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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's a lot of anxiety that goes into viewing The Exorcist, "the
scariest movie ever made", for the very first time. And with that
anxiety comes a lot of expectations and preconceived ideas about what
The Exorcist *should* be. Especially for someone born after the film.
Then on top of that waited years before finally seeing it.
I love the Exorcist, and after exposure to God knows how many horror films, the Exorcist remains my favorite within the genre. And even from a die-hard fan I have to admit, I hate hearing "scariest movie of all time" associated with this movie.
First of all, there's no reason to compare fright factor of films, so forget that anyone ever called The Exorcist "the scariest movie ever made." Take any movie I don't care what movie and stick a "greatest/scariest/best" whatever tag next to it, and you'll have audiences investing in what they *think* it should be instead of letting the film present itself for what it is. And all they see is that it is not what they expected (expectations, I might add, that are shaped by the current gimmicks and trends in Hollywood).
I love the Exorcist because it dared to defy my expectations. This is not a wall-to-wall, credits-to-credits montage of scary imagery inspired by a mere scenario that's supposed to pass as a plot. This isn't a movie about that long dark corridor and something waiting to jump out of the darkness and attack (which is always preceded by a false scare featuring a cat). It's not about that cheap gimmicky scenario of X amount of people isolated from the rest of the world, with a killer/monster/ghost/whatever on the loose.
The Exorcist is a very slow movie that actually features a full blown plot, its characters, and their associated arcs. The original ambition of The Exorcist was to scare the world with imagery and concepts never before seen in cinema. Shocking moments that the audience of 1973 could not believe they would ever see on the silver screen (from a major studio, no less.) After 30 years, the movie isn't so shocking because times have changed, and the success of the Exorcist has guaranteed countless imitation in all forms across all boards. However, the Exorcist is still one of the most ambition horror films ever made, because (are you ready for this?) the Exorcist dares to tell a story.
Everyone remembers the pea soup, the head spinning, the vulgarities spewed from the demon's mouth, the stairs, the infamous cut (now restored) spider walk. But I adore this movie for the things no one seems to bring up I love the setup in Iraq where Father Lancaster Merrin detects the signs of his final showdown, and how these abstract scenes on subsequent viewings give the movie a more epic feel. I love the transition from Chris MacNeil to Father Karras walking across campus that's reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. I became absorbed watching Father Karras caring for his aging mother and the close relationship they have, seeing him depressed and sharing a drink with a fellow priest as he discusses his own issues with faith.
And what impresses me most about a movie named the Exorcist is how it seems to reject the possibility of possession and exorcism as its ultimate and final solution. The characters in the movie don't want it to be true, and in fact don't really even know about the possibility of Exorcism, thus they explore and exhaust all other possibilities (both medical and psychological). I smiled with delight (after all the hospital scenes) in that priceless moment when Chris MacNeil asks Karras, "And how does one go about getting an exorcism?" which stops father Karras in his tracks as he, a man of the church, looks at her as though she's lost her mind.
The fact that the movie resists the temptation to jump right into the acknowledgment that Regan is possessed continues to build up the epic Good versus Evil, God versus Satan, the exorcist versus the demon, feel. Like the characters, the movie doesn't want it to be true, it doesn't want to go there and embrace that possibility, but we the audience know what must inevitably happen. And it's almost magical how the movie finally acknowledges Regan's only hope. There's no glorious fanfare nor is there boastful ultimatums, instead the movie lamentingly and silently surrenders to it as we watch Lancaster Merrin walking up the sunny garden path, staring down at a newly delivered envelope. He doesn't have to read it. He already knows what it says, as do we.
The imagery then fades to an ominous foggy night as a taxi pulls up to the MacNeil place in Georgetown, then we're treated to the haunting imagery that inspired the cover art. What must be done, must be done. I love how the movie implies that Merrin has faced this very demon before through its imagery, and through the dialogue as Karras explains he's identified at least three manifestations to which Merrin answers, "No. There is only one." I can address more the acting, the beautiful cinematography, brilliant makeup but I'll stop to keep from sounding like a raving fan who over hypes every inch of everything. I'll close with these thoughts: I'm not the type of person who will watch the same movie over and over and over. Most movies I see, the specific imagery and specific ideas don't make a deep enough impression to stick with me for more than a few months. I remember the Exorcist, not because I thought it was the "scariest movie ever made", rather because of the wonderful craftsmanship, the fact that it dared to tell a story, and it defied my expectations.
When Friday the 13th, the Grudge, Skeleton Key, and Cursed are reduced to vague memories and general ideas, I will still clearly remember the Exorcist.
In late 1973 and early 1974, women and men were lined up for blocks. People
were known to become ill watching it. Some fainted. Some ran out of the
theater in tears. There were reports of people having to be
institutionalized, and at least one miscarriage was attributed to viewing
it. No, it wasn't a Rolling Stones Concert. It was a film called The
The first time I had heard of something called The Exorcist was on late night television when the author, William Peter Blatty, was a guest on The Tonight Show. The conversation centered around how horrible some of the things in the book were. I had also seen the novel listed on The New York Times Bestseller List, and it seemed as if it would remain there forever. After having been on the waiting list for what seemed like an eternity at the local library, I was finally able to obtain a copy. It was the first book I had read in one sitting since probably Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase quite a few years earlier. And yes, for it's time it was filled with gut wrenching details of what happens when for some unexplained reason; an innocent girl is possessed by Satan. While reading the book I was sure that if it ever made its way to film, most of the details would certainly be either `cleaned up' or omitted altogether. As you know the film was made and it spared the movie going public absolutely nothing in the way of details.
Certainly many of the people who lined up to see The Exorcist did so to watch some of the more gruesome scenes, the worst of which involved Regan's masturbation with a crucifix. Yet, the hysteria went well beyond the fact that such scenes were so vividly depicted. I think one needs to look no further than Mel Gibson's The Passion to find the answer as to why. I'm sure most of you have read the story of people leaving Mel's film in tears, some to the point of being hysterical. From most articles I have read, it seems that the majority of the audience that was moved were those people of strong religious beliefs. For many others, the depiction of the brutality in The Passion may have been uncomfortable to sit through, but weren't emotionally effected to any degree. Much of this same feeling can explain the hysteria surrounding The Exorcist. Those who had a definitive belief in Heaven and Hell, of Good and Evil, of Jesus as The Savior and Satan as the epitome of pure evil were affected by The Exorcist far more than those who were agnostic or just never had a strong belief in spiritual matters. There is no doubt though that much in the way The Passion did, The Exorcist caused many to reconsider how they felt about their faith. The Exorcist made the prospect of Satan being alive and well and a life of eternal damnation a very uncomfortable prospect. The fact that Blatty claims his book and screenplay were based on a true story seemed to give the film even more credibility.
For me, The Exorcist has always been more about the never ending conflict between pure evil and pure innocence than about being an average horror story. There are many more levels to this film than what initially meets the eye. There is no doubt that while the main story revolves around an innocent young girl, Regan McNeil (Linda Blair), being inhabited by Satan himself, Blatty enhances it greatly by adding different characters in various stages of conflict. Regan's mother, Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) obviously cares deeply for her daughter. Yet she is not beyond reproach. In one scene when Reagan's father hasn't called on Regan's birthday, we see her desperately on the phone doing battle with an overseas operator. The problem is not how vicious the phone call is, but that she does it within ear shot of her daughter as if to drive the point home to Regan how worthless her father is. When, she finally does seek the aid of Father Damian Karras, we don't feel that she believes in exorcism anymore than he does, but is desperate enough to accept the fact that it is possible and will take any and all measures to save her daughter.
Father Karras (Jason Miller) is a priest torn by conflict. He is ridden by overwhelming guilt for having abandoned his mother to enter the priesthood. He is torn spiritually by the confessions of those priests who seek his help as a psychiatrist, so much so that he now questions his own faith. When he states to the Bishop that `Regan's case meets all the criteria,' we know that even more than Chris, he doesn't really believe in the power of Satan to inhabit a living being in the manner that it has taken over Regan. Yet, he will do what is required of him as a priest concerned about the health of a child.
Jack McGowran gives a terrific performance as the alcoholic director filming Chris's latest film in Georgetown. Kitty Winn is Sharon Spencer, the secretary who works for Chris and always seems to be in the line of fire when Chris is angry. She is always there but for all the horror she witnesses, Winn appears too bland and emotionless and her performance is probably the weakest in the film.
Max Von Sydow as Father Lancester Merrin is a no nonsense aging priest. He has done battle with evil before and he shows us its effect in every scene he occupies. One could pass it off to being just good make-up but it is so much more than that as Sydow demonstrates all the nuances that brings to life a man who has faced Satan and lived to tell about it. He knows what he is up against, understands he must do it again and the consequences of what that battle may be.
If I have a small complaint with The Exorcist it is in regards to the character of Lt. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb). I have never been able to buy into the character. It is not the fault of Cobb who is his usual stalwart self in the role. The whole character should at best have only been necessary for a few brief scenes yet; he has several that go on way too long and do not add anything to the story. Even in his scenes with Chris or Damian, Kinderman is so odd that he distracts us too much from their characters and it is Chris and Damian's reactions that are more important to us, not his investigation. For all you trivia buffs out there, Blatty once sued the producers of Columbo, stating they based Peter Falk's character on Kinderman. If memory serves me correctly Blatty lost that one.
As for Director William Friedken, although he won the best director award for The French Connection, for me The Exorcist will always remain his defining film. The Final half hour of The Exorcist are still as dynamic today as they were 31 years ago, French Connection car chase be damned.
It seems that to many of the younger movie audiences of today, The Exorcist has become more of a joke than anything else. That's not surprising considering how many times it has been lampooned, even by Linda Blair herself in Repossessed. Yet, if they were to view the film in a more serious vein, not as just another creature feature, they may just find that there really is more to this film than a little girl spewing pea soup and spinning her head around 360 degrees. It is the ultimate battle between Heaven and Hell and Good and Evil. It is the story of the complete and total degradation of innocence. It is a study in character, and whether a man torn by the forces surrounding him, can regain his faith and his belief in God and mankind to save the life of a little girl, caught up in forces beyond her control.
Call it a horror film, call it a religious film, call it what you want. For me, The Exorcist is and will always remain a classic in every sense of the word. And if I regard you as a classic of any kind I have no choice but to leave you with my grade, which for The Exorcist is an A.
Many people complain that this movie's too slow but those are the kind of
folks who only like 80-minute splatter films with characters so dumb and
one-sided, you pray for the bad guy to kill them. This monster of a drama
is both beautiful and bold. It has CHARACTERS and not simply LAMEBRAINS
lined up for slaughter. It has class and purpose. It takes the audience
into the darkest recesses of humankind and then brings them back through a
message of hope and self-sacrifice. The movie is NOT anti-religion, it's
anti-evil. Anyone who likes smart, clever, meaningful horror-drama should
see this film at least twice. It is surprisingly touching and amazingly
That said, the cast deserves a hand for their wonderful performances. Ellen Burstyn perfectly conveys the tension of a mother of the cusp of tragedy; Max von Sydow is hauntingly perfect as the story's ray of light; Jason Miller embodies the sadness of a defeated man; and Linda Blair is far above average even at her young age.
Once again, see this movie. You won't forget it.
There is a reason for the hysteria and mystique surrounding THE EXORCIST.
And it's called genius.
Never have I seen a film matched in shock, terror, writing, or performances. This isn't a horror movie. The film itself is both a moving and terrifying drama that takes a realistic look at what would actually happen if a young girl were possessed in modern America. William Peter Blatty's script is amazing, bringing depth to the characters, and presenting the mystery of faith that they all deal with. Is Regan possessed? Is she insane? And most importantly, Is there a God? In the course of two hours, we see a sweet and innocent young girl become a cross masturbating, head spinning, murderous, creature. We see a successful actress overcome skepticism to save her daughter, and we see a brilliant psychiatrist struggle with his devotion to God as a priest.
Friedkin's direction is marvelous, with wonderful uses of light, dark, and color throughout the film. Jason Miller (as Damien Karras) is beautifully subtle in his first film acting role. Max Von Sydow and Lee J. Cobb provide engaging supporting performances as the experienced priest who senses his impending doom, and a detective who senses something sinister is at work. Ellen Burstyn gives a brutally honest performance as a grief stricken woman trying to save her daughter. And most of all, a 12-year-old Linda Blair gives one of the most terrifying, convincing, and beautiful performances ever shown on film. Her range of emotion and connection to Regan are astonishing. She deserved that Oscar!
THE EXORCIST presents to us the mystery of faith in it's most raw form--the battle of good and evil. It is an incomparable masterpiece of film, done without the aid of computers and special effects. It relies on story and performances to give us a marvelous and terrifying piece of work. In the end, it makes us ask ourselves what we believe, and keeps us wondering and shuddering at exactally what might be out there.
The Exorcist is one of the best movies to come out of the 70's and
deserves better than slowly descending down the top 250. It's one of
those essential films you have to see in order to understand what a
movie truly is and this is more than a horror film. Unfortunately there
are so many people who are saying they got bored, I think because they
expected a terrifying movie, people! This isn't a slasher movie, this
isn't some scary Michael Myers that you can shoot, this is a story
about normal people in a normal house and upstairs there is a little
girl who happens to be possessed by "The devil himself". Faith is so
strong and when it's shaken, anything in your imagination can run wild.
First off the actors: Ellen Burstyn plays Chris McNeil, an actress working in Washington, D.C. on a film. She is the mother of Regan, the little girl who is possessed. I felt such sorrow for Chris, when she begs Father Karras to help her with Regan, I almost cried for her. Her daughter is not sick, this is nothing she can give Regan a pill and she'll be better. Her speech to Father Karras later on in the film: "You show me Regan's double, same face, same voice, everything. And I'd know it wasn't Regan. I'd know in my gut. Now, I want you to tell me that you know for a fact that there's nothing wrong with my daughter, except in her mind. You tell me for a fact that an exorcism wouldn't do any good! You tell me that!" sent shivers down my spine, this woman knows what Regan needs and will do whatever she can.
We have Linda Blair who plays Regan and she was so great for a 12 year old actress. This little apple faced girl became one of the most frightening images of the 70's and still to this day. She's not scary because she's swearing, this little innocent girl has been taken over by forces that she shouldn't even know about. Jason Miller as Father Karras, for a man who had never acted professionally before, he was quite amazing as a priest who just lost his mother and his faith has been shaken up. Max Von Sydow as Father Merrin was so strong and he was like in his 20's playing a man in his 90's. He was robbed of an Oscar, he was so believable and just amazing during the exorcism scene.
The effects? People! This was the 70's and they made a bed float! They turned this little angel's face into a hideous creature! If you watch the documentary "Fear of God: The Making of the Exorcist", Ellen Burstyn gets slapped by Regan in the film and she had kind of a rope tied around her waist. When the stunt man pulled her back, Billy the director told the guy to let her have it and he YANKED her back hard causing real pain in Ellen's back and that was an actual scream in the movie. They froze the room to the point as were moisture got into the set and there was a layer of snow in the morning they were shooting. There was no CGI, this was the real deal and I believe could truly help the actors. Linda Blair was being thrashed up and down during one of the possessed scenes where the bracing came loose and caused slamming of metal to her back repeatedly and her screams were also very real and bone chilling.
William Freidkin is the director of The Exorcist, and there was no better choice. This guy took this picture seriously, so far as to shoot a gun offstage or scream obscenities to get an actor's shocked reaction on film. He slapped almost punched Reverend William O'Malley who played Father Dyer to get him to shake during his reciting the Last Rites to Father Karras. He almost would have killed to make this picture and anyone doing it.
Weither or not the set of The Exorcist was truly cursed with a total of 9 deaths linked to the film, a fire on the set with no apparent reason, and the total feeling of evil around the room, we'll never know. But The Exorcist is a true motion picture never to missed or deserve no more than the true compliments it should get! This is the film that should be shown to any aspiring film makers. It's a masterpiece of a film that's more than a mere horror flick.
"The scariest movie of all time". Some movie goers agree and some
disagree. I belong to the former group, though I would like to rephrase
it to "One of the scariest movies of all time". For those of you who
have been living in a cave for the past twenty two years, the story is
of a pre-pubescent girl, Regan (Linda Blair), possessed by a demon whom
purports to be the Devil himself ("Now kindly undo these straps!").
In this day and age of schlock fest horror films being relentlessly released (or spewed out for want of a better term) by the big wig studios on a quest to cash in on the latest teenage trend, this premise for a horror story may not seem so scary to most. However, it's the road we take to arrive at this supposition that makes this film stand out from the rest.
The seeds of dread and fear are planted early with screen legend Max Von Sydow's Father Merrin receiving disturbing and familiar Omens of what is to come during an archaeological dig in Northern Iraq.
We're then taken to the setting where the real horror will begin in the Georgetown home of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), a successful divorcée film actress living with her daughter Regan. We're initially presented with a Regan who loves horses, has a close and loving relationship with her mother, is uncomfortable with the strained relationship between her parents and has the innocent demeanour and narrow vocabulary of every normal young girl.
The carefully crafted and ever so gradual change in Regan's personality, the strange drawings and figurines she creates, the emergence of Captain Howdy (Regan's imaginary friend) and strange outbursts ("You're gonna die up there") and so called physical convulsions force Chris to turn to doctors and eventually psychiatrists to try and get to the bottom of Regan's ever worsening behaviour. Her vocabulary becomes quite extensive with spine chilling, sudden maturity and her outbursts more terrifyingly violent. After exhausting all the "somatic" possibilities for Regan's troubles Chris desperately seeks help from world weary Jesuit Psychiatrist Priest Father Karras (Jason Miller) requesting an exorcism.
By the time Karras meets Regan, any semblance of the innocent young girl has completely vanished. Karras is grappling with his faith and subsequently doubts she is truly 'possessed'. Finally convinced that an exorcism is the way to go, he seeks permission from the Catholic Church, who grant him with the condition that he perform it with the help of the experienced Father Merrin.
Merrin arrives like a knight in shining armour for the ultimate showdown! A great screenplay by William Peter Blatty (based on his book), intelligent directing from William Friedken and outstanding performances from all the cast, particularly Ellen Burstyn as the traumatised mother make for a classic piece of horror that will stand the test of time. 10/10
For as long as I can recall, I've always possessed (no pun intended) an innate feeling that there exists outside the realm of our established dogma things that defy conventional logic. When I was in the sixth grade, I read the book, "The Exorcist," which scared me senseless. The idea that the Devil could infiltrate the delicate core of one's being called a soul absolutely terrified me at such a young age. After seeing the movie, I was speechless. Have been ever since. William Friedkin's transformation of the book to the movie was superb, in my opinion. (Not all adaptations are.) Dick Smith's special effects, in contrast to today's make-up advancements in the film industry, are still able to stand the test of time. The acting was splendid, from Lee J. Cobb & Jason Miller, to Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow's limited appearance in the piece. Friedkin's slice-of-life direction enhances the essence of the fear-factor in an oddly subtle fashion, as though the viewer were actually alongside the characters in the film. Lending to the creepiness of the film is the fact that there exists a minimal musical score (Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" does accompany two nuns strolling gingerly down a Georgetown street in autumn, their robes billowing slightly in the wind). The palpability of what happens to a young Linda Blair has astounded me for over three decades. Having been so taken with the notion that inhuman entities DO stalk the earth and have never existed in human form, I've written a couple of novels on the subject matter, myself. I liken the new version that had been released a few years ago to the last nail in the proverbial coffin of effectiveness, making this one of the best horror-genre films of all time. Simply put: I've never seen any film that remotely comes close to what this movie has done to me (in terms of frightening me senseless). Linda Blair's cute Regan MacNeil is utterly transformed into a beast which is flat-out disturbing to behold. The movie has moved me ever since I had seen it at age fourteen, and I suspect will always. Put simply, at age forty-three I still have a difficult time watching it on my own. Great job, Mr. Friedkin and crew!
The Exorcist is the best horror film ever made and there is one reason for this,the subject matter is treated with dignity and respect,too many "horror films" are made today that just don't try,it's as if they give up half way through and fall into self parody and amusement.the Exorcist is an exception and one of the very few good horror films around.the film works on a number of levels and is one of the few films I know of to do this i.e subliminal imagery,multiple storylines. a lot has been written about this film drawing mainly on sensationalism surrounding the films release that it would be hard for someone who has not seen the film to not have any preconceptions,but if you have not seen the film do try to keep an open mind because it will scare the hell out of you.this is also one of the rare cases where a film could arguably be better than the book it was adapted from.in my opinion the film could not have been made any better,the cast throughout are superb, the locations and production are second to none,all the characters are totally believable and there are points in the film where you think all this could really happen and it is for that reason the film is frightening and continues to frighten people to this day....a true shocker and one that has not lost any of its impact over the years.
For those who watched this film on the big screen when it was re-released
and thought it was 'comical, funny, not disturbing nor scary' are just do
not understand the complexity that surrounds this movie. Back in '73, no one
was expecting a film of this kind, and I know it has been said many times
but it WAS way ahead of its time. A time where cinema was in its infancy,
religion was practiced on a larger scale than today and showing such
violent, graphic and disturbing scenes was not thought of as being possible,
one can understand why it has been banned for so many years.
I recently watched this movie (at night, before bedtime) and it really left me thinking of how such horrifying scenes could be shown and portrayed in such a way. There were many scenes that would not get out of my head (for those who have seen the movie would know what scenes they are). I could not sleep that night and that hasn't happened since I saw Nightmare On Elm Street Part 1 when I was 6!
What makes things worse is that there are well known cases where people have been possessed by the devil or a supernatural being, which leads them in doing evil deeds.
When you mix a horror movie with religion on such a large magnitude, things can heat up and become very unpleasant.
More than thirty years on, The Exorcist remains a very powerful film and was a cinematographic milestone in 1973. Repeated duplication of the genre has, no doubt, 'desensitized' a new generation of movie-watchers, though it remains an unnerving masterpiece. It is not difficult to understand why the film generated such a seismic global impact all those years ago, since it imposed an unprecedented sensory attack on the viewer. Regan's vile physical appearance, combined with her vile language and blasphemous diatribe sent a shock wave around the world. Moreover, many people seemed to believe the claims that the film was based on a true story and could therefore actually happen to them. Electricity consumption must have soared for several months in 1973 as people who had seen the film slept with their lights on! It is still not a film I would feel comfortable watching before going to bed. On another level, I found parts of it profoundly moving and actually cried at the end when Regan was finally released from her possessor and wept in the arms of her mother and Father Damien, having lunged himself through a window and down a precipitous flight of steps, managed to find just enough life in himself to indicate that he had retained his faith and repented of his sins by motioning his fingers in the sign of penitence when comforted by a distraught colleague. Possibly the only thing that lets the film down if one really sits and thinks about it is the underpinning concept that an ancient demon which had existed since the dawn of time should wish to possess the body of a twelve year old child and emit a string of juvenile profanities. But then the film was designed to shock all along!
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