Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb
Release Year – 1973
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Constantly deemed by all major film institutions as “The Scariest Film of All Time”, The Exorcist is a tough film to review. Why? Because this film was released in 1973, over 25 years ago. Horror has changed a lot since then. Elements that were scary back then are not scary anymore, given we horror buffs have become quite desensitized, which has it’s pros and it’s cons. To properly review this film you must keep yourself in the mindset of how it was first received and think to yourself “what was scary back then?” “Why does the possessed little girl look like our current president, Richard Nixon?”(jk). Considering that ratio of “desensitization by era of time” to “the scares used“, this film most likely is “The Scariest Film of All Time”.
Based on the novel titled “The Exorcist” by author William Peter Blatty, this film follows an actress named Chris MacNeil(Ellen Burstyn) residing in a temporary residence while she finishes filming a movie. Aside from problems on the set of her film and some regarding her ex-husband/father of her child, she faces a very dear and immediate problem when her young daughter Regan(Linda Blair) begins acting strangely. She has violent mood swings and exhibits extreme behavior that is uncharacteristic of her playful self. Regan’s problems begin to worse and get more extreme and after many medical doctors and psychiatrists fail to locate the problem, Chris is forced use the help of a priest battling his own faith-based demons, and an older priest who has come face to face with this evil before. Together the two priests embark on a dangerous and violent mission to cure this girl with the only option left, an exorcism.
For starters, this film is pretty long. Clocking in at a little over two hours, this film can pace pretty slow. The first 45 minutes are completely developmental and do not offer much to the plot other than some minor character development to be used later on in the film(Regan brings up stuff from the priest‘s pasts during the exorcism). Once the 45 minute barrier breaks we begin to see Regan possession get worse and start showing it’s true colors. At first it just seems like she has some kind of multiple personality disorder but after a while it becomes very apparent by some of her actions and dialogue that it is in fact something very “evil” taking over her. Linda Blair’s performance in this film earned her an Oscar nomination, and rightfully so. There is some speculation over her nomination given that it is not really her speaking during the possession scenes(Mercedes McCambridge voiced the demon’s voice) but nonetheless Linda Blair sold her role with her movements and facial expressions that scared the world so badly 25 years ago.
So how scary is this film? Well…considering none of the remotely scary scenes happen until 45 minutes into the film, it could have been scarier. However the “quality” of the scares are pretty good, that of the “spiderwalk” scene, which many consider to be the scariest movie scene of all time. The severity of the scares is what really makes them stick out. I won’t give away too many spoilers, but this film shows some brutal scenes involving a crucifix, and some other scenes involving her bed shaking violently and even levitating at one point. If there is anything more shocking than Regan’s actions it is her dialogue. WOW. I honestly cannot believe that director William Friedkin got away with an R-Rating at this era in time with lines like “YOUR MOTHER SUCKS C*CKS IN HELL!” and “STICK YOUR C*CK UP HER ASS YOU MOTHERFUCKING WORTHLESS COCKSUCKER!”, all coming from the possessed little Regan. Again…WOW. Talk about “shock value”…this film has plenty of it.
One thing that really surprised me is that all in all, this is a very good film in itself. The direction is top notch, the character development is good, and the atmosphere is perfect for this film’s plot. The autumn scenes provide a perfect “gloom” for the film and director William Friedkin’s use of low-light sets are perfect to portray the overall mood of this film, which isn’t a “bright” one, hehe. I only mentioned Linda Blair’s performance in depth, but every other main actor in this film did a fantastic job portraying their character. Ellen Burstyn excelled as Regan’s mother who is slowly losing her mind to her daughter’s condition. Jason Miller was fantastic as Father Karras, the rock for Regan’s mother who constantly questions his own faith given his recent experiences with death. And of course …who can forget Max von Sydow as Father Merrin, the wise old priest who takes the exorcism house call with no fear and enters Regan’s room to begin what is quite possibly the best horror sequence of all time.
My only real gripe for this film has to do with the story. I was really wanting some development into where the demon came from and some character development on Father Merrin. We witness him digging in Iraq and finding an evil ornament buried in the sand and are lead to believe that that will have something to do with the possession. However we are never shown anything into that, and I was somewhat let down by that. Also the fact that this film takes so long to get going detriments as well. In The Descent it takes a good 45 minutes for the carnage to happen but the first 45 minutes were still entertaining and had the viewer glued to the screen. In the case of The Exorcist the first 45 minutes were moderately interesting but there were several scenes that could have been done away with that would have improved the film’s pacing.
Overall, this is an excellent film that is sure to scare the general consensus who view this film. This is a definite watch for all horror fans so that you yourself can come to your own conclusion on “the scariest film of all time”.