TBT: The Exorcist (1973)

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I have had this blog for three years now and still haven’t reviewed this?! This surprises me not just because of the infamy attached to this staple of 1970s American horror, but because it is one of my personal favorite horrors ever. Why haven’t I been yammering on about this already?! I blame blogger’s block. But here we are, on another Thursday in October, once again given the opportunity to redeem ourselves. And by ‘we’ I mean me. And by ‘ourselves’ I refer to my more demonic, possessed side. . . 

Today’s food for thought: The Exorcist. 

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Reinforcing the notion that Regan is a terrible name since: December 26, 1973

[DVD]

It’s a shame William Friedkin’s masterpiece of supernatural scares has only gone on to become one of the most parodied films of all time. A shame because the true power of Pazuzu’s icy grip on the throat of a young girl named Regan has so often been overlooked in favor of making fun of a head that spins and pukes at the same time, and that upside-down crab walk.

A shame because this movie used to terrify people and by rights it still should to this day. It’s also a shame, though, that the special effects used in this memorable production haven’t exactly aged well. Modern audiences perhaps should be forgiven for saying ‘no thanks’ when the exorcism phase of a horror movie seems a dime a dozen these days. Unfortunately by passing up on the opportunity to watch The Exorcist these folks are inadvertently missing out on an exorcism done the right way; the disturbing, nightmare-inducing way.

Disregarding the extraneous and inferior prequels and sequels it has spawned, the story centered around a young actress and her daughter’s quite literal descent into hell when Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) began noticing rather bizarre behavioral changes occurring in her Regan. Growing pains associated with the onset of adolescence these were not. Poor Regan is soon revealed as the next incubator for a malevolent spirit.

Elsewhere, an archeologist/priest named Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow) has determined his experiences with fighting off demonic possession in the privacy of the possessed’s home are not days of the past. Following his discovery of a pennant reminiscent of the demon spirit Pazuzu, whom he had defeated years ago, Father Merrin is inevitably ensconced in a bizarre case in the Washington, D.C. area, courtesy of another priest having difficulty finding the faith after losing his elderly mother to an illness. Father Karras (Jason Miller) was the first to be contacted by a desperate mother seeking answers to an unexplainable situation. The case is of course, none other than Regan McNeil. She’s rather. . .sick. It’s been determined she needs an exorcism and needs the help of both priests.

If slow-burning horror is what it takes to get under your skin, then William Friedkin has had a movie waiting for you. The director may be knocked a little for applying a liberal amount of atmosphere creation for the first two-thirds of the film. However, the film is titled what it is for a reason, and on that ground alone it did not, does not and should not disappoint. “That scene” is an absolute staple of horror, its tension and emotional involvement hitting into the dark red part of the needle. I hate to reduce a film to a particular scene, but if there ever was a popular title to be reduced to one, it’s this. The beast’s vile behavior and the sounds it made have been difficult to shake for years.

The blame is on the era of filmmaking for a lack of better sound equipment, for surely some of the sound effects have come across more deranged and disturbing on the virtue that they are muffled, tinny and awkward excretions of noise, more aggravating than alarming. Remastered versions have helped improve these issues slightly but one can imagine this film’s potential made in today’s studios. It’s never enough to detract from the levels of nail-biting anxiety, though.

In some ways, perhaps it’s a good thing so many parodies of these moments exist. The more ADHD-prone viewers could use a little bit more of that 21st Century sense of hyperreality to make history more interesting. At least by watching Regan’s head spin right round, right round to Flo-Rida’s song they might be able to appreciate that whatever is being parodied was at one time so effective it spawned these humorous takes on it. Hey, entertainment is all relative anyway so I’m in favor of more people getting caught up to speed with this film’s iconic imagery and settings in any way they can.

It doesn’t get much better in terms of suspenseful exorcisms than this. In today’s horror, the act of exorcising almost deserves its own sub-genre. But there is something truly special about the way it all comes together under the supervision of William Friedkin; the acting, particularly on the part of a young Linda Blair as Regan is superb, urgent and emotional. It’s also an unusually vulgar performance from such a young performer. The pacing lags at the start but intensifies as the situation spirals out of control and into the world of the supernatural, while a chilling, somber tone is never quite escapable.

It’s a shame more people don’t regard The Exorcist as one of the scariest films of all time, because that’s exactly what I think this chilling, suspenseful and at times downright crude chronicling is, one of the scariest things I have ever tried watching.

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5-0Recommendation: Add this one to your queue if you consider yourself a fan of good horror. The pseudo high-concept horror. The horror that can wake you in the middle of the night in a fit of cold sweats as you’ve just dreamt of the vague outlining of a vengeful Pazuzu-like spirit. And fans of the director have undoubtedly had this one in their collection; they more likely have begun many of theirs with this very title. It’s hard to do with horror movies but this is one I have no problem with calling a must-see.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

TBTrivia: In the six months following the film’s release, 14-year-old Linda Blair had to have bodyguards following her around in the wake of multiple death threats thrown her way by zealots claiming her character “glorified Satan.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.2warpstoneptune.com; http://www.puremzine.com 

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33 thoughts on “TBT: The Exorcist (1973)

  1. Pingback: The Babadook | digitalshortbread

    • It really is such a strong entry! The exorcism scene I will never be able to forget. And that poor young girl having to say such horrible things! Haha! Her parents should have had to wash her mouth out with soap! 😉

      • Haha! So true 🙂

        I always think it is the best horror ever made to be honest. It might not be my ultimate no.1 favourite but it really is such a great film. I hate it when people watch it for the first time, laugh at everything and then say “well that was shit!” – oh hush.

        It’s an absolute classic, will anything ever beat it?!

        • So I’ve finally gotten around to watching the extremely hyped 2014 Australian horror phenomenon The Babadook. I think I have found a worthy rival to William Friedkin’s masterpiece.

          • I didn’t get round to watching until recently, too!

            I loved The Babadook but I can’t see it ever taking over The Exorcist, not for a pure horror.

            Maybe I need to accept new films are being made though…..I can’t hold on to 1973 forever!!!!! Haha 🙂

  2. Pingback: THE IPC DOUBLE TAKE FEATURING THE SPORADIC CHRONICLES OF A BEGINNER BLOGGER: JACOB’S LADDER (1990) | Isaacs Picture Conclusions

  3. HELL YEAH 8/8!!! Seriously loving these TBT choices for Halloween, amigo. And another excellent review here! I will say, though, that I think you might not be giving the general public enough credit for their appreciation of The Exorcist. Yes, there are spoofs out the wazoo, but I can think of dozens of top horror lists from magazines/individuals who still name this as one of the scariest movies of all time. 21st-century viewers or no, it’s scary as hell!! Lol.

    • Cheers Cara! Hey, yeah I had to do something classic this month!!! So many options to go with as well.

      I think when I was mentioning the parodies and such that that actually speaks more to its popularity than against it. I think I contradicted myself in my own throwback review lol!!!! I always just find it funny that these spoofs and knock-offs or whatever have cropped up almost as much as the original material in modern contexts. It is great to know it is still so highly-regarded by so many. It really is a powerful one.

  4. Great post on this film, Tom! This movie creeps me out to this day. I can’t get myself to watch it again because it just freaks me out. Surely a great horror film though. *shivers*

    • Thanks friend!!!

      I know what you mean there — it’s a crazy one and perhaps a difficult one to watch in spots even after seeing it several times like I have !! I haven’t revisited in some time so this month was perfect. And yep. It freaked me out yet again. So worth it, though. 😀 😀

  5. After you let me down with your John Wick review, I’m glad that you picked me up a bit here. An 8/8 is exactly what this deserves. Everybody else already left insightful comments so I’m going to change up the pace and go… THE EXORCIST F*@KING ROCKS DUDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

    • The Exorcist is damn fantastic man. I did debate for a minute whether I should drop it to a 7/8 but that seemed overly harsh. I liked being harsh on John Wick because I knew John Wick could take it. He was another supposed cardboard cut-out badass, after all. 🙂

      You should have used that last line in your comment as your opening line in your review. . .of something. Maybe your next one?

  6. Superb write up. I’m not a huge fan of horror films for the most part so didn’t see this until recently, but saw it as a part of a blogathon and loved it! It’s exactly the word you use. “Chilling!”

  7. I knew before I even looked at the pie score, that the film would receive an 8 out of 8. Please don’t get me wrong, I hate to assume anything, but you being a movie fan with so much intelligence, and overall knowledge of an overwhelmingly wide array of of films spanning the decades, I just couldn’t see you giving it anything, but a perfect score.

    In terms of horror films, it is the quintessential ‘crème de la pea soup spewing crème’ of the genre. There are other films, within the horror genre, that I like more, and count as some of my all time favorite movies, but nothing in horror cinema is as perfect as William Friedkin’s masterpiece.

    As you pointed out in your blog, the film is often imitated, but has never been successfully duplicated, and young up and coming directors, or those seeking a comeback, should stop trying to do so.

    Perhaps the effects come across as dated, and to some, they might even look hokey because of all the CGI wizardry that can be used today, but that should not matter. I am of the opinion, that the most important thing in any movie or book is the actual story, and there is no denying that the story involved in the film is blood curdling, on so many levels. Not only is it scary, but it makes one think all sorts of questions involving a diverse array of topics, none of which are pleasant. That to me makes for an effective horror story any day of the week, regardless of special effects or an enhanced soundtrack.

    I am also in agreement with you regarding the sequel that starred Linda Blair and Richard Burton; I thought it was inferior. I also didn’t care for any of the prequels, but I must confess, I liked the third entry into the series, the one that starred George C. Scott. I thought his presence brought a legitimacy to the film, and I found the overall story interesting and was entertained while watching it. If you haven’t seen the third one, I would give it a shot, or even if you have seen it, perhaps, give it a re-watch, and you might find it more appealing on a second viewing.

    Reverting back to the original, the performances that Burstyn, Miller, Van Sydow, and Blair gave were outstanding. I am sorry that Blair didn’t go on to the sort of career she deserved to have because she really is an excellent actress. If she had gotten busted with drugs today, as opposed to back during those times, given how young she was, I think she would have been able to move past the incident rather quickly, with a short stint in re-hab. I mean, Lindsay Lohan does the same sort of thing these days, and she is in and out of jail within less than an hour, and still continues to get, or at least she did, roles in movies that received major publicity pushes by the studio. I feel bad for Blair in that respect, because every time I have seen her perform in another film, she always does a competent job.

    • Hi Robbin thank you for your thoughts here man.

      I am glad we can bask together in the glory of the greatness that is The Exorcist. As a take on demonic possession, you said it best: it’s a masterpiece. I myself have not seen any film in this “series,” if you’re willing to call it that, other than the original. Perhaps with your recommendation I might give the third installment a look but I always get uneasy when watching something trying to add on to what is so solid on its own. Almost always is a sign of a desperate cash grab.

      I know very little of the performers involved here but do appreciate their towering performances, and yes in particular Von Sydow, Blair and Burstyn. Such terrifying, bizarre and downright crazy circumstances these characters get thrust into and you really do manage to dread the next thing coming for Chris McNeil and her poor, poor daughter.

      It sounds strange to compliment a movie based on its vulgarity but I think that was one factor that really amped it up for me. This little girl becoming such a foul-mouthed and hateful creature was just a painful and thrilling experience all at the same time. I actually have not revisited this one in quite some time, it’s high time that I do. Glad to have shared this one though.

  8. Can’t argue with any of that Tom! I remember watching this on the big screen when it was re-released about 10 years ago and it was a memorable experience. Personally, I found the scenes in Iraq the creepiest.

    • Cheers old friend!! Glad to see you have found yourself back in line with my viewings of old classics, after that purely unacceptable comment you left on ‘The Shining.’ Haha!!

      I kid, i kid. (But only a little bit). 😉

      Interesting choice of creepiest scenes. I might have to differ and say the ending where Karras throws himself out the window and the immediate aftermath is mine. The contrast from supernatural back to reality is just stunningly handled!!

  9. Watched this the other night on IFC – they didn’t edit anything out. Younger generations on FB dismiss this film as boring, dull and ‘I’ve seen it all before.’ It amazes me. Films in the 70’s really took their time getting into the live’s of the characters. When the bad stuff finally happens you are more fearful for them. And characters in the 70’s films were more like real people. In most films today they are like caricatures. And if something big and exciting doesn’t happen in the first 10 minutes, younger viewers dismiss the film. Don’t get me wrong, I like those kind of horror action films too, but I also like real characters and character development of older style films. This is one of the best, great review 🙂

    • Very thoughtful comment man, and one I wholeheartedly agree with. So much has changed in the formula for delivering the scares within this genre. There seems to be this shift towards speeding things up to get to the ‘goods’ sooner. Problem with that tactic is that, as you point out, the set-up is shortened and suspense is truncated and so we can’t get behind the characters and the things that matter as easily. It seems the younger viewers just have to see blood, guts and people screaming incessantly to consider it worth their ticket purchase, which is a little lame.

      I am personally not the biggest horror fan, but it is trends like that that have put me in this position in the first place. Horrors can (and frequently are) amazing — hence this post! 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping in man. Glad we’re on the same page about The Exorcist. I can’t get enough of it.

  10. Its scared the beejesus out of me as a kid and I definitely put this on my top ten horror movies of all time. But yes, looking at it now with our eyes filled with amazing effects popping out in all the new movies it is slightly outdated.

    • There’s definitely some things here that cause the well-trained eye to get caught over, but overall The Exorcist is one of the freakiest things I’ve seen! I love it. Glad to see another fan Rince. It’s good stuff, ain’t it?

    • Yes sir. The exorcism scene is absolutely nuts. “The power of Christ compels you!!!” One of my favorite quotes of all time, despite my lack of religious affiliation. Thanks Dan

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