Cast and Crew Talk “THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY,” Screening Free in NYC!Fearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Jessie Robbins
In 2008, director Mickey Liddell’s THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY introduced us to a new teen heroine being haunted by literal demons. The cliffhanger ending had Molly walk off the stage at her graduation to be accepted into a satanic cult, and now THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY reveals what happens next.
Coming to Blu-ray and DVD October 20 from Fox Home Entertainment, and being given a free FANGORIA-sponsored screening next Monday, October 19 at New York City’s Times Scare (see details here), EXORCISM was directed by Steven R. Monroe, scripted by sequel specialist Matt Venne (WHITE NOISE 2: THE LIGHT, MIRRORS 2, FRIGHT NIGHT 2) and produced by genre veteran Mike Elliott. “I was attracted to the project, along with some of the Fox executives, because we all liked THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY,” Elliott says. “But we really thought it could go one step farther, and that we could do something cool with it. We also wanted to make an possession movie, so together we said, ‘What if we made THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY?’”
Monroe’s approach to the sequel comes from a much darker place than the original—not surprising, as he was at the helm of the first two new I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE movies—and he attributes his ability to replace HAUNTING’s tame, teen-driven style with a much more sinister tone to the passage of time. “Anyone who talks to me about directing something and has seen my work knows that I tend to lean toward the more intense, more dramatic. Molly’s 24 now, and the audience that watched the original is older too, and don’t watch the same content anymore; they watch more disturbing projects now. This one is a lot more violent than the original, for sure.”
WOLFCOP’s Sarah Lind, taking over the role of Molly from Haley Bennett, explains that after being extricated from the cult and leading a successful life, she finds herself in a mental institution with some very suspicious symptoms. “The character has changed from the first movie mainly in that she’s gotten older—and is now possessed [laughs]. Throughout most of the movie, I’m actually playing Satan, which I think every actor should get the chance to do in their career.”
While exorcism films have become something of a genre mainstay over the past decade, Monroe decided to take a more classic approach than many. Instead of using handheld, shaky cameras, he decided instead to pay homage to and find inspiration in the classics, and director of Photography Jonathon Cliff (HEROES REBORN) was on the same page. “It’s a fairly classical style, with a lot of wide, composed shots,” Cliff says. “It’s not so much of what I think of as a modern horror movie. It maybe harks back to ’70s horror films.”
Eschewing excessive gore, EXORCISM instead aims to create a sense of unease on the viewer, relying on atmospheric dread, soft tones and a sense of normality to make the experience more relatable. “This is a movie about real people who you don’t know have been taken over by Satan, and it’s important to have those characters be like us,” says costume designer Patty Henderson. “I pulled a lot of my inspiration from CAPOTE; I was the assistant designer on that, and it had a very muted palette, which I wanted to do on this as well. So when you see the bile [sighs]—we are so sick of that word!—the bile is the color you see, and everything else is toned-down greys, blues, blacks, charcoals, forest greens. ROSEMARY’S BABY was kind of what I was thinking.”
Playing a disgraced man of the cloth, living in the same institution as Molly and tasked with ridding her of her demons, FINAL DESTINATION and IDLE HANDS’ Devon Sawa happily returns to horror after four years on TV’s NIKITA and other non-scary work. “It’s my favorite genre to do, ever since I was a young kid,” he says. “Father Barrow is a priest who was studying to perform exorcisms, and he did one that went terribly wrong and started to question his own faith. Some stuff happened that landed him in the psych ward instead of a prison. The first time I see Molly she’s an actual demon, and my character’s different from the others in the movie because I’ve seen this before. I’ve been studying to do this, so I go in with the right questions to ask, and halfway through the first time I interact with her, I already know she’s possessed.”
Acting as a mentor for Father Barrow is Peter MacNeill (STORM OF THE CENTURY, the Venne-scripted BAG OF BONES) as Chaplain Henry Davies. “He’s an innocent, elderly pastor who’s about to be put to pasture, and the asylum might be the last stop, but he’s quite content there,” the actor says. “He takes Father Barrow under his wing when he’s in trouble and helps him out a little bit. Davies saves all his accoutrements from his previous exorcism attempts in case he’ll need them again… I have plans for him,” MacNeill chuckles menacingly.
Also joining the fight to save Molly’s soul is Dr. Laurie Hawthorne, a psychologist unwillingly pitted against the forces of evil, portrayed by genre regular Gina Holden. “She works at the hospital where Molly ends up,” Holden says. “Her motivation is that professionally she’s thinking one way—‘I can figure this out, it’s nothing paranormal, it’s nothing freaky’—but inside she can tell something is definitely off.”
Lind not only had to endure the forces of evil, but also four hours of makeup application for the exorcism scenes. Makeup FX designer Doug Morrow came up with a unique look for the actress’ demonic visages. “Sarah had four different stages of looking possessed, which went from just paint with contact lenses to three sets of appliances that made her look more cadaverous,” Morrow explains. “So we had different contact lenses, different dentures and a variety of prosthetics to make her look scarier. When we did the makeup-test day and brought Sarah into the little set where we were going to shoot them, all the camera guys got really quiet. They came up to me later, like, ‘We were terrified.’ I was very happy with how that turned out.”
It wasn’t just the creation of Molly’s features that involved the physical route this time around. “I’m a really big practical effects person,” Morrow notes. “We did old-school stuff, using tubing and real blood as opposed to CGI, some bladder gags and simple in-camera tricks that look really effective.”
Monroe also believes that part of the key to making this horror film truly horrific was giving viewers a different, more old-fashioned kind of possession experience. “There have been a lot of exorcism movies lately,” he says, “and I think people are starting to expect the same thing—a lot of people hanging upside down and bent backwards and crawling on ceilings and things like that. This one goes back to the classic area, while keeping it modern. I believe the younger audience has seen all the CGI they need to see at this point, and the real heart of horror films, when they first came out and became cult classics and people fell in love with the genre, is the makeup effects.”
The devil has been played many times in many different ways, and Lind took a few cues from THE EXORCIST’s Linda Blair while putting her own spin on the role, essentially humanizing the malefactor. “You take any impulse, no matter how perverse or disgusting or inappropriate, and you just let it go unreined—it’s magnificent,” she laughs. “If I tried to think, ‘I’m embodying evil,’ that’s so abstract and enormous and freaky and unrelatable, and I wanted the character to be more human. So there can be regret and joy and lust and cruelty, it’s just unchecked. I think anyone can relate to that.”