The Exorcist [retro review]

exorcist“The power of Christ compels you!”

The Scoop: 1973 R, directed by William Friedkin and starring Max von Sydow, Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn

Tagline: Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house. A man has been called for as a last resort to try and save her. That man is The Exorcist.

Summary Capsule: A sweet little twelve-year-old girl is possessed by the devil. Let’s face it — puberty is going to be a bit rougher for her than it was on us.

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Andie’s Rating: I swear I’m going to have nightmares for months

Andie’s Review: In 1999, Entertainment Weekly named The Exorcist as the scariest movie ever — and now I know why. This thing is so disturbing that I had to stop watching it alone and call my friend Katie to come over and keep me company. It has some of the weirdest and freakiest images I think I have ever seen, but it is definitely a movie that every horror buff should see at least once.

The Exorcist is the story of twelve-year-old Reagan O’Neil who starts acting really strange one day. I guess “really strange” is an understatement. Really f-ing off the wall scary would be more appropriate. She starts convulsing, growling, growing sores all over her body, and speaking in a low raspy voice. Her mother takes her to all sorts of doctors, but nobody can explain it. Finally, her mother seeks out a priest. He examines Reagan in her whacked out state and sees the words “Help me” bubble up on her stomach from inside. This tips him off that he should do an exorcism. He gets another priest and they exorcise Reagan. In the process, more bad things happen and the ending is really anything but happy.

Now obviously, this movie didn’t startle me as much as Scream or Halloween or any of those slasher classics. But it will stay with me a lot longer because it’s just sick and disturbing. Particularly because the possessed being is just a little girl. I don’t even want to know what kind of psychological damage filming this movie had on Linda Blair. Plus, if you’re religious at all, it’s twice as scary because I happen to believe that the devil is a real entity and could conceivably do this. Overall, though, I think everybody should see this movie at least once because it was a thrilling two hours.

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Justin’s Rating: Heejee Beejee Central

Justin’s Review: The Exorcist is a freaky, scary, dread-inducing flick, and this has maintained its presence in the top 10 of horror lists everywhere for almost 30 years now. How can a movie this antique still be original? How can a film this simplistic still give me the serious willies? I have a few theories, and rest assured, I’ll be sending them your way.

The Bible is rife with demon-possession stories, most of them involving some pretty scary stuff. What happens when a demon from hell gains control of a mortal’s body? Well, probably plenty of havoc and blood-related incidents. But can something like this still happen today? We’d like to think not, but it is a wacky, wild world. The Exorcist takes these seemingly ancient fears and brings them right into the (70’s) modern world, with a war waged for the body and soul of a little girl who has a few too many new roommates upstairs. When modern science (including one of the most excruciating medical procedures to be witnessed on film) fails, it’s up to the good ol’ Catholic church, a few bottles of Holy Water Lite, and a couple of stalwart priests to fight the good fight.

Other than the possessed Reagan, there are no ghosts, no goblins, no monsters in the closet ready to jump out and fake scare the audience. What amazes me is that even though I knew – every time they entered that room – where the main danger was, I could still be incredibly unnerved by the events that followed. From the bizarre behind-the-scenes stories I’ve heard and the genuine feel of the film, I say that what you see on screen isn’t too far from the truth of some sort. Most of the battle takes place in a claustrophobic, unfriendly room. Reagan screams and swears and curses in foreign tongues, she taunts the priests, masturbates with a crucifix, spews pea soup, rotates her head, grows some really ugly sores, and even manages to levitate the bed a few times before dinner. The shock value is doubled since it’s just a little girl – the icon of innocence and virginal purity in our society.

This is a different sort of scare, a different type of evil… one that strikes a little too close to the nightmares that really scare us, deep down inside. We’d feel more comfortable seeing the source of the evil than merely its effects; we’d love to have a hero hack it to pieces with a chainsaw than hope that faith can overcome such deep hatred. It’s also a breathtaking struggle to see the forces of good and evil fighting with such power, along with casualties on both sides. I only first saw The Exorcist a couple of years ago, and I’m not about to give it another viewing any time soon. Not because it wasn’t good, mind you, but because it was too good at what it set out to do.

horror-3

So... it's an owl demon?

Intermission!

  • Numerous times during the movie demonic freaky faces briefly flash on screen, which I found to be some of the scariest elements of the movie.
  • Ellen Burstyn received a permanent spinal injury during filming. In the sequence where she is thrown away from her possessed daughter, a harness jerked her hard away from the bed. She fell on her coccyx and screamed in pain, which was filmed for the movie.
  • Directory William Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths to abuse the cast. He fired off guns behind the actors to get the required startled effect. He was said to have slapped one actor across the face before rolling the camera. He even went as far as to put Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn in harnesses and have crew members yank them violently.
  • The bedroom set had to be refrigerated to capture the authentic icy breath of the actors in the exorcizing scenes. Linda Blair, who was only in a flimsy nightgown, says to this day she cannot stand being cold.
  • Regan’s vomit is nothing more than pea soup
  • In the DVD version, there is a scene of Reagan walking, spider-like-, down the stairs head first and then blood pouring from her mouth. It was considered too disturbing to be included in the original version. It was filmed using a contortionist, coincidentally also named Linda.
  • Some claim the film was cursed. The interior sets of the MacNeil residence, except for Regan’s bedroom, were destroyed by a studio fire and had to be rebuilt. Friedkin has claimed that a priest was brought in numerous times to bless the set. Other issues include Blair’s harness breaking when she is thrashing on the bed, injuring the actress. Burstyn noted she was slightly hurt when Regan throws her across the room. Actor Jack MacGowran (Burke Dennings) died during filming.

Groovy Quotes

Regan: What an excellent day for an exorcism.
Karras: You would like that?
Regan: Intensely.
Karras: But wouldn’t that drive you out of Regan?
Regan: It would bring us together.
Karras: You and Regan?
Regan: You and us.

Regan: Your mother’s in here, Karras. Would you like to leave a message? I’ll see that she gets it!

Father Merrin: The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, but powerful. So don’t listen, remember that, do not listen.

Chris MacNeil: Would you like some bourbon in that, father?
Father Merrin: Well, my doctor says I shouldn’t but thank God my will is weak.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Poltergeist
  • The Storm of a Century
  • The House on Haunted Hill
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9 Comments

  1. Some interesting background. Both the movie and the book it was adapted from claim to be based on real events. However, said case is rather poorly documented, so how much embellishment got added on is a matter of debate. It ranges from, “Quite a lot, actually,” to, “A lot less than would make you comfortable.” The one thing that is universally accepted though is that the victim in the real world case was a boy, not a girl.

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