Director: William Friedkin Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow & Linda Blair Synopsis: When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter” Rating: 18 Runtime: 122 minutes
The Exorcist is one of those films that is revered as a classic, and for anyone who has never seen it, the immediate question has to be, why? Well, up until recently I fell into the bracket of those who had never seen it. Sure, I was familiar with the film, and there were certain elements of it that have become so ingrained in pop culture that I was already aware of, but I had never got round to seeing the entire film. As Scarefest approached, I was determined to watch and review The Exorcist. In short, I’m glad I did.
The Exorcist was released in 1973 and caused something of a stir on it initial release. Critics were split between those who loved it and those who hated it, with seemingly little to no grey area for anyone else. Deemed a classic by some, and labelled as nothing but grotesque violence by others, it was not as universally admired as it is today. Despite a mixed response from critics, The Exorcist still managed to become the first horror film to be nominated for the best picture award at the Oscars, although it eventually lost out to The Sting. However, the strongest response, as with most films, came from the audience. Multiple stories emerged of people being sick, fainting and being highly disturbed after viewing the film. There are even stories of people suing Warner Bros. for injuries suffered after seeing the film.
I mention these stories of shock and awe because today we live in a world where things that would shock an audience in 1973 are unlikely to shock an audience today. Bad language, violence and blood can be viewed quite easily nowadays. Whether that be on the internet or on the TV, things of shock value are everywhere. So, does The Exorcist still work today, and more importantly does it work on a modern horror fan who has never seen the film before? The simple answer is yes.
The Exorcist tells the story of a young girl named Regan (Linda Blair) who becomes possessed by a demon after experimenting with a Ouija board. The initial response from her mother (Ellen Burstyn) is that Regan is simply ill, and that medication will see her become well again. After several trips to specialists, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and that something much more sinister may have taken hold of young Regan. As her mother reaches her wit’s end, she decides to enlist the help of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), whom she wishes to perform an exorcism on her daughter. At first Father Karras is skeptical of this, but after he encounters several supernatural occurrences, he too believes Regan is possessed and seeks the help of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) to perform the exorcism.
The Exorcist, like many classics of its era, takes its time in building momentum. Modern audiences may balk at the way director William Friedkin takes his time in setting everything up, but this is perfect for the style of the film. The first half of the film is largely scare free, but once things start to progress the tension levels are turned up to ten as the shit hits the proverbial fan. The acting, from all concerned, is at the highest level. While William Friedkin adapts William Peter Blatty’s novel with such style and aplomb, that it seems something of a shame that he didn’t direct more horror films during his career. Despite this, Friedkin’s films are often wrought with such tension and shock value that you will not soon forget about them.
Nothing quite prepares you for what you see in The Exorcist. Whether you have heard about it, or seen various snippets on the television, until you sit and watch the film in its entirety you cannot comprehend what impact the film will have on you. The Exorcist is a deeply visceral film, that will leave its mark on you one way or another.
In summary: The Exorcist is a true classic, and deserves its place as one of the most admired horror films of all time and still has the ability to shock 41 years after its initial release.