A young girl is possessed and it is up to two priests to try to save her.
Actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is staring in a movie filming in Georgetown, Washington D.C., where she is renting a house during the production and while her new house in Los Angeles is being built. Her twelve-year-old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) lives with her along with a couple of servants. Chris begins to hear strange noises in the house and soon after Regan begins to exhibit a personality change. Multiple medical exams are performed, some of them quite invasive, and nothing wrong can be found with her. As the strange occurrences around Regan escalate, like her bed rocking and lifting off the floor, doctors believe it may be psychological, eventually it is believed that Regan is exhibiting signs of possession. The psychiatrists believe that this is a mental condition and suggest that performing an exorcism could be a type of psychosomatic cure. At her wits end, Chris contacts Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a catholic priest who is also a psychiatrist in the Georgetown area and tries to convince him that her daughter really is possessed. Incredulous, he visits Regan, and begins the tests that would be required for the Catholic diocese to authorize an exorcism. After their first meeting, Karras, still doesn’t believe Regan is actually possessed, but some of the things Regan says do lead him to question his faith and logical sensibilities. He does eventually recommend an exorcism, and Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), one of the few priests that has exorcism experience, is called in to perform the rituals. As things progress, it becomes very clear that Regan is truly possessed by an evil entity. Can father Karras and Merrin free Regan for the bonds of this demon or will they perish themselves? Watch and find out!
The Exorcist was directed by William Friedkin with a script by William Peter Blatty who wrote the novel the movie is based on. Aspects of the story are based on the exorcism of Roland Doe, a 1949 case of a boy who was supposedly possessed by demonic forces. The casting of the film was difficult, several big names were in line for the parts. Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman were considered for Karras, before Stacy Keach was hired, but after screen testing Jason Miller, the studio realized they had signed the wrong person and bought out Keach’s contract. Audry Hepburn, Anne Bancroft and Jane Fonda were considered for Chris, but all rejected the part. Blatty’s friend Shirly MacLaine wanted to do it, but she had already been in a similar movie and so the studios declined. Friedkin and Blatty screen tested Carol Burnett, who they found to have the acting range needed above and beyond her comic television roles, but the studio wouldn’t allow it. Finally, Ellen Burstyn was cast in the part. Regan was probably the hardest part to cast, and several child stars of the era were tested (Janet Lee refused to let her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis audition) but none of them captured what was needed until an unknown actress with very little experience was brought in for a test who would end up being cast, and that of course was Linda Blair. In the end, I feel that they got the perfect cast that performed their parts with such precision and excellence that the audience is instantly drawn into the story.
The production value on the film is so very well done. The music and sound is very well chosen and instrumental in creating the very tone and mood of each scene. The absence of music in many scenes adds to the stark raw emotions being felt, while the low undertones played in others creates the unsettling feeling that was pervasive throughout the house. The use of Mike Oldfield’s song Tubular Bells has become synonymous with the movie as an almost theme song. The direction is excellent with the staging perfectly executed. The movie has some great visuals using light and shadows as well as creative camera angles creating what can only be called a classic horror movie. The movie also used subliminal messaging with the face of the demon Pazuzu appearing for brief seconds throughout the movie along with several other images, this was purposely done to unsettle the audience but also to give the movie a dream like state. The special effects needed for the film were designed by Marcel Vercoutere and everything was done with practical effects. The bedroom set was refrigerated during filming so that you could see the actors’ breath. The use of wires, pulleys and offstage supports were used to create the shaking of the bed and Regan’s levitation, and a life size robot of Regan was created for certain scenes. Although the gore factor is pretty low, there are some very disturbing images. Projectile vomit and some of the invasive medical tests done to Regan are particularly hard to watch. The Director’s Cut, which we watched for this article, adds some new creepiness to the original story albeit in the subtle tradition of the film.
This movie, after half a century, is still a masterpiece and I believe is one of the most well-made horror films to this day. The perfect casting combined with a great story, a well written script and amazing visuals creates a kind of magic that I don’t think has ever been matched in any of the numerous attempts, both in copycat movies and sequels. A new sequel. the first in a proposed trilogy, lands in theaters this week proving money hungry studio execs trying to leech off the popularity of the original classic have no shame and to them no film–no matter how perfect and stand alone it is–is sacred anymore. Check back with us in 50 years to see if we will be celebrating these new movies.
50 years after its release, The Exorcist is still one of the best horror films ever made!
50th Anniversary: The Exorcist
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 10/1010/10
- Production - 10/1010/10
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