The Last Exorcism wasn’t really the last one since The Last Exorcism 2 hits theaters on March 1st. We chatted with series star Ashley Bell, who reprises her role as Nell, the sheltered, innocent girl who is possessed by the devil. She is a very warm actress, so it is no surprise that the devil would want to set up shop in her. Ashely talked to us about her love of horror, the confusing title, and those Doc Martens.
First, I have to ask about the contradictory title. Wouldn’t this make the first film The Second-to-Last Exorcism?
I know! I would agree with you in most circumstances, but there is never a last exorcism for the devil. For the first one, it was Cotton Marcus’s last exorcism, but the devil continues.
Right now I am in New Orleans, which is where we shot both films. It is Mardi Gras, and I get to be on a real Mardi Gras float! I got to throw beads to everyone, and the poster was on the side of the float and everyone was screaming my name... it was really incredible.
What can you tell us about The Last Exorcism Part 2?
This film is a continuation of the first film, and it follows Nell’s story. If you remember from the first film, Nell is a sheltered, vulnerable character. She doesn’t even know how to use an iPod. In this film, she is taken off the plantation, she is thrown into New Orleans, she is thrown into Mardi Gras, and there is temptation everywhere. The devil is kind of guiding her through the city and through this new life. He very carefully places in front of her friends, and a boyfriend, and a first kiss, and music - all these [previously] forbidden things - and then methodically takes them away. In that, there are huge scares and twists and turns and the end is such a surprise, truly only [producer] Eli Roth could pull it off.
Will this film be documentary style, like the first one was?
No. What I think is so exciting about part two is that you can see the film has been taken out of the found footage-style, and is now a straight narrative. You can see in the trailer that the “found footage” is kind of leaked via a YouTube video in this film. When I read that, I thought it was genius because that is the world we are living in. A world where the devil lives on the internet!
Does shifting the narrative add to the scares, or is it simple a way to give the audience a different narrative to follow?
I think it does both. Eli Roth produced the first film, and he was a major, major part of the second film. He is just a genius of the horror genre, and he knows how to innovate upon it. Turning it into a [straightforward] narrative and taking it to a whole different style makes it different and takes you through a different journey, as an audience. What I love about all of Eli’s films - especially Hostel - is that it preys upon the [idea of] revenge. I love that they get revenge at the end. In this film, I think Nell, in some way, gets revenge - she gets even. When the devil gets revenge... you’ve got to see it.
Is it safe to say that you are a horror fan?
I am! My summers were spent watching horror movies with my dad, which led to an incredibly overactive imagination. I watched The Exorcist when I was eight and had horrible nightmares. Growing up, I loved Pumpkinhead, I loved The Gates, I loved Poltergeist, Carrie, Alien... all of those films. There is nothing like the thrill of a horror movie. With The Last Exorcism 2, it’s not just a great horror movie, but it’s a great date movie because this film is so scary, you will end up in each other’s arms by the end.
Is it scarier than the first one? More intense?
Because of the stylistic change, I think they are different. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the twist at the end is such a shock, I think it will really surprise audiences.
Did it shock you?
Yeah, it did shock me. I actually got nightmares after I saw [the finished film] last week. I gave myself nightmares.
And you knew what happened!
Yeah. I’m in it, I’m living it as the character, then by the time everything is put together and the score is added and Eli’s magic is added - there’s like voodoo magic in it - it takes it to a whole different level.
I assume you did a lot of exorcism research for the first film. Did you have to do more for this one?
I did a lot of research for the first film into actual exorcisms and possessions. I read priests’ blogs, and watched videos of exorcisms. I also looked at a lot of images of people going through hysteric fits. I would see the way their bodies were moving. I wanted to try that physicality, and that is how I found the backbend. The night before the first exorcism scene, I was talking with Daniel Stamm, the director, who asked if I had anything I wanted to try. I said, “Well, I can do this backbend.” And I did the backbend for him and he said, “Okay, you stay there, I’m going to rewrite a few things.” I had no idea that the image of the backbend was going to become the image for both posters, and become such an iconic image.
So that wasn’t a stunt double?
No, that was me. I did all of my own stunts for the first film, and it was very important to me to do all of my own stunts for the second film. In terms of living the character of Nell, it is important to do all that physicality myself, to see what this girl is being put through, what the devil is doing to her. It’s really important for me to live it. Of course, there are going to be certain things you can do and can’t do, but fortunately, I was able to do everything for this film myself. So I taught myself how to levitate [laughs].
[As for research for this film] I was pulling a lot from the first one. But when we see Nell at the beginning of The Last Exorcism 2, she is shattered from what happened. In trying to develop Nell for this film, it was almost like trying to put the pieces back together. As you are putting everything together, there are cracks, and there are pieces missing. It is in those missing pieces that the devil slips in. I wanted to make her more frail, more privy to doubt, to question her past, and more open to the temptation that the devil has to offer.
Will anyone else from the first film appear in the second?
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Louis Herthum, who played my dad, is back.
Will the boots from the first film make an appearance?
Yes! Thank you so much for asking! Yes, I have my beloved Doc Martens. It was really, really important for me, when we were talking about the script for the second film. I said the Doc Martens had to make their way back. And they did. I’m really excited by how they are worked into this script.
They were an integral part of the first film.
Yes - they were her “big city” boots. They’d been all over the world, everywhere she dreams of going.