The Exorcist Review (1973)

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The Exorcist Review (1973)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on August 09th, 2018 | Movie Review | Possession, Supernatural, Cult Classic, Exorcism, Demon, The Exorcist Series

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It’s about a random little girl who suffers an unknown condition which the health care system is powerless to solve.

The Exorcist was directed by William Friedkin (who also directed The Guardian and Bug) and stars Linda Blair (from Sorceress), Max Von Sydow (from Sleepless) and Ellen Burstyn  (from The Wicker Man).

Something almost beyond comprehension is happening to a girl on this street

The Exorcist Review We’ve been knocking out the big blockbuster classics in horror around here because a horror site has to say something about them first off, and now it’s come to this. How can we possibly be expected to review The Exorcist objectively? This is the one not only universally praised as one of the greatest horror films ever made, not just the standard for comparison for all horror films which came after, but the one film which you never hear anybody whisper a word of criticism for. It’s not enough for it to be widely respected, it has to claim the status of “impossible to do any wrong.”

Yeah, the Present Author is here to take this movie down a notch and chew bubble gum... and I have plenty of bubble gum, so I shall do both at the same time:

The Built-In Handicap Of Religious-Themed Horror

I have another maxim which says “The cooler your premise, the less you should sell it, and vice versa.” Do you have a Shark Tornado ? We don’t care how or why, just get to it because that sounds amazing. Are you bringing dinosaurs back to life in the modern day? Then we’re going to need at least an hour of scientific techno-babble with Jeff Goldblum mumbling at us.

Demonic possession and other religion-themed horror topics are in a bind with this rule. The faithful take the religious background at face value, while the atheists are scoffing before you got started. And just because somebody’s religious doesn’t mean they take the same fundamentalist interpretation of the scripture that the authors take, enough to say “Demons can literally possess a human body like a hermit crab in a snail shell.” You raise a kettle of theological fish from the Bible scholars (“Why didn’t you just cast the demons into a herd of pigs the way Jesus did?”) and even more from the doubting Thomas section (“Huh? Why this kid? Why not possess somebody with power?”).

On top of this, The Exorcist came along in 1973, just in time to kick off the “demon decade,” with The Omen and The Amityville Horror to follow just years later. It was the Baby Boomer blowback against the hippie 1960s. Why are your kids rebelling? Must be demons! You want more political influences, consider the line “He will lie to confuse us; but he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us.” against then-president Nixon, in the thick of Watergate at this movie’s release.

The Burn So Slow It’s Rusting

Thus, this movie has a TON of baggage to unpack to get started. Which is why it works harder than an Iraqi archaeological dig to mine out the labored plot points which will hopefully sell it. How long before we get to the actual exorcism of the title? Let us count each tedious minute:

  • * 0:10:00: Iraq: They dig up the Pazuzu idol. Pazuzu is an ancient demon.
  • * 0:20:00 Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: We meet Regan and her actress mom, Chris. We also follow psychologist / priest Father Karras around for a while before his part comes up.
  • * 0:30:00 Regan plays with Ouija boards. Man, for a popular board game consisting of nothing but a literal board, that thing sure took a beating in the 1970s! It was blamed for everything.
  • * 0:40:00 Regan freak-out #1: Her bed was shaking so she couldn’t sleep. Chris has to check the attic for bed-shaking rats. Regan gets a thorough medical check-up, during which she acts up some more. This turns into a Novartis commercial as the doctor writes up a prescription for Ritalin. We heard no end of meth-based ADHD cures throughout the 1970s.
  • * 0:50:00 Regan freak-out #2: She pees the floor and says something weird. What a party pisser. We also get a good bed-shaking scene. This means more doctors, more tests, but nobody thinks of a trip to the furniture store to replace that bed. At home Regan is starting to do bed somersaults.
  • * 1:00:00 Still MORE doctors and MORE tests and MORE medical gizmos. Is it drugs? Is it depression? Is it her fifth solar house in Scorpio? We’re an hour into this now. Things are starting to get creepy around the house with blinking lights and dead phone calls, so we wonder how Regan’s psychosis is supposed to account for that. Chris goes out at night leaving a babysitter with Regan, but the babysitter took a header out the window. Crabwalk down the stairs scene makes Regan freak-out #umpty.
  • * 1:06:45 Hey, you know what we haven’t tried for Regan yet? A hypnotist! And after that, let’s try acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, scented candles, electromagnetic therapy, feng shui, yoga, macrobiotic diets, shiatsu, meditation, numerology, reflexology, and herbal supplements. Are you running downstairs backwards, puking blood, while your babysitter kills himself and your bed dances the Irish jig? Chew some freaking Valerian root, that’ll clear it right up! Father Karras is finally brought into the case.

Get To The Point! The Power Of Laxative Compels You!

Oh, not that it’s an easy sell, heaven forbid! Chris, who has been willing to give every quack and swami in the world a turn at her kid, needs her arm twisted to convince her to try an exorcism. It has to be sold to her (and us the petrified audience) as a placebo, something to trick the patient into believing they’re cured. Ha ha, nobody is suggesting demons actually exist in this movie called The Exorcist, what are you crazy?

“I should take my daughter to a witch doctor, is that it?” Fine, let’s go to the “witch doctor.” Who told me oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting tang, walla-walla bing bang. No, silly, they consult Father Karras (1:16:21!!!) after another Regan freak-out where finally we get some furniture moving and head-spinning. Alright, says Chris, I’ll do your silly “exorcism,” but I still insist there’s a perfectly rational reason why the dresser moved across the bedroom and tried to pin me against the wall. It probably just needed to chew some Valerian root.

It’s not like she can just set an appointment. Oh no, Father Karras stone cold tells her they don’t do exorcisms anymore. This is the point (1:19:11) where my brain just snaps and I start raging in incoherent chimp screeches. I’ve destroyed three remotes, two laptops, and a DVD player trying to watch this movie. I mean, the name of the movie is The Exorcist, not The Exorcist Who Wasn’t Needed Because It Turned Out To Be Peanut Allergies. But sure, they’re not going to have an exorcism! Got me there, movie! No, it isn’t until 1:34:11 that the stubborn Father Karras is finally convinced it’s demons and orders one exorcism to go.

The Actual Movie Begins At 1:34:11

After an hour and a half, when most movies are winding up act three, we’re just. getting. started. And THEN it becomes one of the greatest horror movies ever made! Behold, in flabbergasted awe, that we still give this tenacious prick of a movie a 7/10. The first hour and a quarter can be replaced by “Once upon a time there was this girl who acted weird, and all the doctors her mommy took her to couldn’t help, then a doctor recommended ExorcismD (™).” Fast forward blrghllrgrrlllblblbl! But it’s everything that comes after that makes this one of the top referenced movies in all horror.

The iconic demon possession part itself is so gripping, so other-worldly, that it drills itself into your memory, especially if you saw it as a kid. It’s that constant plume of frosty breath everyone’s exhaling - the bedroom was built inside a freezer, reportedly. It’s the unnatural way things in the room move, the make-up, the guttural growl of the demon voice. It’s the gloppy gloop she keeps barfing and the writing on her stomach. It’s the clever mind games the demon plays, even with a contemporary sense of humor “Your mother’s in here with us. Would you like to leave a message?”

It is a testament to the talent of all involved that the movie surpasses the overwhelming burden of its crawling start. William Friedkin’s directing is artful, the performance of Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair are riveting, the effects and especially sound editing were revolutionary for the time and still creep us out today, and the sets and costumes, even the dialog are master-crafted. All through the film, it looks like a solid movie from beginning to end; if you forgive it for being a family medical drama for the first 75 minutes and forget there’s a horror movie coming, it’s even competent at that. For those of you who read William Peter Blatty’s source novel, it even sticks pretty faithfully to that - to a fault, because Blatty takes his dear sweet James A. Michener time getting to the gravy, too.

Special mention should be made of the parenting drama angle, because if you’ve raised a few kids in America, you know that the first answer to any medical problem you try to solve is never the right one. This is what it is like, exactly, to fight and claw your way through the bureaucracy of the public school system and the health care system. You have to slam a few heads into the wall before they’ll finally get you any help at all, even if all your kid has is an ingrown toenail. The desperation and frustration resonates with any parent.

But all anybody remembers of The Exorcist is the last 45 minutes or so. The best way to think of The Exorcist is actually a great 45 minute horror short with a 75 minute tumor on its forehead. That’s a pretty nasty tumor, you should do something about it. Have you tried Valerian root?

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