Directed by William Friedkin
Written by William Peter Blatty (written for the screen by), William Peter Blatty (novel)
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, and Jason Miller
A visiting actress in Washington, D.C., notices dramatic and dangerous changes in the behavior and physical make-up of her 12-year-old daughter. Meanwhile, a young priest at nearby Georgetown University begins to doubt his faith while dealing with his mother’s terminal sickness. And, book-ending the story, a frail, elderly priest recognizes the necessity for a show-down with an old demonic enemy.
This movie is effing terrifying. Every part of it. They could zoom in on an old paint can in the garage and I’d be cringing. ONCE AGAIN, as with Halloween, The Omen, The Amityville Horror, and The Entity – why did my Republican Southern Baptist parents indulge me in these movies when I was between the ages of 8 and 12? If they wanted to insure that horror and religion are always relative – then, terrific work, Mom and Dad.
The Exorcist is as much a horror film as it is a study on creating an effective film by and large. The film juggles a multitude of characters and archetypes, showing a rich back story and character development. We have the innocent, apple cheeked young girl, the tenacious mother that won’t stop until she truly helps her beloved child, the aging priest that sees his faith challenged with his painfully withering mother, the veteran holy man who must face an old enemy even if it results in his death, and not to mention one of the most horrific embodiments of true Satanic evil imaginable. Factor in the complete lack of CG and the very analog audio magic they worked, and this is a perfect storm of horror.
The transition young Regan makes from the innocent and lively fresh-faced child to full-on demon possessed is nothing short of magnificent. The juxtaposition between a normal 12-year-old and the bile spewing agent of Satan makes my bones tremble. Her vulgar and blasphemous tone is unmatched in possession movies, never to be duplicated or outdone to this day. The audio engineers coupled with the voice actor portraying the demom (Mercedes McCambridge), is enough to drive the hardest of horror fans out of the room. God have mercy on you if you’re a standard Catholic or Protestant and have Dolby 5.1 during the viewing. The tapes Karras records of Regan scare the hell out of me. Not only can the demon speak foreign tongues, but it talks backwards once the tapes are reviewed. The simultaneous voices on the recording is straight up evil. I mean, even for me, I find it hard to listen to. So creepy on an ancient level.
Burstyn, Regan’s mother, Chris, is stellar in her role as a matriarch who nearly looses her mind jumping through every hoop the doctors present. Furious that the panel of 80 doctors still think it’s mental or brain-related (even after viewing Regan’s bed rise and slam) she eventually finds favor within the church. Father Merrin (von Sydow) is compelled with Father Damian Karras’ findings and realizes he must face an old enemy – and the choice for the exorcism is made. Karras isn’t in a good place mentally due to his mother, and Merrin makes it clear that the demon will go for the throat in unimaginable psychological attacks. This eventual climax set the bar for possession movies so high that it can never be topped or even reached.
The Exorcist is full of classic horror scenes, invoking imagery that still inspires today. We’ve seen the film mentioned in metal songs from everyone from Twisted Sister to Slayer. The movie has been ripped off and parodied since it’s release, guaranteeing an undeniable level of commercial success. We’ll never forget the spinning head, levitating Regan, split pea soup, the flashes of the demon’s face, or the haunting music that accents the visual components perfectly. One of the more subtle, but terrifying scenes is during the dinner party. Initially possessed Regan comes downstairs in her nightgown and matter of factly tells the astronaut “You’re going to die up there.” then soils herself. Ugh. Creep factor
Bottom line here for horror lovers and humans – never use a Ouija Board ALONE or assume anything named Captain Howdy is on your side. The Exorcist isn’t my favorite horror movie of all time, but I would have to admit it nets the most visceral response. This is the epitome of religious horror, terror, and a template for making a perfect film regardless of the genre. This gets my highest rating possible.
The one second scene of this demon face has caused permanent damage, so thanks for that.