The Exorcist still remains a terrifying experience shot with great care and dare.
The Exorcist is a supernatural occult horror film about demonic possession. It’s one of the most famous horror films and there might be only a few people who are not familiar with the infamous vomit scene. But the film is much more than just a gory and gross film about possession. It’s also about faith, sacrifice and most of all about a mother who is willing to do everything to save her daughter.
The film is based on the novel of the same name written by William Peter Blatty in 1971. Although there are a few differences, the overall story is very much the same and made visual in a most terrifying way. This classic is often referred to as the most terrifying film ever made, and although this is a strong statement it certainly is one of the most horrifying films out there.
Actress Chris MacNeil has moved to Washington with her twelve year old daughter Regan to shoot a film with her friend and director Burke Dennings. Everything seems to be fine, till Regan starts acting strangely after playing with an ouija board. Not one of the doctors know what is wrong with her, but Chris fights for her daughter and after Burke is killed, she suspects Regan to have committed this terrible act. But not of her own free will. Regan might be possessed and a priest might be the only one who can rid her of the vile demon.
Why you should watch it
The film has a slow pace and strong cinematography that takes its time to explore the storyline which is build around the three stages of possession, that is preceded by manifestation and infestation. This structure is cause for a tensed buildup that introduces new problems and characters and will ultimately lead to the terrifying exorcism.
It is carefully build up so you really care for the characters whose lives become worse and worse. While the emphasis lies on the gruesomeness and gore, the psychological atmosphere is a strong element as well. In this way the film very much stays true to the original source, but there are some differences that work really well for the film to make it an engrossing and enthralling but horrifying film.
The main difference to the novel is that the film isn’t that undecided if Regan was really possessed or not. Although Regan acts quite the same way in the film as in the book, and maybe the book is even more graphic and explicit about it, it becomes soon very much clear that she is indeed possessed.
Subliminal images of the demon Pazazu show up in the film to make it clear that she is possessed. To make sure there’s no doubt about it, the end scene where the exorcism takes place, the demon even shows itself as an imposing and sinister figure. While the book focuses more on faith and psychological horror and the fine line between mental illness and what was used to be indicated as a possession.
These new elements make this film more an occult supernatural horror film with great emphasis on the demonic possession. This is done explicitly but also with great suggestive scenes. The ominous and foreboding atmosphere that slowly turns into terror and dread and becomes ultimately very disturbing is a well-crafted element of the film. A truly scary scene is the scene where Regan descends the stairs backwards, which is too creepy.
Another big difference is Chris’s character. While in the novel she is mainly portrayed as an unstable emotional wreck full of despair and almost helpless, the film Chris is not. She is firm, a strong mother who stands up for her daughter. Demanding help for Regan any which way possible. She actively searches for proof and the truth.
With a slow pace the story is build up intensely to the horrifying climax of the exorcism. Karras and Merrin are portrayed in a much more compelling way and the scenes that put their faith to the test are of a scary surreal nature.
Without the clinical description of a Black Mass, demonic possession and mental illness as in split personality, there is more room for all the characters to come to life. The part of Burke and Kinderman feel more involved in the story and are an addition to the story.
The film combines the relationship between a mother and child, love and faith and determination with great suspense and horror. The strength of the film is the tensed and ominous atmosphere with strong characters who form a counterbalance against the sinister evil demonic presence.
It’s definitely not just the film with all the vomit, gore, obscenities and other bodily fluids, but it’s about losing that what you love most and are willing to fight for. That alone is spine-chillingly terrifying.
My favorite part
The ending, the part when Merrin shows up, then the film feels like it’s starting for real, and resulting in a climax at the same time. Merrin is a charismatic and tender presence, who immediately calms Karras and Chris. What comes next is what we have all been waiting for the whole film. The exorcism is the most terrifying part of the film and so well shot, with surreal images, creepy and gory scenes. Everything comes together in the end. It’s chaos and calm, it’s scary and alienating and devastating. It’s gruesomely chilling and at the same time it is an inevitable fate and doom, strangely resulting in a calm submission.
Gore factor: ★★★★★
Scare factor: ★★★★★
Gruesome factor: ★★★★★
Read more about The Exorcist:
- The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty, 1973) review
- The Exorcist season 1 review
- The Exorcist season 2 review
Cast and crew
The Exorcist is based on the novel of the same name written by William Peter Blatty in 1971. The film is directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty. It stars Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Linda Blair (Regan), Jason Miller (Damien Karras), Max von Sydow (Father Merrin), Lee J. Cobb (Kinderman), Kitty Winn (Sharon), Jack MacGowran (Burke Dennings), Rudolf Schündler (Karl), Gina Petrushka (Willi) and William O’Malley (Father Dyer).
Duration: 121 minutes. Music by: Mike Oldfield, Jack Nitzsche. Cinematography: Owen Roizman, Billy Williams. Edited by: Evan A. Lotman, Norman Gay. Produced by: William Peter Blatty. Production company: Hoya Productions. Distributed by: Warner Bros.