[31 Days Of Horror ’19] Mini Reviews: Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005) and Dark Night Of The Scarecrow (1981)

Mini Review Day 30: Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

The Exorcist (1973) is a classic of cinema, some consider it to be the scariest film ever made, it is though an excellent film. There have been sequels to the film, while Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) may have been a let down, The Exorcist III (1990) is a very worthy follow up. A prequel was then ordered, however the original version directed by Paul Schrader was dropped by the studio and a different version was made in the form of Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) with director Renny Harlin, which was a failure at the Box Office. It was then decided that the original prequel would be released under the title Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005) restoring Schrader’s original material with a little extra funding to finish it off. It remains a mystery why the studio didn’t like this version, it is a fairly good origin story for Father Merrin (played here by Stellan Skarsgård, originally by Max von Sydow).

The story takes place during the 1940’s where Father Merrin is questioning his faith in God after going through a horrific event in Holland during WWII, he decides to continue his work as an archaeologist in East Africa where he has discovered the remains of a mysterious Church. The Church appears to be Christian but the time period does not fit with the area, where Christianity hadn’t found its way there until hundreds of years later. He has the help of Father Francis (Gabriel Mann) with the excavation, and the village near by supports him, until evil starts to hit and bad things begin to happen affecting the village. British soldiers have been called to help, but their timing is bad as the evil is hitting and tensions are at a high. Will Father Merrin uncover the secrets of the Church and stop this evil?

The great aspect about this film is that it does mirror the original, where in The Exorcist Father Karras has a crisis of faith and through helping Regan and ridding the demon inside her his faith is restored. Here it is about Father Merrin’s crisis of faith through the events he saw in WWII and the guilt he feels, his faith is tested through the finding of this Church and trying to overcome the evil that has engulfed this village and its people. It is an interesting story, told quite well from Schrader’s vision, it is a slow burn experience that builds up horror and tension without the use of blood and possession all over the place. The real terror that lies within the film is the aspect that evil is a part of human nature, the psychological aspect of evil and how and why it could or should be over come. It delves into some interesting themes, including the differences between between different cultures and the conflict that can bring.

Dominion is a mature film, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The Exorcist or even Exorcist III but it is a worthy addition to the story, and it is compelling to see Father Merrin deal with the demon for the first time and answers the question of why he has a connection to it. A prequel really wasn’t ever needed, neither were sequels as The Exorcist is a stand alone film, but the stories told to continue make sense and here Father Merrin is a compelling character played expertly by Skarsgård. It is a shame that the studio dumped this film originally, this is the version that should be seen in the end.

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Mini Review Day 31: Dark Night Of The Scarecrow (1981)

Dark Night Of The Scarecrow (1981) proves that made for TV horror can be good and effective, and a reliance of blood isn’t needed to have scares and build tension. The film has become a cult classic, which is easy to see why, it is a good film and with a budget for TV it made good use of the sources available, including a very good cast. The film is perfect viewing for Halloween time, and great for those who aren’t a fan of gore but enjoy a good horror and revenge story.

The story takes place in a small town, where the mentally handicapped Bubba (Larry Drake) lives with his mother Mrs. Ritter (Jocelyn Brando), and enjoys playing with young girl Marylee (Tonya Crowe). Some of the town folk don’t like Bubba and are sure he will hurt someone, they are always watching him waiting for something to happen. One day while Bubba and Marylee are playing, a dog attacks Marylee and Bubba brings her home thinking she is dead. The town folk including postman Otis (Charles Durning), Skeeter (Robert F. Lyons), Philby (Claude Earl Jones) and Harless (Lane Smith) track down Bubba, who was hiding as a scarecrow and murder him. After the murder they find out Marylee survived and that Bubba’s actions saved her life, they killed an innocent man. Despite this the court find the men not guilty of murder, but they begin to get haunted by a scarecrow one by one and find themselves a target for revenge.

The main characters in this film are not likeable by any means, especially Otis (played so well by Charles Durning) who is a mean spirited man and takes no responsibility for his actions. His three friends are equally as unlikable to start with, but their guilt catches up with them unlike Otis. Bubba who isn’t in the film much, his mother and Marylee are the characters that are easy to like and the actions of these men are just infuriating to watch. When the revenge aspect begins, the audience wants to see those four men get what is coming to them. It is a simple story of revenge and mob mentality having a dire affect on people. It is paced extremely well and flies by, keeping the audience engaging throughout the running time. The cast are all very good, with Tonya Crowe giving a great performance at a young age.

This film has atmosphere, tension and scares and it works for the most part. Some of the performances don’t quite hit the mark and the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been. Dark Night Of The Scarecrow is a memorable film, having the feel of cinema of the 60’s and 70’s, it is certainly worth tracking down and giving it a watch.

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Reviews written by Marcella Papandrea

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