Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Exorcist - movie review

The Exorcist - 1974
Director - William Friedkin

1) The Exorcist - Poster

Plot summary / review:
Based on William Peter Blatty's novel of the same name "The Exorcist" stars Ellen Burstyn as Chris Macneil, a Hollywood actress in Washington filming her latest movie. Accompanied by her twelve year old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), she balances her duty as a mother whilst rubbing shoulders with a host of upper class society. Strange things are afoot. Regan is having trouble sleeping, complaining her bed keeps bouncing around. Unexplained noises creek from their Georgetown house attic. Chris rationally dismisses it as an over productive imagination and pesky rats in the attic.

2) Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn as Regan and Chris Macneil

The unexplained events slowly ramp up and appear to be fixated on Regan. Chris hosts a party for a range of guests and is horrified when Regan interrupts in the middle of the night in her pyjamas. Urinating on the floor, eyes fixated on a guest who is an astronaut, she claims " you're going to die up there". Each passing event grows more violent in nature and Chris witnesses these events first hand. Regan begins to show signs of physical distress and is uncharacteristically destructive. Chris seeks medical help for Regan and after a series of tests, experts are unable to diagnose her.

Meanwhile, across town lonely Priest Father Karras (Jason Miller), is losing his faith. Struggling to cope with his terminally ill mother, he questions his chosen path in life. He is called in to investigate Regan at Chris' request. After a series of agitated encounters with Regan, he reluctantly suggests the ancient religious practice of Exorcism. He seeks permission from his superiors and along with Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), he is tasked with ridding the demon from Regan's body.

3) The Exorcism of Regan Macneil

Friedkin's "The Exorcist" arguably marks the start of modern horror in cinema. It is widely considered to be the first to use special effects to enhance demonic powers usually bestowed on stories of saints. This had a huge affect on the audience of the time. Jay Cocks of Time magazine called the movie "vile and brutalizing". He goes on to say "Friedkin and Blatty seem to care nothing for their characters as people, only as victims-props to be abused, hurled about the room, beaten and, in one case, brutally murdered." (Cocks. 1974). Numerous critics were baffled by its R rating, questioning why it was not given an X. 

In Britain, the films reputation preceded itself and was inevitably banned. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) refused to grant it a film certificate. Like Stanley Kubricks "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) and Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" (1981), the ban only served to enhance the power of the film. Speaking of it's 25th year anniversary, Andrew Collins of Empire magazine comments; "The Exorcist attained the mythic power of unattainability. Then, in 1999, the spell was broken. The BBFC woke up, smelt the coffee, and finally saw fit to grant The Exorcist its requisite 18." (Collins. 2007).

Modern audiences, accustomed to state of the art computer generated imagery, may snigger at the physical effects. At the time of release, Dick Smith's makeup prosthetics were suitably horrifying, deteriorating Linda Blair's body as the demon slowly takes over. However, the true horror of "The Exorcist" lies within the sound and music. Mike Oldfields "Tubular Bell's" still manages to send shivers down the spine. Robert Knudson and Chris Newman rightfully won Oscars for their sound editing, subtly enhancing the eerie nature of the film.

4) Pre CGI effects

"The Exorcist" is arguably the best example of films ability to exploit and manipulate feelings. It manages to tap into the human primal fear of graveyards and the supernatural. "During the movie there are no reservations, but only experiences. We feel shock, horror, nausea, fear, and some small measure of dogged hope." (Ebert. 1974).


Cocks, Jay. Time Magazine review. 14th January 1974

Collins, Andrew. Empire Magazine review. 21st September 2007

Ebert, Roger. Chicago Sun-Times review. 26th December, 1973.


1. The Exorcist - Poster
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/aug/22/2 Accessed 09/01/12

2. Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn as Regan and Chris Macneil
http://flickriver.com/groups/1073922@N23/pool/interesting/ Accessed 09/01/12

3. The Exorcism of Regan Macneil

4. Pre CGI effects
http://listverse.com/2009/10/30/25-fascinating-facts-about-the-exorcist/ Accessed 09/01/12


  1. I wished I could have watched this again with your year - it's a film I admire very much for its grim-faced seriousness and unflinching central performances. They just don't make them like this anymore! :(

  2. Agreed, I haven't seen this since I was in my teens and remember it for all the wrong reasons. Even the day scenes are scary!!?

    The only recent film I can think of that comes close to it in terms of reputation is Lars Von Triers "Antichrist". Haven't seen it yet but from what I hear you have to be in the right frame of mind to watch it.