If you feel like you've been hearing about this prequel to the 1973 horror classic since, well, 1973, you're not alone. This version -- announced in '97 -- has been through enough internal drama to make Linda Blair's head spin. Again. Original director John Frankenheimer died before he could shoot a scene. His successor, Paul Schrader, turned in a moody, psychological version that the production company promptly shelved. Finally, helmer Renny Harlin, who directed ''Deep Blue Sea'' for the studio, came in and rewrote the story by William Wisher and Caleb Carr, dumped most of the cast, and reshot the entire film. ''We wanted to make it more visceral,'' he says, a movie ''that anybody can grasp without having to go into theological contemplations.''
The result, Harlin hopes, is faithful to the original but also addresses backstory questions about Father Merrin's (played by Stellan Skarsgard) first run-ins with the demon Pazuzu. (Harlin did extensive research on demonic possession and papal doctrine.) Still, the director is fully aware that there are fans of the original who may choke on the notion of ''Mr. Cutthroat Island'' in charge of this update, and who will rush out to compare his and Schrader's versions if both are released simultaneously on DVD, as expected. Harlin says he'd welcome the comparison. ''Then everybody can form their opinions.''
The good news ''Deep Blue Sea'' proved Harlin can deliver the action-horror goods.
The bad news Did we mention ''Cutthroat Island''?