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.

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Last House on the Left (1972)

Genre: Horror

Director: Wes Craven

Writer: Wes Craven

Starring: Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham, David Hess

Rating: ★★★★

Wes Craven’s first film was a real controversial release which saw it banned for almost 30 years within the UK, but Last House on the Left is now a cult classic and a piece of horror history which has since shaped the genre.  A somewhat sick but clever and inventive story alongside amateur directing and acting give this film a feel which only emphasises its outcome which is no less than horrific. Although some aspects are lost due to its old release date and technology, it is still very entertaining and a successful horror which even today would be a big hit.

The story follows two teenage girls Mari Collingwood and Phyllis who for Mari’s birthday are heading to a rock concert but stopping in the city to attempt to “score” some drugs the pair are kidnapped by a gang of prison runaways, gruesome killers and psychos led by Krug who’s wanted for the killing of two nuns and a priest. As they are flung into the back of a boot the gang drive them into a forest which looks onto Mari’s house, unknowingly her parents are in walking distance away from their daughter Mari who watches Phyllis get mentally tortured.  After Phyllis is brutally killed, Mari attempts to escape but it leads to her rape and death. As night approaches the gang clean up and look for a place to stay, unknowingly they come across Mari’s house and manage to stay the night but Mr and Mrs Collingwood become suspicious. Eventually finding their bloody clothes and their dead daughter in the opposing lake, the two set on a night of gruesome revenge which involves chainsaws and blown out brains.

The story is something that even with modern releases is still labelled and seen as “sick”, Wes Craven creating something truly horrific and gruesome.  However it is something that leaves you really intrigued and somewhat satisfied as you see the revenge comes about to the gang of killers. The idea of Mari’s parents being so close to the murders whilst also setting up a birthday surprise is something which adds to the horror. The only slightly annoying and flawed element to Craven’s plot is the inclusion of two comic relief cops who are truly hopeless, and in a way remove some of the tense atmosphere and terror away from the real events.

The acting is somewhat amateur alongside the direction however with a documentary type feel it puts us as an audience right in the front seat witnessing the brutal events first hand. More so how we connect more with the gang of psychotic killers leaves an unnerving after effect once viewed. Last House on the Left for a very low budget and old film is still creditable. The most stand-out element away from the story for me is the soundtrack and “theme song” which once properly heard is sickening as it explains the story of two girls getting raped and killed to some very happy carnival type music – “have some fun with these two lovely children and off them as soon as we’re done”

There is no surprise to why Last House on the Left got banned however it is a truly great classic horror which is probably one of the most gruesome films I’ve ever seen due to such a slightly disturbing story from Wes Craven.  Although a product of its time which effects how watchable it is, Last House on the Left deserves its “cult classic” status as it a bloody, gruesome horror which is entertaining for all the wrong reasons, one not to be enjoyed.