t what was in the final product.
For instance, on page 28, three out of four consecutive lines start with the word “well”.
Please eliminate all of these types of “filler words” at the beginning of character entries. Simply delete them and capitalize whatever word comes next.
As for the word “well” the only time it’s acceptable to use it is when a character falls down one.
As a filler word? No. You can do better.
After that comes another amateur mistake…mundane banter.
We should enter a scene after characters have met and exchanged pleasantries.
No audience is going to sit through a bit of “how ‘bout this weather” type of chit chat and be happy about it.
Enter late. Leave early. And all that.
Page 5 is a good example where Chris is talking to Willie and Karl.
Just assume everyone is “good” in terms of their feelings and get to what’s not. In this case Chris thinking they’ve got rats in the attic, a first sign that something’s not right in the MacNeil household.
Now there were some unexpected entries in there, like the “Fuck me, Jesus” lines, and you’re not expected to go over-the-top every time a character speaks, but cut out the boring bits.
As for the description, it wasn’t as offensive as the dialogue.
Two issues I had here were the constant references to “we see, we hear”.
Remember that this takes readers out of your world and reminds them they’re reading.
Second was the constant “mentally indigestible” blocks of description.
Remember that this script is from the 1970s (give or take) and common format nowadays is to keep blocks to single visuals at four lines or less, creating as much whitespace as you can whenever you can.
So, the issue I’ve been tiptoeing around…
This had to be something that was transcribed, presumably by a computer program listening to the film.
There were too many easy typos, like brakes/breaks, there/their, etc. that a writer would have caught some if not most of them.
Compare this to the other version of the script that’s 120+ pages and portions had to be edited out.
In addition to the typos there were wonky format errors on more than one occasion where description was mistakenly put in a character’s dialogue entry.
This led to confusion initially, but once I understood what was happening, I was able to ignore it.
You may not be so lucky with a reader!
The point here is don’t do these things in your own writing.
When pitching a spec these types of errors are the simplest to correct, and by doing so shows that you value the reader’s time.
As AI improves, perhaps it’ll be easier to get scripts for older films we don’t currently have, but for the sake of education, someone’s going to have to suck it up and do it the old fashioned way.
In closing, 95 pages is actually an excellent target to shoot for with your own horror project.
Readers expect you to get in, get to it, then close shit out in a tight narrative.
6.) What I liked…
That once we actually get to the exorcism there’s a good story in there.
7.) What needs work…
Getting to the exorcism and the exorcist!
Rating: If you’re a fan of “classic” horror maybe check it out, but know that there are better examples to learn from out there, a number of which are reviewed on this site.
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