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Film Review- The Exorcist (1973)

Updated on May 1, 2020
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Ashmith is an avid cinema fan who love writing reviews. His favorite film is 'Alien' and he watches films every day.

The Exorcist Theatrical Release Poster By Bill Gold.
The Exorcist Theatrical Release Poster By Bill Gold.

Introduction

'The Exorcist' is a 1973 released supernatural horror film surrounding a single mother's attempts to cure her daughters possession. The film was highly praised at the time of release and was duly awarded 11 Nominations at the 46th Annual Academy Awards and won 2 for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing. it was also the first horror movie to receive a nomination for Best Picture. It went on to do sublimely at the Box Office and became the highest grossing R rated movie as well as the Highest Grossing Supernatural Horror movie for its time. Based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, Blatty and the director, William Friedkin adapted the novel into one of the most controversial and shocking films ever made.

Read on for my review of 'The Exorcist"


!Spoiler Alert!

I will be discussing key plot points as well as reviewing what each character does in the film in detail so a Spoiler Alert is now in motion.

Father Merrin comes face to face with the statue of Pazuzu.
Father Merrin comes face to face with the statue of Pazuzu.
A loving mother and her daughter before chaos ensues.
A loving mother and her daughter before chaos ensues.
Regan turning her head 360 degrees in one of the most bone chilling scenes in the film.
Regan turning her head 360 degrees in one of the most bone chilling scenes in the film.
Regan reminds Father Merrin of the Demon statue he saw in Iraq.
Regan reminds Father Merrin of the Demon statue he saw in Iraq.
"The power of Christ compels you!"
"The power of Christ compels you!"

The Story

One of the last remaining men who had performed an exorcism, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) is digging in the ancient city of Hatra, Iraq. There one of the boys helping him dig finds an amulet that resembles the demon Pazuzu who the Father then encounters a statue of. He then returns to America.

In Georgetown, actress Chris MacNeill (Ellen Burstyn) is living in a spacious house with her beloved daughter Regan MacNeill (Linda Blair) and their 2 butlers. When Regan begins playing with a Ouija board, she comes into contact with a spirit who she calls Captain Howdy. Chris shrugs this off as harmless but soon, odd things begin happening around the house and Regan starts acting funny. She starts swearing, being abnormally strong and came down to her mother's adult party and said to an astronaut "You're going to die up there" before peeing on the carpet.

Meanwhile, Catholic priest and psychiatrist Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) returns to Georgetown to find his mother in immense pain. After taking her to a government hospital, he realizes that she will die. Filled with regret and grief, Karras cremates her body. He then begins to see his mother wherever he goes and constantly tries to ignore this.

Regan's condition worsens and Chris decides to go to a doctor. She meets with several doctors who find nothing physiologically wrong with her despite administering a number of tests. One night, Chris leaves Regan's teacher Sharon Spencer (Kitty Win) to babysit the sedated girl. When Sharon leaves to go and buy medication for Regan, she leaves the director of Chris' movie and a close friend Burke Dennings ( Jack MacGrowen) in charge of the girl. When Chris returns home, she is informed that Burke had fallen out of Regan's window and plummeted down a flight of stairs turning his head 360 degrees before eventually dying. After the informant had left, Regan came down the steps in a spider walk with her back arched and vomiting blood all the way down.

When the police come to investigate his death, it is revealed that it is most likely that a very strong man had killed Burke prior to throwing him out of a window. However, the only person there at the time was Regan.

Chris then finds a psychiatrist who hypnotizes Regan to try to figure out what is going on. Regan lets the person inside of her talk and as a result, the psychiatrist is hit on the face, breaking his nose. Due to the psychiatric nature of Regan's condition, he recommends an exorcism to be performed. Chris then talks to Father Karras who explains the difficulties of getting an exorcism. Karras then visits Regan as a doctor and gets vomited on prior to Regan turning her head 360 degrees and talking in backwards English. Along with this, the words "Help me" were scratched onto her stomach.

Karras then talks to the church and explains the situation and an exorcism is deemed OK to perform. The church then calls back Father Merrin in order to perform the procedure. Upon arrival at the MacNeill house, Merrin begins. He pours holy water on Regan and chants verses from the Bible. Pazuzu (the demon inside Regan) tries to escape by playing with Father Karras' guilt and fighting her braces. When she breaks her braces, the two priests chant "The power of Christ compels you" to a floating Regan in the hopes that the demon comes out. This doesn't work and so the Fathers go to rest before starting again.

Karras wakes up the next morning to find Father Merrin collapsed on the ground and despite his efforts to revive him, he is pronounced dead. Regan watches Karras' efforts with a bemused smirk and Father Karras attacks Regan in a fit of rage. Pazuzu then attempts to move his spirit into Karras' body and succeeds and attempts to kill Regan but before that is possible, Karras regains his conscious and jumps out of the window thus defeating the demon.

Regan is returned to her normal state and she doesn't remember anything that occurred. Regan and Chris then leave to go to Los Angeles and bid their servants and Sharon farewell. Just before they leave, the police officer that investigated Burke's death arrives and converses with Chris about Regan before giving her the amulet that Merrin found at the beginning of the film. Chris doesn't accept this and instead leaves it with the police officer. The police officer then runs into Karras' friend who is also a priest and who performed Karras' last rites and befriends this priest. The police officer gives the amulet to the priest and the film finishes.

The alternate poster for the film.
The alternate poster for the film.

Stand-Outs

Linda Blair stands out as Regan as well as her voice actor Mercedes McCambridge. Linda Blair captures the essence of what makes the movie scary by acting as a regular and innocent 12 year old to perfection. This is what makes it even scarier when Mercedes becomes her voice as we can now tell that something is wrong with Regan and we immediately wonder what. Another stand out performance for me was Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeill. She drove home a fantastic film by adding the cherry on top. This was her hopelessness that made the supernatural horror film so lifelike and why we can't help but imagine that that is what would happen if any of our loved ones became possessed.

Cast and Crew

  • William Friedkin - Director
  • William Peter Blatty - Writer/Producer
  • Owen Roizman - Cinematographer
  • Jack Nitzsche - Music Director
  • Ellen Burstyn - Chris MacNeill
  • Jason Miller - Damien Karras
  • Linda Blair - Regan MacNeill
  • Max von Sydow - Lankester Merrin
  • Lee J. Cobb - William F. Kinderman
  • Kitty Winn - Sharon Spencer
  • Jack MacGowran - Burke Dennings
  • Mercedes McCambridge - Voice of Pazuzu

Quick Question

What did you think of 'The Exorcist'?

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My Opinion

This film is a masterclass of horror cinema. The reason that it is scary is not because of large scare set ups or jump scares, but the sheer grotesqueness of the film. This is not a film that scares you while you watch it, but instead leaves creepy images in your head that you ponder over whilst you try to sleep. I love this film because of how well the entire cast has acted. Everyone brought their 'a game' and not just the stand outs. William Friedkin achieved what he set out to and in the process shocked the world with one of the best horror movies ever in my opinion.

Final Words

To sum up, 'The Exorcist' is one of the greatest movies, not just horror movies but movies as a whole. It redefined a genre and breathed new life into the supernatural horror films. It shocked a world as people fainted in the mere 24 cinemas in which it was released and stands as my second favorite movie behind 'Alien'. Be sure to leave comments on what you liked or hated about the move and lets get a lively discussion going. And with that said, until my next review, this is Ashmith, signing off.

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