"The Exorcist" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" changed the horror landscape for good back in 1973, allowing filmmakers going forward to experiment in a territory that was considered taboo before the release of this iconic film. Even then, this movie was banned in numerous places, citing that the film was so graphic for its time, that it forced people to pass out and even suffer from heart attacks. If this doesn't convince you of the power this film has over its audience, I'm not sure what to tell you. Not only is "The Exorcist" one of the best horror films ever made, but I would argue that it is simply one of the most influential as well, and the film climate would be so much different if Friedkin had never been bold enough to bring this novel to life on the big screen.
The film follows a couple of different characters. The most important here are Regan (Linda Blair) and her mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), who are living in Georgetown while Chris films a movie. Things are going well, until Regan starts to have some odd symptoms, including wetting herself in front of party guests and have unexplained visible cuts and bruises. What they don't expect is that Regan is now being possessed by a demon named Pazuzu, who is hoping to keep Regan and her body as its prisoner.
They run numerous medical tests, but to no prevail. That is when Chris is advised to approach the church about performing an exorcist on Regan, hoping to unleash the demon out of her. That is when we meet our other main character, Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Karras is going through his own personal problems, such as the sickness and eventual death of his mother that he has been taking care of for years. Now not sure about where he is in his faith and how he will move on without his mom, he takes it upon himself to try to exorcise the demon out of Regan, with the help of older Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow). However, what they don't expect is that this demon is unlike anything they have ever faced before, and will make them question everything they had known before.
Friedkin really took this source material from William Peter Blatty, and transcribed it onto the big screen in such a fantastic way. The world had never really seen a possession movie like this, and I don't think they were truly ready for the horrors Friedkin and his cast and crew brought, However, I think that was the best time to release this film as it came and left a massive impact on the film landscape. This movie really showed filmmakers what they were capable of making and releasing in this art form, especially in the United States at the time. So, on that standing alone, this film already has the massive respect and praise it truly deserves for pushing the boundaries.
Yet, even on the film criticism aspect, this film really just does everything right. It takes an excellently-written script, and combined it with a great directorial direction and a very talented cast. Let's especially take a look at Blair, who was only 14-years-old at the time of filming, and she is still widely regarded as giving one of the most terrifying performances on screen. That's extremely impressive, especially for an actress of her age and experience. It sort of seems like Friedkin really captured lightning in a bottle here, crafting something that simply had everything going for it.
At the same time, Burstyn, Miller, Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jack MacGowran, and the other cast members are just great at playing their characters and complimenting this performance that Blair is tasked with giving. I especially love Miller in this film, as I think he easily steals the show in some of the scenes he is in. He just totally embodies this character, and delivers a very compelling performance that will make the audience believe he is tangoing with this demon that has possessed a little girl.
There have been a lot of people who have griped over the length and the content present in this film, saying that there is a lot that could have been removed, but I believe the contrary. I feel like the moments that audiences have said could be removed add character to this film. Consider the scene were Damien goes to take care of his mother, including making her dinner and rubbing her feet. Sure, it doesn't add the feeling of terror, but it shows the relationship between this man and his mother, which will come up again later on in the film. Because of showing this scene and demonstrating how much his mother means to him, it helps influence the actions that are taken in the finale. If we didn't get this great writing and these scenes that show the emotion it needed to, this film would feel like a soulless shell, and simply wouldn't work. Also, I think modern horror filmmakers can take a lesson from this film that it doesn't need to be scary from beginning to end. We can have moments that show love, or kindness, or humor, or just the human condition. We don't need jumpscare after jumpscare, and it seems like that message has been lost throughout the years.
There is no doubt this film has left a lasting legacy and been incredibly influential all these years later. and it has for great reason. This movie does everything right, and is able to not only show the terror of demons and possession, but show the real life reality of how the people involved are affected. This movie will easily go down as one of the best horror films of all time, and while it pains me to say this, I truly don't think we will ever get another horror film quite like this.