Years before Father Lankester Merrin helped save Regan MacNeil's soul, he first encounters the demon Pazuzu in East Africa. Merrin's initial battle with Pazuzu leads to the rediscovery of his faith.


Paul Schrader
3 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Stellan Skarsgård ... Father Lankester Merrin
Gabriel Mann ... Father Francis
Clara Bellar Clara Bellar ... Rachel Lesno
Billy Crawford ... Cheche
Ralph Brown ... Sergeant Major
Israel Oyelumade ... Jomo (as Israel Aduramo)
Andrew French Andrew French ... Chuma
Antonie Kamerling ... Kessel
Julian Wadham ... Major Granville
Eddie Osei Eddie Osei ... Emekwi
Ilario Bisi-Pedro Ilario Bisi-Pedro ... Sebituana
Niall Refoy Niall Refoy ... Corporal (Thief)
Lorenzo Camporese Lorenzo Camporese ... Private (Thief)
Burt Caesar Burt Caesar ... Dr. Lamu
Marcello Santoni Marcello Santoni ... Dutch Farmer


Lankester Merrin is a archaeologist by profession but an ordained Roman Catholic priest who has lost his faith and abandoned his vocation. He is haunted by what he was forced to do in his native Holland during World War II. The church he's excavated in Northern Kenyan dates to the Byzantine period but this puts its construction hundreds of years before Christianity was introduced to the area. the church was buried to the rooftop in sand and as its structure is exposed, a madness slowly descends on the camp. the local tribesmen are prepared to go to war and demand that the church be buried. Soon, two British soldiers are found dead and their commanding officer, Major Granville, shoots a innocent civilian in cold blood. As fear descends upon everyone in the camp, it becomes apparent that a young disabled boy, Cheche, is possessed by the devil forcing Merrin to re-examine his own beliefs. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Before the Legend You Know, is the Story of How Evil Began.


Drama | Horror | Thriller

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong violence and disturbing images | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Filmed between 11 November 2002 and 3 March 2003. See more »


The Waffen-SS officer at the beginning of the movie has no rank or SS Rune collar tabs on his tunic, and he's wearing a Private's greatcoat with privates shoulder straps. See more »


[first lines]
Kessel: I am Obersturmfuhrer Ralph Kessel from the S.S., and this is one of my men. We found him in a ditch with a kitchen knife in his back, murdered by one of you. You see the German army retreating, and it makes you feel hope. It should not. So, who is responsible for this?
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Crazy Credits

At the extreme end of the end credits, after the last production company logo has faded out and the screen is entirely black, a demon voice grumbles "I am perfection". See more »


Referenced in Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) See more »


Stardust Room
Produced by Mitchel J. Greenspan
Composed by Nic. tenBroek
Published by Ocean Life Music, (BMI)
Music Consultant Richard DeMatteo
Lyrics & Vocals by Devon Loizeaux
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User Reviews

Better than Harlin's in many ways.
28 October 2005 | by misterronaldweasleySee all my reviews

I'm sure everyone by now knows the story of how Paul Schrader shot and cut his version of an "Exorcist" prequel and delivered it to Morgan Creek studios only to be told it was "commercially unmarketable" and fired from the project. Then they hired Renny Harlin, mostly known for action films, to come in and make his own bloodier, more visceral version that would appeal more to mass audiences.

It's a shame that the studios today are all about the profit and not the quality. While Harlin's "Exorcist: The Beginning" may have appealed more to mass audiences (and by mass audiences I'm talking about those who can't handle an intelligent story that takes time to build and need blood and guts every 10 minutes), but Schrader's film is clearly the winner in terms of quality here.

This film is far more subtle than Harlin's in-your-face version. Until the end, there aren't even any real "scares" to speak of. Don't get me wrong, the movie IS scary, just don't expect the cliché "jump scares" that are accompanied by a loud jolt of music, or someone sneaking up behind somebody. The scares in this one come from a purely psychological angle as the film works to get under your skin, push your buttons, and unnerve you greatly.

This version is a much more mature effort that works through creating layered characters and a good story. Harlin's version was like a cheap, plastic knock off of the real thing.

Now what exactly is different about the two films? Well most of the actors are the same, though the roles are altered just a tad. The sets are the same. The *basic* story is the same. The real differences come in concerning the possession victims. Harlin's theatrical version centered on a young village boy being the object of possession, treading a very familiar route we've all seen before. Schrader's "Exorcist" takes a different route by turning the tables around: instead of the possession victim getting physically and mentally weakened as the demon takes over, the story focuses on Cheche, an afflicted young man that actually becomes better as the possession takes over his body. To watch Cheche miraculously heal from a surgery in a matter of days and see his strength and mental capabilities growing is truly unnerving. I found the character to be more interesting than even little Regan Macneil in the original movie.

The acting is about the same in terms of quality, though with Skarsgard giving a much subtler performance this time around.

Alas, the film is not without faults. There is some god-awful CGI thrown into the film (I can't decide if it's cheesiness was a result of the movie never being finished properly or if it was just that bad) and the ending feels somewhat anticlimactic. The showdown between Merrin and the demon is what this movie is all about, yet something about the entire sequence just doesn't sit well. It's not "big" enough. It doesn't have the weight it should considering it IS the main focus of the movie. And it all came a little too fast. The pacing of the film just doesn't sit quite well. By the time the shite hits the fan, we're almost at the end, and Merrin goes from disbeliever to Bible-thumping exorcist in way too short of a time period.

Perhaps more work could have been put into Merrin's character. The film is okay as it stands, but more work and a little more background would have been great.

No matter what though, this one is still loads better than that crapfest Harlin put out. A much creepier, less in-your-face, subtler film that gets under your skin and reaches you on a level not one of the sequels has done yet. It's a shame the ADD-riddled audiences today can't handle a mature film like this.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Official Sites:

Official site


USA | Italy | Morocco



Release Date:

1 August 2005 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Exorcist: The Original Prequel See more »


Box Office


$30,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$140,703, 22 May 2005

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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