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Banned 'Exorcist' Coming Soon

'Exorcist' | Michael Jackson | 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'

Banned 'Exorcist' Coming Soon

There's big news in the world of horror and thriller films.

Paul Schrader's "Exorcist" prequel, officially titled "Paul Schrader's Exorcist: The Beginning," may finally be released. Until last week, the $35 million film, completed in 2003, had been buried in the Warner Brothers vaults.

Schrader is the famed writer of Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," as well as "American Gigolo." He also is the director of great indie films such "Affliction" and "Auto Focus."

Schrader was hired by Morgan Creek Productions in 2002 to make a prequel to "The Exorcist." His movie featured respected actor Stellan Skarsgård and had lots of buzz.

But when Morgan Creek's owner, James Robinson, saw that it was a cerebral thriller that lacked spewing vomit and rotating heads, he killed the movie.

Enter Renny Harlin, the hack director and ex-husband of Geena Davis .

For another $35 million, Harlin completely re-shot the movie, tossing in as many "Exorcist"-like clichés as possible. Some of the cast, including Skarsgård, reprised their roles.

The film was mostly panned by critics, made $40 million domestically, about the same internationally, and finally broke even.

Last week, however, Schrader took a gamble. He showed his version at the Brussels Fantasy Film Festival. He and the cast all showed up — on their own dime, since no studio now identifies itself with the movie.

The bet worked. Critics wrote admiring reviews. Variety, in particular, sang Schrader's praises: "Schrader's intelligent, quietly subversive pic emphasizes spiritual agony over horror ecstasy, while paying occasional lip service to the need for scares ... Schrader has delivered a 100 percent Paul Schrader film, drenched in the spiritual and moral angst that's watermarked his career."

The payoff is that Morgan Creek and Warner Brothers are going to release "Paul Schrader's Exorcist: The Beginning," in the next two months.

It's an unprecedented move. The production company hates the film so much that instead of releasing it, re-shoots it. Then it makes another, really bad, film. But it's forced to release the original when critics applaud it.

"I never want to have to go through anything like this again," Warner Brothers' David Robinson — James' son — said to me the other day.

He could not really say what happened. But sources tell me his father, who calls the shots at Morgan Creek, simply did not appreciate Schrader's approach. He equated "Exorcist" with vomit.

Schrader, who was still abroad when I caught up with him, is philosophical.

"They'll be talking about this in film schools for years to come," he said.

What does he think happened?

"I think it was a case of buyer's remorse," he said. "I made the script I was given. But then they saw it and got nervous; it wasn't right. It was very upsetting."

He credits the idea that Warner Brothers could make some money off releasing a "director's cut" DVD for helping keep his version alive.

"And Internet-based fan clubs," Schrader said. "They never let it die."

Shock Over Jacko's Ex-Assistant Arrest

I used to say I was always nervous about taking a few hours off of the gossip beat "because Tom and Nicole might break up."

Well, wouldn't you know it: The first time I actually did let my guard down, that happened.

Last night, I took off a couple of hours to see John Lithgow in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" on Broadway.

And in that time, Whitney Houston went back into rehab and Michael Jackson's former assistant was arrested in Las Vegas for holding up a Jack in the Box. You can't win.

Chris Carter was Jackson's assistant for a couple of years. He lived at Neverland and was a popular figure.

Maybe not quite 25 years old, Carter also drove the mother of Jackson's child-molestation accuser back and forth to her boyfriend's house whenever she asked.

He figures as a witness in the case. But now he's in custody in Las Vegas after snapping and trying to take customers and employees hostage in a fast-food restaurant.

"When we traveled, he wasn't really a bodyguard. He was very anti-gun. He also carried books, studying. I remember when he quit, Evvy [Tavasci, Michael's chief assistant] had a fit. She wanted him to come back," a Jackson insider said.

My source says that Carter, who returned to Vegas where he lived with his father, finally tired of Jackson's lifestyle.

"He just got tired of not being paid. He'd have to go out and watch Michael shopping and spending all that money and then not giving Chris his paycheck," the source said.

This source, and another still at Neverland, are shocked by Carter's arrest. Now everyone will wait and see how this will impact the trial in Santa Maria.

And then there's Whitney Houston .

I'd heard recently that her condition was not good, and that this talented woman had fallen back into old habits.

Then, a few weeks ago, I started getting calls from a publicist who said he represented Kevin Skinner , Whitney's admitted former drug dealer and her late father's "business partner."

Skinner claimed he was going to publish a book about Whitney and her family, ostensibly to "destroy" them. He even sent me a mock-up of his book jacket.

No publisher seemed to be involved. I asked Skinner if he had an attorney, and he said he did.

But there was no such person, or no way of finding the name of the man mentioned. Skinner returned to the ether.

A week so or later, his publicist e-mailed me that he had quit the project and that Skinner was a liar. Certainly every single thing he promised to publish would have embarrassed Whitney and her family.

Two nights ago, my phone rang at 1 a.m. with Skinner's number, but no one was on the other end.

Whitney's world for the last several years has been one of mayhem, arrests, accidents and episodes. She has squandered what could have been the most important chapter of her career on living like an outlaw.

Much less qualified singers have taken her place. A new generation has grown up without her. The damage she's done herself has been severe.

We can only hope that this stint in rehab will do the trick. At 41, this lifestyle is no longer amusing. It's dangerous.

'Dirty Rotten' Tony Nominees

Back to Broadway and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

When this movie-based musical opened three weeks ago, the tepid review in The New York Times almost killed it. But audience response and word of mouth was excellent.

Last night I finally got to see it. You know you have a hit when, on a Wednesday night with sleet and rain coming down outside, the audience inside the packed theater is cheering, and Elaine Stritch is sitting fourth row on the aisle, also applauding.

I came with low expectations. I left humming the songs.

"Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" is just great, folks. The score, by David Yazbek, is full of hummable, witty, fun and memorable songs. There's even a big ballad, "Love Sneaks In," just ripe for a bunch of singers to cover.

And there's this year's must-have song, which is a parody of a big ballad. Plus, a cool recurring Broadway kind of hip-hop number, sung by the show's surprise scene-stealer Norbert Leo Butz.

Have you ever heard a stage name less mellifluous? Yet Butz, who plays Lithgow's partner-in-crime, Freddy "Buzz" Benson, is such a winning con man and wannabe gigolo that he literally walks off with "Scoundrels."

He sings, he dances, he's funny and physical. The audience was cheering for him during the show.

He's also going to win the Tony for best supporting actor. Next year he will be headlining his own show. Norbert Leo Butz alone is worth the price of admission.

The other revelation from "Scoundrels" is Joanna Gleason, a longtime Broadway, TV and movie actress. Gleason is the daughter of "Let's Make a Deal" host Monte Hall. My favorite of her many movie character roles is in "Hannah and Her Sisters," where she played Tony Roberts' appalled wife.

Gleason is also a shoo-in for a Tony in "Scoundrels." She gives such a lovely, humorous, understated and perfect performance as Muriel Eubanks — and sings beautifully too — that now I think it's a shame she didn't get a chance to star in "Wonderful Town."

Her immense talents have been hidden too many times. In "Scoundrels," it's as if Monte Hall finally called out to the audience, "I'll give you five hundred dollars cash, right now, Joanna Gleason!" And everyone pulled her out at the same time.

Go see this show. What a month for Broadway!