Director: William Friedkin
Date: December, 1973
Somewhere between science and superstition, there is another world, a world of darkness. Things beyond rationality and reason have a tendency of making us search for the answers to the questions we cannot fully comprehend. We simply cannot accept the fact that sometimes there exist situations that are beyond our control, that shake us to the very core of our humanity, that everything, including our faith, becomes tested.
Viewers Flee From Theatre In Terror
I never had the luxury of seeing “The Exorcist” when it hit theaters. Reports from 1973 speak of viewers fleeing from the movie in shock and of stunned silence reigning throughout packed movie houses. Although audiences have become more desensitized to the images conveyed in the film, “The Exorcist” has withstood the test of time and remains one of cinema’s greatest horror movies ever.
The story is based on a series of true events that occurred in 1949 and were later fictionalized by author William Peter Blatty in his novel. It tells of the demonic possession of 12-year old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), the daughter of popular actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn). When we first meet Regan, she seems like any happy, well-adjusted girl. Soon, however, she is hearing strange noises, uttering obscenities, and experiencing violent tantrums and seizures. As her condition worsens and she begins speaking in an inhuman voice (provided by Mercedes McCambridge), the army of attending doctors advises calling in spiritual help. So Chris consults a local priest (who also happens to be a psychiatrist), Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). After examining Regan, he agrees to assist in an exorcism, which will be performed by the respected and mysterious globe-trotting priest, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow).
The film develops parallel storylines that eventually converge during the exorcism as Regan struggles against the spirit that has taken over her body and Father Karras confronts his personal demons. This portion of the film, with the two priests engaging in a metaphysical battle against a force of evil, represents “The Exorcist”’s undeniable high point.
Bedroom Becomes Focal Point Of Good And Evil
Although the beginning portion of “The Exorcist” unfolds slowly, it accomplishes the aim of introducing the characters and highlighting their relationships. The real turning point comes when Regan scuttles down the stairs like a spider (one of the newly included scenes) shortly after having killed her babysitter. At that moment, “The Exorcist” shifts into high gear. Every sequence subsequent to this one raises the stakes a little higher as one little girl’s bedroom becomes the focal point of a war between the forces of good and evil. In the case of “The Exorcist”, the spoils of victory are not the world or the universe, but Regan’s mind and body.
There were many major names considered for roles in the movie (Jane Fonda and Audrey Hepburn for Chris; Paul Newman for Father Karras) but the filmmakers scored with their selection of casting. Ellen Burstyn excels as a mother whose primary concern is the well-being of her daughter. Max von Sydow is absolutely brilliant as sage Father Merrin, it’s hard to believe that he was a young man in the film but portrays that of a much older age. Jason Miller brilliantly exhibits the torment of a man of God who is losing his faith. Of course, the standout is Linda Blair in her first major motion picture role. Ironically, the strength of Blair’s performance in “The Exorcist” was to define her entire career, which took the low road and spiraled into exploitation fare.
Equally Beautiful And Shocking
The silhouette of Father Merrin staring at the house from the streets below, preparing himself for battle, is still a hauntingly beautiful vision of the tone that “The Exorcist” sets. Watching Linda Blair succumb to the forces of evil, be it a 360 degree head spin, projectile vomit, or masturbating with a crucifix, is still something to behold.
Very seldom to horror movies withstand the test of time. More often than not they become outdated and superfluous. Certainly “The Exorcist” is an exception to the rule. In 2010 it was selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved as part of the National Film Registry. Not every horror movie has the luxury of receiving that kind of accreditation, making “The Exorcist” in a true league of its own.
5 out of 5 Blood drops