The Exorcist (1973)

Genre: Horror

Director: William Friedkin

Writer: William Peter Blatty

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair

Rating: ★★★★

The Exorcist is still regarded as one of the best horror films ever made alongside its prestigious status as an all-time classic that furthermore shaped its genre. Studying Friedkin’s creation I felt it was a must to share my thoughts and review what I believe is still a very entertainingly disturbing film despite its somewhat old release date.

Chris (Ellen Burstyn) is a visiting actress in Washington D.C, however whilst staying in her luxurious home she notices changes amongst her 12 year old daughter Regan (Linda Blair). It soon becomes apparent that her young little girl has been possessed by a demonic power forcing dangerous behaviour out of Regan scaring her body and innocence. Meanwhile young priest Damien Karras (Jason Miller) at the nearby Georgetown University is having problems with his faith whilst he deals with his mother’s terminal illness. Eventually bringing it all together is a suffering, frail old priest Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) who recognises the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy as he and Father Karras attempt to give Regan an exorcism.

The story and approach towards The Exorcist is brilliant, the opening sequence establishes everything that is needed to understand the plot whilst the mixing between three characters problems merging into one is very well-executed. There are certain scenes within The Exorcist which are most likely amongst the most popular in film history, especially regarding horror. Some are truly scarring but what is best about this film is how it is paced and how the horror within builds and builds for a haunting climax. It all starts when a confused changed Regan urinates herself in front of her family party guests, it then builds to fits and spasms which sees the bed levitate. However the pace beyond the half-way point is excellent and thrilling which leads to one of the most disturbing scenes ever witness as a possessed little girl masturbates with a crucifix, and her head rotating a full 360 degrees. It is horrific. Something which at the time really crossed a line and made The Exorcist brand it’s genre.

Despite the overload of gore and even psychological horror displayed for me what was truly terrifying was the score and soundtrack. Friedkin’s classic consists of a mixture between silence and overpowering roars of sounds, as an audience it keeps us on edge yet intrigued. There’s a moment when everyone jumps, carefully listening to a recording being replayed by Father Karras the phone then rings, interrupting our thoughts and the silence, The Exorcist at many times throughout makes us jump just by sound. The famous soundtrack of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is something that too adds to this film, its eerie presence in a way just gives me the shivers and it is certainly a tune which sticks in your mind.
The Exorcist surprised with its cast, especially its inclusion of many real-life priests and members of the church. Aside from the exorcist of the title, all other priests among the cast are non-actors and living catholic priests. The standout for me was of course Linda Blair who handled such a dramatic task of playing Regan very well and balanced such innocence and evil so well. Something which I found great was how the voice of the demon was very natural, and even the sounds displayed were all recorded naturally and most of the time from insects buzzing.

The effects and making of The Exorcist is something very interesting too, apparently to achieve a cold atmosphere the bedroom of Regan was actually frozen and air conditioning allowed the crew to achieve temperatures of 40 below to film in. The make-up was also a very big highlight too as they changed Regan into a scared and branded possessed character which physically horrified.
The flaws for me in this film were limited, the inclusion of the rattles and movement within the attic were very unnecessary and took away elements of horror whilst the vomiting didn’t transfer very well when watching the film in the modern day. My only other criticisms is how Father Karras resulted in punching the demon out of Regan in a sense, something very confusing considering the demon’s strength in other scenes of the film.
The Exorcist is undoubtedly a classic and for me a film which is very horrifying, disturbing but strangely enough entertaining. I could only wish and envy those who saw this upon the big screen when it was released as it then would have been shown in all its terror and glory. The acting and performances were great alongside somewhat brilliant sounds and effects work from both departments whilst the adaption from Blatty’s novel transferred excellently. Friedkin’s The Exorcist is film which doesn’t leave your mind and definitely deserves its status as a piece of shocking cinema.