Turn Back the Clock

Horror / Supernatural

The Exorcist (1973)

Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            As I think back to the scary movies I was permitted to watch as a child, I have to wonder at my motherís reasoning.  Why let me watch movies that would induce the inevitable nightmare?  Funny how I now see these movies as the ultimate in classics.  One such movie, The Exorcist, hit the theaters when I was just a toddler, but years later, it was shown on television.  Of course, there was some editing done to ensure that the movie would be TV-viewable, but the effect was the same.  Years later, the original version of The Exorcist will always be the best one for me.

            The 1973 film was based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty which, in itself, was a work loosely based on a true story.  The story revolves around Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), the twelve-year-old daughter of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), an actress filming in Georgetown.  A sweet and intelligent girl, Regan has recently been undergoing a few changes.  There have been seizures and stranger occurrences like beds levitating off of the floor.  Chris takes her daughter to be medically examined, but no causes can be found for Reganís recent problems.

            Eventually, as things get worse, Regan is taken to see a psychiatrist which results in the doctor being assaulted by Regan.  As paranormal events threaten to consume the MacNeil family, Chris consults Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a young priest and psychiatrist who has been questioning his faith of late as he deals with his motherís terminal illness.  Karras believes that he has seen signs of demonic possession in Regan and consults Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), an experienced exorcist.  Together they prepare to cast the devil out of this young child.

            Iíve seen this film numerous times over the years and have read the book as well.  For some reason, despite the spookiness of the book, the movie version is the most appealing to me.  The makeup crew did a terrific job on Linda Blair, transforming a sweet, innocent girl into an evil, demonically possessed creature that can levitate, project vomit, speak in strange tongues complete with equally strange voices and cause her head to spin 360 degrees.  Although extremely young at the time and not considered the first choice for the role, Linda Blair performed exceptionally well.  So well, that her role as Regan MacNeil is the one she receives the most recognition for.

            The best and most memorable scenes for me will always be the performance of the exorcism.  The emotional and psychological tension that mounts as the priests struggle to deal with the demon possessing Regan as they battle their own inner demons reels the viewer in.  With each passing scene Reganís demon seemingly grows stronger, performing feats never seen before and taunting the priests in such evil ways that viewers are captivated wondering just what the demon will do next and how the priests plan to handle such a strong demon.

            It is said that the movieís director, William Friedkin, went to extraordinary lengths to get the scenes perfect, often causing the actors great pain to elicit the expressions and emotions he felt he needed for each scene.  Although this may be seen as excessive, the results can not be denied - this film was not overly melodramatic and the anguish of each character was a real and palpable thing to the viewer.

            The music was nothing special and forgettable with the exception of the main theme, Tubular Bells, composed by Mike Oldfield.  The song is at once beautiful and unsettling, sending chills up and down your spine.  This above all the other music used in the film is the most recognized and most revered track and is often referred to as some of Oldfieldís best work.

            Many have tried to copy the movie without success.  There have been several sequels, but they have never done as well as the original film.  There have also been several parodies, the best in my opinion belonging to Richard Pryor and the cast and crew at Saturday Night Live.  And yes, the film has been remade - I have flat out refused to see this remake.  I believe this new version with modern special effects would in no way be scarier than the original film. 

            The Exorcist in its original version is by far one of the scariest of the classic horror films to date.  From the opening music to the storyline to the visual lighting and old style special effects, this film is simply a genuine psychological and emotional fright fest that any self-respecting fan of the horror genre canít afford to miss.


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