The Exorcist: Believer is a film with deep ties to the larger Exorcist continuity, most notably with Ellen Burstyn making her return to the role of Chris MacNeil for the first time since 1973, but there are some significant fresh additions in play for the franchise, and that includes a brand new demon. Instead of bringing back Pazuzu, the monster that memorably possessed Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil, the 2023 film will be introducing audiences to Lamashtu – a different evil operating in its own special way in the movie who, according to writer/director David Gordon Green, does have a connection to the series’ original protagonist.
With The Exorcist: Believer set to be unleashed in theaters next Friday, I spoke with the filmmaker during the movie’s virtual press day this week, and one of the subjects we discussed was his film’s principal villain. I asked about the decision not to have the return of Pazuzu, and Gordon Green explained the approach of both finding Lamashtu and still utilizing existing canon:
It was an exploration in our research in demonology and wanting to differentiate ourselves from the original film, but also keep little playful layers of our demon and some references – particularly when she's taunting Chris MacNeil and using some things from her past that she might dig up. And so I wanted it to be a demon that had a relation to Pazuzu, which I thought was important.
Like Pazuzu, Lamashtu is a demon with origins in Mesopotamian mythology, and according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, she is a sadistic being that particularly enjoys preying on pregnant women and eating the flesh of babies. It’s exactly not hard to see how she might inspire the imaginations of David Gordon Green and his The Exorcist: Believer co-writer Peter Sattler.
In the new film, Lamashtu’s victims are Angela (Lidya Jewett) and Katherine (Olivia Marcum) – a pair of friends who disappear one day after school after they are seen walking into the woods. Their parents (Leslie Odom Jr., Jennifer Nettles, Norbert Leo Butz) panic when the girls are gone, but things get far worse when the children mysteriously turn up three days later. The guardians slowly realize that there is something seriously wrong with them, and they begin to question if the source is something supernatural in nature.
Danny McBride and Scott Teems are given screen story credits for The Exorcist: Believer alongside David Gordon Green, but the writer/director also gives credit for the creation of Lamashtu to Christopher Nelson, the film’s special make-up FX designer. In addition to previously collaborating with Gordon Green on the recent Halloween trilogy, Nelson also worked on the productions of both 2004’s Exorcist: The Beginning and 2005’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, and he had a key hand in bringing the movie’s new villain to life. The filmmaker continued,
I have a very close collaborator, Christopher Nelson, who's a makeup artist and a very opinionated horror aficionado, and I wanted to show images and talk through the mythology of the demon that we were exploring and see if this was something that he might be able to have a good time creating an image for us that we could use in some of these flashes and subtle moments. Sometimes not so subtle, but that was something that was exciting for me.
“Not so subtle” should definitely be read as a scary tease for what’s coming, and audiences will be able to see the horrific results very soon. First announced in July 2021, The Exorcist: Believer arrives in theaters this Friday, and it’s the first of a planned trilogy. Start bracing yourself for the terror now, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interview with David Gordon Green.
To learn about all of the other spooky season treats that are on the way in the coming weeks and months, check out our Upcoming Horror Movies guide.