The Exorcist is one of the most famous horror movies ever made; if you’re a fan of the genre you’ll have seen it. Most who aren’t will have seen it…
Based off the book released in 1971 the film had the unenviable task of staying true to the source material while also balancing the more controversial elements of the story.
The film opens in Northern Iraq at an archaeological dig. The workers uncover several different trinkets & call over Father Merrin, a Catholic priest. Upon studying them he uncovers a demonic statue that seems to deeply disturb him. (While not known yet this is the demon Pazuzu & Merrin has battled it years before. He now fears that it has returned).
The film then jumps to America, Georgetown where Chris MacNeil is staying with her young daughter Regan while filming a movie. Chris & Regan’s father are divorced & he is somewhat absent. Regardless Regan seems like a happy child & Chris’s career is going from strength to strength under the directorship of Burke Dennings.
Meanwhile Father Karras, a local priest is struggling with his faith. This is made worse when his elderly & frail mother dies.
Regan finds a Ouija board in the basement & after playing with it tells her mother about an imaginary friend, Captain Howdy. Strange occurrences begin to occur in the house such as noises in the night (suspected to be rats). Regan’s behaviour begins to change as well becoming sullen & withdrawn. After a particularly embarrassing incident at a party Chris takes her to several doctors to try & get to the bottom of it.
The doctors test for everything possible but keep coming up empty-handed. Regan’s behaviour gets worse & then Burke Dennings is found dead having fallen down the steep stairs outside the house. Chris had gone out leaving her secretary, Sharon looking after Regan. Sharon had been visited by Burke & had popped out to get Regan’s medication while Burke was there.
His death is mysterious & the police officer investigating (Kinderman) is struggling to find a logical explanation as Burke’s head had been twisted around completely.
At the same time several desecrations occur at a local church pushing Kinderman to suspect some sort of witchcraft cult. He interviews Chris & Father Karras who also happens to be a priest psychiatrist.
Regan, now completely possessed by the demon shocks her doctors into suggesting that Chris visit a priest & get them perform an exorcism (purely for psychological reasons of course).
Chris goes to Father Karras for help & naturally he is unconvinced at first. He agrees to visit Regan & see for himself. What he sees shocks him but he is still convinced that she is just a sick child. He attempts to try & find signs of possession that would convince the Church but struggles. Everything changes though once he records the Regan demon talking what sounds like gibberish but is later revealed to be English backward.
The icing on the cake is when he sees the words ‘help me’ appear on Regan’s skin while she sleeps.
The Church agrees to an exorcism but Father Merrin will lead with Karras assisting.
Merrin & the demon have faced off before & the possessed Regan is relishing the chance to do battle again. However Merrin is a sickly old man & Karras’s faith has waned. Will the duo be able to cast the demon out & save Regan before it’s too late?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is that all happens with a heavy cost…Father Merrin’s heart problem kills him mid-exorcism leaving a flagging Father Karras to finish it. He ends up offering himself to the demon instead of Regan & is possessed by it. Before he can attack Regan he gains some control & throws himself to his death from the her window.
It’s an emotional ending as broken & dying Karras is comforted by his priest friend, Father Dyer who reads him his last rites.
The word classic is thrown around far too much & many a movie is given that status even if it isn’t deserved. The Exorcist is not one such film.
The acting throughout is stellar with special mention going to Father Karras & Regan MacNeil. Her portrayal of a cute & joyful girl to a sullen & angry teen is one thing but her transformation into the demon is down-right excellent.
The voice provided for the demon adds layers to the character giving Regan a clear indication of a body inhabited by 2 beings.
Father Karras is likeable man who you can’t help but sympathise with. His loss of faith causes him great pain & you can see that all he wants is to help others. His sacrifice at the end is one of both redemption & joy. In his dying moments he regains his faith & his death is not in vain.
However it’s not perfect…
The movies pacing can feel a bit rushed a times dwelling on some sequences for far too long while others feel rushed. I would have liked to have seen more of Regan’s build up to the full-blown possession. The uncut movie does include the infamous ‘spider-walk’ scene but it still would have been nice to really see just how angry & inappropriate she had become.
The film still manages to be both creepy & effective with little in the way of jump-scares. Instead tension is the key to its horror, that & the imagery. Regan possessed is a horrifying sight & the way in which it teases the priests is uncomfortable to watch.
The Exorcist also happens to have one of the most famous scores in all movies let alone horror. The famous melody is played only a handful of times but is incredibly memorable. The sight of Father Dyer looking down the steep steps where both Karras & Dennings fell to their deaths as the music plays will stay with you.
It’s a movie that will stick with you long after it has stopped playing…
They really don’t make them like this anymore…