The defining characteristic of this astonishingly inept evangelical horror pic is a feeling of deja vu. Written, produced and directed by William A. Baker, this forlorn exercise in demonology manages to make even the more blatant “Exorcist” rip-offs of the 1970s look good. But Baker’s film is undeniably big on the horned, speaking-in-tongues demons and spinning heads whose absence from Paul Schrader’s forthcoming “Exorcist” prequel reportedly caused Schrader to be fired. Playing on a single Pasadena-area screen since early October and set to expand to more Southern California locations on Nov. 14, self-distributed pic seems likely to scare away more business than it scares up.
Though it presents itself as a more realistic take on satanic possession than Hollywood’s many other offerings on the subject, in actuality “Exorcism” resembles a grade-Z grindhouse movie with slightly higher-than-average doses of theology.
Jerry Lansing (Brian Patrick Clarke) and his daughter Sarah (Nicole Dionne) are spending a quiet evening at home when a trio of wayward youths breaks in and holds them at gunpoint. While one punk (Dwayne Chattman) is searching the house for money and jewels, a painting depicting angels at the gates of heaven begins “talking” to him, eventually coming alive (a poor CG animation) and scaring him — along with his cohorts — out of the house.
Immediately after which, father turns to daughter and says: “We’ve just had a visit from Satan. I’ve got to call the police.”
As it turns out, the home invasion is but the first in a series of events that lead the Lansings to believe a curse has been put upon their family. Recovering in a nearby hospital from an undisclosed illness, matriarch Mrs. Lansing (Karen Knots) receives threatening taunts from a nurse (Eileen Dietz) who may be one of the devil’s legion.
Then, Jerry ends up in the hospital himself when a demon apparently takes control of his SUV and runs him off the road. Fortunately, Sarah just happens to be taking a sort-of how-to class in contemporary exorcism techniques from an impassioned bishop (Tony Burton), who casts demons out of the possessed with the same nonchalance that most people bring to drinking their morning coffee. As if that weren’t enough, Jerry’s older brother (Jack Donner) is a Catholic priest with several high-profile exorcisms on his resume!
Complicating matters is the revelation that Jerry actually did, once upon a time, pawn his soul to Satan, in exchange for getting a jump-start to his successful career. However, as good must triumph over evil, there’s little sense of urgency as pic moves toward the inevitable climax, in a very familiar-looking upstairs bedroom chilled by the presence of the demon that has, by this point, taken over Jerry’s entire body.
Like the recent Christian film “Time Changer,” the point of “Exorcism” is to show the modern world as a thinly disguised Sodom and Gomorrah. But whereas “Time Changer” cleverly told its story from the p.o.v. of a 19th-century time traveler, “Exorcism” presents chintzy images of “satanic counsels” (whose attendants look like cast-outs from a West Hollywood Halloween party) and suggests, rather unconvincingly, that everything from drug addictions to school shootings is directly the work of demons possessing human beings.
In the end, pic lacks any serious view of religion or contemporary society, and fans of both horror pics and more serious-minded religious fare will both be roundly disappointed.
Tech credits and effects are strictly of the bargain-basement variety. Over the end titles, Baker himself performs the original rap ballad “E-X-O-R-C-I-S-M,” which surely has Tammy Wynette turning over in her grave.