The Exorcist Still Terrifying Today
By Kristin Battestella
I was born in 1981, so I missed the initial fear fest brought on by the 1973 thriller The Exorcist. Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, film going audiences were terrorized in their seats, vomiting in the aisles, and fainting before the theater screens. Since then, The Exorcist has frightened a whole new generation-and then some.
The Exorcist stars Linda Blair as young Regan, a 13 year old girl who begins to act strangely after her and her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) move to Washington DC for a film shoot. Psychiatrists, other doctors, and specialists have no answer for Regan’s unrest. Freaky accidents, violence, and more disturbing behavior from Regan lead Chris to Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Even the troubled Priest is baffled by Regan’s ability to speak in ancient languages; the physical abuse on her body-including etchings from the inside of her stomach that says ‘Help me’; and of course the infamous, horrifying, and despicable masturbation with a crucifix.
Father Damien Brings in Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an elderly Priest who has fought this kind of evil before. Two prequels were even made detailing Merrin’s first encounter with the devil, but both miss the mark and cannot compare to the ultimate battle here. The Priests tie Regan to the bed and begin the Rites of Exorcism. Before the devil is contained, however, he pulls out all the stops, including taunting Father Damien with his dead mother’s words and the now oft parodied projectile vomit.
Despite our society’s desensitization, The Exorcist remains one of the most disturbing films ever made. I was a teenager when I saw the re-released edition with the additional footage. It was the middle of the day and clear as a bell outside, yet I was spooked for weeks afterward. The extra scenes on the DVD ‘The Version You’ve Never Seen’ include a creepy spiderwalk and more scenes of Father Merrin in Africa. Even after the numerous parodies and spoofs, the initial experience of viewing The Exorcist is tough to beat. After 4 sequels and prequels, several video releases and re-releases, how is it The Exorcist still scares the split pea soup out of us?
The effects are cool, but nothing spectacular. The chills presented by director William Friedkin come from the psychological and sociological themes shown. Many of the early audiences had never heard foul language in a wide release, much less F-bombs from a 13 year old girl. Both the religious and demonic imagery presented are unique and frightening. Shocking as it is to see such blasphemous uses of Christian symbols, Friedkin showcases the devil as a living breathing evil force. This is both engrossing and terrifying. The Exorcist is enough to scare anyone straight from their malignant ways. Here a young, innocent little girl was possessed. Imagine the torment the devil could bring to those who deserve it. Exceptional makeup and an impressive performance from Blair solidify the movie’s insistence that the devil is real.
This is how horror films should be. Realistic in the scarys they portray-no matter how fantastic. If art imitates life, then The Exorcist is a photographic reminder of good versus evil and how careful we should be in our temptations. None of The Exorcist films are suitable for children, and I only recommend viewing for the most mature teens, otherwise the between the lines material is lost. The latest DVD release of The Exorcist has a few extras, but the film speaks for itself. Some of the sequels are worthy interpretations, especially The Exorcist III, based on Blatty’s own book sequel, Legion. If you’re seeking one of the best films ever made-not just thee most exceptional horror movie-The Exorcist is unbeatable.