IMDB #187 The Exorcist

Nail down your bedposts, put away the split-pea soup, and bone up on your Latin folks, because it's time to get straight-up horrified in here!

That's right, it's 1973's all-time classic The Exorcist.

The Key Players:

Director William Friedkin would win a Best Director Oscar for 1971's Best Picture The French Connection, and upon The Exorcist's success was hailed as one of the industry's new giants, with Coppola and the like. His career since has seen only scattered, more cult sucesses like To Live and Die in L.A. and Bug.

Ellen Burstyn is a much-lauded actress that's a Grammy away from an EGOT- including an Oscar win for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and a Supporting Actress Emmy nomination for a role that lasted 14 seconds!

Swedish actor Max Von Sydow has parlayed an early mentorship from Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries) into a 60-year career of powerful international dignity, playing villains and noble old men alike. Some of my favorites of his more than 140 roles include turns in Minority Report, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and this year's Robin Hood.

Finally, Jason Miller otherwise focused on his career as a Pulitzer-winning playwright and theater director, and did you know that child-star Linda Blair has some sixty other film and tv roles? No? Me neither.

Click for More...

The Story:

In northern Iraq, we meet Father Merrin (Von Sydow), priest and arachaeologist, who discovers some Christian artifacts oddly alongside some creepy, Mesopotamanian-demon-Pazuzu related paraphenelia as the soudtrack screeches.

Cut to Georgetown, where Chris MacNeil (Burstyn) actress, single mother of Regan (Blair) works on her latest film, while Father Karras (Miller) struggles with his faith as he tends to his dying mother.

Regan finds herself unable to sleep one night, beset by a shaking bed and strange digging noises from the ceiling. Odd, but you know how those pre-teens do imagine things. But soon she wanders in a trance into the middle of a dinner party, predicts the death of an astronaut guest, and wets herself. Chris puts her to bed, only to see the bed start violently shaking.

Despite the bed obviously shaking on its own, doctors convince Chris that Regan suffers from a brain disorder- but extensive, painful tests reveal nothing. The next day, Regan unleashes the low, guttural demon voice for the first time, is whipped through the air by an unseen force, and backhands one of the doctors to the face- still they run more negative tests.

Regan meanwhile gets no better, and has probably pushed the director of her mother's film to his death (while all assume he drunkenly fell down some stairs). A psychologist hypnotizes her, demanding to speak to the "person inside of Regan" and gets his genitals crushed by a little girl for his trouble.

Meanwhile, Father Karras' mother has passed away, and a detective comes to ask for his expertise in the area of witchcraft- it seems the murdered director had his head completely twisted around. The same detective visits Chris, who puts it together that her daughter might've killed a man- then it's go time, as Regan violates herself with a cross and does the famous headspin. Chris finally turns to Father Karras for an exorcism.

The Artistry:

I'm stopping there for now, because I think the real greatness of The Exorcist is there in the slow buildup to the various face-offs with the demon that are larger in the pop culture atmosphere.

Burstyn's frantic performance is effectively weary and hysterical at the same time, and Blair's acrobatic and technically difficult performance make a great chaotic contrast with Miller's quiet, troubled turn as Father Karras, and Von Sydow's stately resolve late in the game.

Out of ten Oscar nominations, The Exorcist would win the two it deserved the very most:

1. William Peter Blatty's Screenplay: based on his own novel, it keeps the projectile vomiting and head-spinning grounded in deeper questions of faith, science, and personal demons. The grounded characters and religious authenticity (as far as an atheist like myself can tell) make the gore (and the demon's profane streak) all the more shocking.

2. Best Sound: Is there a more obvious MVP than the sound design? The early shrieking hums, Regan's multiple voices, the animal shrieks from nowhere. There's a reason they play The Exorcist every year in the theater, and it's not green slime.

One should mention the cinematography as well, especially the foggy night scenes of light and shadow. And the editing makes the big showdown as dramatic as any action movie. Speaking of...


Father Merrin of course arrives, and is a welcome presence in his reassurance to Chris and his immediate call to action. He and Karras get the holy water ready and the Bibles out, and storm into the room with scripture and ceremonial garb at the ready, beset by epithets and banging cabinet doors from the demon all the while.

Merrin dies of a heart attack during a break, but Karras forces ol' Pazuzu to possess him instead of Regan, valiantly throwing himself out of the window to his death on the steps below to end the threat.

Weeks later, Chris and a back-to-normal Regan (who "doesn't remember any of it") pack up for Los Angeles.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Lower 100s seems kind of low to me, for such an epitome of the genre. And I'm not even a big horror fan.

The Legacy:

Ten Oscar nominations, including Burstyn, Miller, and Blair- you have to think it would've snagged Makeup as well had the category been around at that point. It would actually beat The Sting for the Best Picture Golden Globe.

And arguably no film has had a greater influence on the countdown so far: in addition to two sequels and a prequel (of rapidly diminishing returns), it contributed to the "evil child" horror progression that we started with Rosemary's Baby, and plenty of iconic scenes and images make their way into parodies and homages aplenty.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Watch the first couple of minutes of this one to see Max Von Sydow arrive out of the mist to save the day, y'know, LIKE A BOSS.

Leftover Thoughts:

-If I missed anything important, I'm sure Dave (who seriously goes to see this every year at Halloween) will point it out to me.

-As famous as they are, I think the gross-out scares (head spin, vomit) are the least effective. Give me creepy voices and booming shutters any day.

Coming Up...

186. Kind Hearts and Coronets

185. Children Of Men

184. The Wild Bunch

1 Response to "IMDB #187 The Exorcist"

  1. 1.) "The Exorcist" is the ninth most attended movie of all-time. It made over $400 million worldwide in 1973, which is just absurd.

    2.) The alleged "Exorcist Curse." The interior sets burned down during filming. Burstyn's harness broke during filming, slighlty injuring her. However, the most compelling note is Jack MacGowran (Burke Dennings), died while filming hte movie.

Powered by Blogger