The Exorcist was made in 1973 and was adapted from a book that was written by William Peter Blatty. The book, and thus the film, were said to have been loosely based on an actual record exorcism that took place in 1949. The film stars Max von Sydow (Father Merrin), Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), and a young Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil).
The film starts and moves in a slow pace unraveling a story that comes to be called one of the scariest films of all time. This is done masterfully by Director William Friedkin as we get to see scenes of a loving mother raising her daughter. The other center plot in the film is the struggle of young Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) who is struggling with his faith and ability to carry on in his role as a Father. Karras is actually a very brilliant man that we find out chose the church over taking a more lucrative job as a psychologist.
The movie’s opening sequence introduces us to Father Merrin (von Sydow) who finds a small relic showing a dark looking figure while on a dig in Egypt. Father Merrin later travels to a small region in Egypt where he comes across a much larger statue that resembles the relic and a bit of foreshadowing comes to us as we suddenly hear two dogs fighting nearby.
The film jumps to Georgetown where we are introduced to the actress Chris MacNeil, (Burstyn) who is working on her latest film. MacNeil seems to have a great life as she lives with her daughter Regan. Regan is an active 12 year old who like many her age has her likes and dislikes and during one scene we find that Regan would really like a horse. It’s not long after this that we find out that Regan had found an Ouija board and had actually played with the game. The problem is when Chris tries to use the game the board, well it tells her NO.
The film progresses building questions and suspense throughout as the plots unravel. We continue to see Father Karras struggle with his faith and talking about his problem with friends. Regan begins having seizures and other health problems that cause her mother to take her to several doctors. Of which some do painful medical tests and studies on Regan that in themselves are quite scary to watch. It’s only about the midway point of the film do we find out what is happening to Regan and the story that unravels to our eyes is startling. Things are made even darker as people begin to die that may have a connection to the McNeil’s.
The Exorcist is one of those films that you can talk to friends, family and even strangers about and most will have a favorite scene. People will tell you how the film has scared them and in some cases given then nightmares. The version of the film I watched included scenes that were held out of the original theatrical release as they were deemed to be too scary for viewers at the time. This just adds to the movies lore and appeal and explains why it has remained to be one of the scariest films ever made.
You’d think making this film the cast and crew would have a light hearted set and would find ways to relax as they dealt with this story. Well, that wasn’t the case for those involved in the production of the film. Actor Jack MacGrowan died during the filming of the movie due to complications that came from the flu. There are reported Urban Legends about blessings being down on the set due to technical and other problems that took place during the filming. One such incident is when the interior sets of the MacNeil home were destroyed by fire, well except for Regan’s bedroom. Linda Blair was also injured during the film as a harness used during one of her thrashing scenes broke.
Learning about the Urban Legends and that the inspiration of the story came from an actual exorcism, does not ruin the film but makes it even more chilling. To think that so much surrounds a movie released in 1973, and the fact it still chills viewers today tells you something about this film. This is one of those films that if you are a horror fan and have yet to watch it, I have to ask what are you waiting for?