The Exorcist, 1973.
Directed by William Friedkin.
Starring Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J Cobb, and Jason Miller
When 12-year-old Regan MacNeil becomes possessed by a demonic entity, two priests are called in to perform an exorcism to hopefully banish the demon and save the young girl before it’s too late.
Earlier this year, horror fans bid farewell to novelist William Peter Blatty who, inspired by a story of a young boy allegedly possessed by a demonic force, published his seminal horror novel The Exorcist in 1971.
Hollywood, back in the day when the studios would give major funding to horror films recruited Blatty to adapt his novel for the big screen giving the director’s chair to Oscar winner William Friedkin of The French Connection fame.
The result of this process would not be merely another standard supernatural scare-fest, but it would be a film that has gone down in history as one of the greatest horror films ever made. This is The Exorcist.
Despite my rather grand introduction above, I feel that I must make an early confession dear readers.
While I consider myself a die-hard horror fan and with this film’s reputation one of the most beloved horror films of all time, I had actually never seen The Exorcist until watching it for this very series.
Sure I had heard of it and I had seen a few clips here and there, but for whatever reason, I had been reluctant to sit down and actually watch it. Perhaps I was scared off by its formidable reputation, that it would be too scary for me, that it would be a disappointment, or that I simply couldn’t handle it.
Maybe I was worried that after watching I would be haunted by constant nightmares of priests, demonic teenagers and foul language.
However, having now watched it I can confirm that more than deserves its lofty reputation because The Exorcist is quite possibly one of the greatest horror films I’ve ever seen.
The acting is probably some of the finest you’re ever likely to find in a horror film, with a truly talented cast delivering stellar work throughout.
Ellen Burstyn is brilliant as movie star Chris MacNeil, glamorous and successful but loving and caring when it comes to her daughter, with her increasing desperation at what is happening to her little girl being beautifully portrayed by Burstyn.
Linda Blair also does a fantastic job as the possessed teenager Reagan, with the actress really being put through the meat grinder to transform her from loveable teenage girl to demonic spawn of your nightmares.
Max Von Sydow is also brilliant (although a bit underused) as Father Merrin, the titular exorcist, a frail old man when we meet him, but also commanding and authoritative presence when he goes toe to toe with the demonic force inhabiting Reagan, with the foul language, green vomit, and spinning heads only lightly fazing the veteran man of the cloth.
The best performance of the film and certainly my personal favourite is Jason Millers Oscar-nominated turn as Father Damien Karras, a priest tormented by his personal demons and his rapidly dwindling faith in God. Miller with his haunted and tired face is a deeply fascinating watch, with his careful performance managing to expertly convey the internal conflict raging within him.
Whether he’s confessing to his colleagues that he might not even believe in God anymore, grieving over the death of his mother, or pleading to the demonic entity in the film’s climax, with Miller showing just the right amount of restraint and intensity when the scenes call for them. It’s a fantastic and powerful performance that in my view ranks as one of the best in horror cinema. Maybe Miller should have been given that Oscar.
While this film is held up as being possibly the most frightening viewing experiences ever committed to celluloid, I honestly didn’t find it to be that scary for the most part.
When the demonic s**t starts to hit the fan I often found myself breaking out into giggles into when Regan starts cursing like a marine or spewing green vomit like a broken sewer pipe. Quite simply, the film didn’t really scare me in the way I thought it would. And besides, how can you hear “your mother sucks c**ks in hell” and not burst out laughing?
Although, I will admit that the film does have plenty of sights that are no laughing matter, a handful of which that did leave me somewhat shaken. The sight of young Regan mutilating herself with a crucifix did leave me feeling deeply disturbed and shocked, with the sheer ferocity and graphic nature of the scene certainly sticking with me for a while. And the image of the words “HELP ME” appearing on Regan’s body is also enough to make the blood run cold.
The film, while an often intense supernatural horror with some horrific imagery, has much more going on than spinning heads and projectile vomiting, with it being full of possible avenues for analysis.
I would argue somewhat that the film acts as a story of the battle between science and religion, with the various doctors that Regan’s mother takes her to regularly dismissing her bizarre behaviour and even some of the more blatantly supernatural aspects of her affliction as mere mental illness or some kind of physical ailment.
This battle can even be seen as raging within the character of Father Karras, who spends the entire film wrestling with his faith and initially dismisses Regan’s possession in the same way the doctors do, arguing that she is merely having some kind of mental episode brought on by illness. It’s only when Karras and Merrin team up to try and banish the demon that faith seems to win over science, but at great cost to both men.
Although this is merely my interpretation of the film’s themes, with it also open to many others concerning the nature of mother-daughter relationships, religion and the importance of faith in an increasingly secular and “Godless” society. I’d love to hear what you think dear readers, leave your thoughts in the comments if you wish.
What more can be said about The Exorcist?
It’s arguably the most famous and acclaimed horror films of all time and it’s also one of the few horror films to be given serious critical praise and awards love, with it being nominated for ten (yes TEN!) Academy Awards including Best Picture, the first horror film to ever be nominated.
With some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen in a horror film, a heavy dose of nightmarish imagery and a story tackling heavy themes such as the loss of faith among many, The Exorcist deserves every bit of praise that its stellar reputation awards it.
If you’ve never seen The Exorcist, go and watch it now. THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★