The Exorcist is widely credited as one of the greatest and most influential horror films ever made. Having just seen the film for the third time, I find it hard to argue with that critique.
The vision of William Peter Blatty, who self-adapted the screenplay from his own controversial novel, is brought to the screen with unsettling precision by director William Friedkin (The French Connection and Killer Joe). The Exorcist was nominated for ten 1973 Academy Awards and though it won just the two – Best Sound and Adapted Screenplay - it certainly caused a buzz when it was released. Incredibly, taking into account inflation, it would still be amongst the Top 10 highest grossing films of all time.
After the failed diagnosis of the unnatural behaviors of 12-year-old Reagan MacNeil (Linda Blair), her distraught mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), turns to a young priest, Father Damien Karras (a superb Jason Miller). Karras has begun to question his faith following his mother's terminal illness and recent passing, and is asked to observe Reagan as both a psychiatrist and a priest. He decides, on Chris’ pleading, to request permission from the church to perform an exorcism to rid her of what he believes to be possessive demon claiming to be the Devil himself.
The film becomes much darker and gradually more disturbing as the demon further takes over Reagen's body and as a result Reagan's horrific behaviors begin to worsen and she becomes unrecognisable. But even from the opening sequences in Iraq and a credit sequence accompanied by a haunting theme of tubular bells - the macabre sense of dread is already established. The atmosphere becomes so tense it is nearly suffocating. The Exorcist features some of the most famous horror sequences in film history, including the 360-degree head spin, the horizontal rise out of the bed and Reagan descending the stairs upside-down and spider-like. All of the characters, and especially Father Karras – one of the great heroes of cinema - are effectively developed and portrayed as just regular people absorbed into the girl's terrible struggle. The lengthy exorcism, conducted by both Karras and Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow) is superbly acted, and the conclusion is unforgettable.
The Exorcist, nearing 40 years old, has not aged and will be forever preserved as a horror classic. It is terrifying and shocking, and still resonates strongly. The re-mastered and extended DVD edition also looks great. If you are reading this blog I can only assume you have already seen it, but if you haven’t it should be at the top of your list of horror must-sees.