Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Exorcist – Even My Horror-Fan Teenager Was Freaked Out!

Written by William Peter Blatty
Directed by William Friedkin

When The Exorcist first came out on DVD (back in the early days of DVD technology), it was one of those films that generated quite a bit of conversation, if only for the poor quality of the digital transfer. When the 25th anniversary of the initial release of the film in theaters rolled around, it prompted the studio to digitally restore the film for theaters, and it resulted in a much better quality re-issue of the DVD. Now, it’s been reissued in blu-ray with much better quality and a Director’s Cut available.

The story is simple: Regan, the daughter of a divorced actress, Chris, becomes possessed by the devil. After investigating other possibilities, such as a physical or emotional ailment, Chris seeks the advice of Father Karras, a young priest with demons of his own.

The result is a horror film of both psychological and physical persuasion. I’ve generally found over the years that horror films are either terrifying because of that they don’t show or a graphic, gory blood-fest. The Exorcist managed to transcend both of those approaches and put together a film that is a first-rate example of what the horror genre should entail.

Based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist was first released in 1973. Reverend William O’Malley – who appears in the film – has made claims that the majority of the story is true. His story is that it was a boy who was possessed at a different place than is depicted in the film.

Credit has to be given first and foremost to Linda Blair. As the possessed Regan, she gives a frightening and intense performance. Her performance was really the key upon which the majority of the film hinged. Had a lesser actress taken the role, the movie easily could have missed the mark and garnered laughs at times the audience is supposed to be horrified. She also had to endure great physical demands as she was often in a harness and pulled this way and that around the room to show the demonic possession. Although another actress, Mercedes McCambridge, was the actual voice of “the demon”, the physical acting was Blair’s.

Director William Friedkin also did a tremendous job creating just the right amount of suspense and uneasiness throughout the film. Although the set-up feels somewhat slow, once the film kicks into high gear as the lonely little girl and her “new friend” manifest themselves for her mother and friends at a dinner party, The Exorcist takes off.

Ellen Burstyn also met the demands of her role as Regan’s mother, ending up with a permanent back injury after being jerked for one of the scenes where the demonic force thrusts her out of her daughter’s room. In the beginning, I had trouble warming up to the character, but just like in the film once Regan’s possession becomes evident her performance rises as well.

Max von Sydow is slightly miscast as the elder priest. He was only in his 40s when filming The Exorcist portraying a priest somewhere around 80. The makeup he had to endure each day for the part was rumored to take up hours in the chair each day. Jason Miller as the younger priest who has some doubts is wonderfully subtle, not taking the performance and crisis of faith over-the-top but managing to convey his own misgivings in his actions and expressions.

The soundtrack is good as it really keeps the suspense building. The special effects for the time period are really spectacular. Not only is the makeup in Linda Blair for the possession award-winning from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films but considering it’s all done at a time before CGI and blue screens it really is something I appreciate much more than the effects in many science-fiction films of today.

I had to laugh when Regan’s mother Chris brings her to a doctor who prescribes Ritalin. Yes, it’s not ADHD, but our children are possessed! Hallelujah!

I watched The Exorcist with my teenage daughter who’s been a huge fan of horror movies since she was about nine. Even she was freaked out watching this for the first time, although she’s watched it several times since with her friends. I definitely would not recommend this film to anyone younger than thirteen or chances are you’ll be in for many sleepless nights.

We watched it together in amazement and awe – there were no nervous giggles or the like. I hadn’t seen The Exorcist in many years until I saw the restored version with the extra footage added. This footage had originally been taken out as it’s presence was deemed too graphic and disturbing for the initial release. There had been great controversy over the film back when it was first released for the many disturbing images to people of faith and the denial by the Roman Catholic Church that there had actually been exorcisms performed.

A part of understanding The Exorcist is the context of the times. Movie-going audiences were still being sheltered by the studios from some of the more shocking and graphic footage out there. Words in the dialogue had generally never been heard on the screen before (outside of the porno theaters, that is). Blatty and Friedkin pushed the envelope in many ways for the time period and what might seem tame now wasn’t at the time.

In the end, it all hinges on faith. The faith of a mother to help the daughter she is devoted to overcoming what has possessed her, and the faith of two priests in God and themselves. It’s a powerful message in one of the few true psychological horror-thrillers ever made.

Special features:

– Cast & Crew Biographies
– TV/Radio Spots
– Theatrical Trailer
– Commentary by Director William Friedkin

1 reply »

  1. I saw this movie in college. It scared me out of my mind. I had flash backs and didn’t sleep for 2 nights! The final straw was when the chain holding my cross broke in the shower and the cross went down the drain – I never exited a shower so fast in my life.