Horror stories can take place in a variety of places, from an isolated cabin in the woods to a Gothic manor full of dark hallways and mystery, but one of the scariest locations in cinema history is that of a 12-year-old girl’s bedroom. Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, director William Friedkin takes us on a journey of true horror in The Exorcist, a film that brings terror right to your doorstep.
Set in Georgetown, the story revolves around the possession of a young girl named Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) who after playing with a Ouija board, and conversing with her invisible friend Captain Howdy, her behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing and her physical health deteriorates at an alarming rate. Needless to say, this greatly concerns her mother, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), and after medical science fails at every turn she becomes desperate and seeks help from the church. This leads her to Catholic priest/psychiatrist Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) who quickly deduces that this isn’t a case of mental illness but an actual possession. As the intensity of Regan’s demonic possession escalates, Father Karras collaborates with a seasoned exorcist, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), to perform a harrowing battle against the demonic forces within her. The winner is anyone’s guess.
The performances in The Exorcist are exceptional, particularly that of Linda Blair as Regan, her portrayal of the possessed young girl is astonishingly convincing as she embodies both innocence and sheer malevolence. One must tremble thinking of what this young actress had to put up with to pull off that performance. On the adult side of things, Ellen Burstyn delivered a powerful performance as the anguished mother, capturing the desperation and helplessness of a parent confronted with the unimaginable. I think any parent could relate to the pain and suffering of Chris MacNeil as she is forced to watch her daughter become something other than her sweet child. Then on to the big guns with Max von Sydow and Jason Miller both bring depth and gravitas to their roles as battling priests, struggling with their own personal demons, and hats off to Jason Miller for more than holding his own with the legendary Max von Sydow. Fleshing things out are some nice character moments with Karras feeling guilty about leaving his own mother (Vasiliki Maliaros) to die alone and the fun banter between him and Lieutenant Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), which added a nice amount of humanity to the proceedings.
• Is archaeology worth the risk? Going by the movies you are more than likely going to awaken some long-dead evil spirit, which is never good. In the best-case scenario, you will most likely end up with melting Nazis.
• If I learned anything from watching a horror movie it’s that you should never ever play with a Ouija board, it never ends well and if you don’t end up possessed by some demonic entity it will be probably get one of your friends.
• It should also be taken under advisement that if your child has an imaginary friend there’s an 80% chance it’s actually a ghost or a demonic entity.
• The scenes where Regan is tested at the hospital, such as her arteriogram which results in arterial blood spraying from her neck, are all viscerally terrifying and more disturbing than any of the demonic stuff later in the film.
• The exorcism that Father Merrin performs is the “Rituale Romanum” but there should be four priests, not two, for this procedure as well as a doctor on standby. Do we assume this is because of Catholic church budget cuts?
One of the film’s most commendable aspects is its ability to create an atmosphere of dread and unease that lingers long after the credits roll. The haunting and unsettling imagery, accompanied by an eerie score, creates an unrelenting sense of tension that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. The shocking and visceral scenes, including the infamous head-spinning and levitation sequences, are masterfully executed and continue to be the stuff of nightmares and is a testament to the crew involved, especially make-up effects wizard Dick Smith whose transformation of sweet Linda Blair into a vomit spewing hellion is quite amazing. The film’s ability to create an atmosphere of unrelenting terror is unparalleled, from the eerie opening shots to the haunting musical score by Mike Oldfield, the film sets a profoundly unsettling tone that lingers throughout. The cinematography, combined with the effective use of shadows and dim lighting, adds to the sense of dread and suspense, intensifying the horror on screen, but as good as all these visuals are it would all have been for naught if not the brilliant script.
The film’s screenplay, written by William Peter Blatty himself, is both intelligent and thought-provoking as it delves into themes of faith, doubt and the existence of evil, raising profound questions about the nature of spirituality and the human condition. While The Exorcist is undeniably a horror film, it goes beyond mere scares and offers a profound exploration of the darker aspects of humanity. Friedkin’s adaptation of Blatty’s novel is notorious for its graphic and disturbing imagery, pushing the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable at the time of its release. The gruesome and shocking scenes of demonic possession, combined with realistic practical effects, continue to shock and unsettle audiences to this day. It’s important to note that the film is not for the faint of heart and contains intense and disturbing content.
In conclusion, The Exorcist remains a seminal horror film that has had a lasting impact on the genre and has never been topped. Its chilling atmosphere, outstanding performances, and thought-provoking themes elevate it beyond the realm of your typical scary movie. While its shocking content may be too much for some viewers, those willing to delve into its depths will find a film that is as terrifying as it is intellectually stimulating. Without a doubt, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is a true classic that will continue to haunt audiences for generations to come, cementing its status as one of the greatest horror films ever made.
The Exorcist (1973)
Movie Rank - 9/10
William Friedkin’s The Exorcist remains a timeless masterpiece that has left an indelible mark on the horror genre. Its impeccable direction, remarkable performances, and thought-provoking exploration of faith and fear make it an essential watch for any horror enthusiast. Despite being almost five decades old, this film still possesses the power to terrify and disturb, solidifying its place in cinematic history.