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The Exorcist
1973 - R - Mins.
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: William Peter Blatty
Written By: William Peter Blatty
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Jack McGowran
Review by: John Ulmer
   

The exorcist was interrupted when the nuclear bomb from T2 struck
William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" is disturbing, scary and ultimately haunting at the same time. Viewing it now, in 2003, it seems a bit dated in some areas--but the film's gruesome depictions of possession are still as horrifying as then.

Part of the fear, I think, is because it's so real. Let's face it, as scary as Norman Bates (or Freddy Krueger, for newer generations) may be, the chances of him walking into your house and repeatedly stabbing you are slim. But if you believe in any sort of religion, obviously you believe in God, Satan, demons, or some of the above. And, if you want to take it a step further, the Bible itself says demons are all around us, invisible to the eye and some, almost definitely, incarnate. Scary, huh?

Stories of demons, ghosts, and so on go back thousands of years. They've always given me the creeps, mainly because the supernatural is a whole other universe. There are no human boundaries for those from the parallel universe, if you believe in such things. I come from a Christian upbringing. Whether you have religion or not, it's still disturbing--but if you do have faith it's all the more terrifying. I don't know if you do, but watching "The Exorcist" with faith sure will scare the bejeezes out of you.

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is a struggling actress raising her twelve-year-old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), all by herself. Her husband has left her and refuses to speak with Regan, even on her 12th birthday. Regan has been experiencing some mild disturbances lately, ranging from her bed shaking to speaking evil and/or hurtful sentences to close friends and family.

And so the realization finally hits that a demon has possessed Regan. Satan himself, supposedly, though it could just be a demon claiming to be Satan. He terrorizes the girl's body and inflicts harm. Regan turns into a beast--she has no idea what she's saying or doing. Her soul is still in the body somewhere...but the demon has completely taken control.

And so an exorcism takes place, held by two priests, one of whom (Jason Miller) has recently started to lose his faith after the death of his elderly mother, and one of whom is a sort of legendary figure (Max Von Sydow). Will they be able to rid the demon from Regan's body?

When "The Exorcist" came out in 1973, it scared everyone. Audiences held their breath. There are reports of movie-goers passing out in their seats. One man is rumored to have sued Warner Bros. because the film caused him to faint and hit his head on the edge of the seat in front of him. All this because of one horrifying film.

Even stranger are the rumors of deaths on and off the set--the character of Burke Dennings, played by the famous Irish actor Jack MacGowran, died on location during filming, and so the author of the novel and script, William Peter Blatty, had to go back and make revisions. He and director William Friedkin eventually decided that the best thing to do would be killing off his character early on. It worked, and it only added a more evil overtone to the movie, and it really let the audience know that the demon wasn't just mean--it was homicidal.

Other such rumors have been reported on the Steven Spielberg produced "Poltergeist." Many of the cast members later died in odd cases. Perhaps it's a subtle message that we're not dealing with something to be taken lightly.

Luckily, no one watching the movie did. "The Exorcist" has dated in its past thirty years, yes, but the horrific possession scenes are still as gut-wrenchingly disturbing as they were back in '73. Hard to imagine that a film so gory and sickening was made prior to some of the teen flicks available on the market nowadays.

But, if there's one thing you can credit "The Exorcist" for, it's that it isn't another teen slasher movie. This is an intelligent and surprisingly disturbing horror film. Some films, specifically those that are set in an unspecified year, date very well. "The Exorcist," in my opinion, hasn't dated quite as well as one would hope. But the scenes that everyone remembers, the scenes that really scare people, are just as terrifying as they were thirty years ago. And so, in that sense, the film hasn't dated at all.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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