Living up to its reputation as the greatest horror movie of all time, The Exorcist is a superb blend of supernatural storytelling, horrific imagery, and a deeply felt religiosity that speaks about the nature of evil and the role of faith in combating it.
The Exorcist is based upon the acclaimed “true life” novel by William Peter Blatty, who in turn adapted it into a screenplay which was brought to life with uncompromising force by director William Friedkin. The making of the movie is now legendary, with Friedkin going all out in this portrayal of purity possessed by demonic forces.
The film is set in Georgetown, where the 12 year old daughter of a popular Hollywood actress (Ellen Burstyn) begins to exhibit bizarre behaviour, which leads to her transformation into a deformed and dangerous imitation of herself. After numerous psychological and medical examinations come up with no explanation of what is the cause of her condition, a Jesuit priest (Jason Miller) who is going through a crisis of faith, must determine if the child is in fact possessed and requires an exorcism.
The Exorcist contains quite the visual, aural, and philosophical impact. Friedkin does not rush proceedings, but rather he takes his time establishing mood, character, and heart thumping suspense which leads to some truly terrifying and effective scares.
There are many confronting scenes: a bloody medical procedure; child actress Linda Blair – who plays the possessed girl – mutilating herself with a crucifix; the subsequent 180o spinning of her head; and a spider walk down a staircase which concludes with a blood curling scream.
Also, Friedkin shows his hand as a superb visualist with a surreal and chilling dream sequence.
Many of these scenes work due to the amazing make up effects – which made Blair’s transformation look extremely realistic – and special effects which have not only stood the test of time, but are much more effective compared to today’s CGI standards.
Combined with the films excellent sound mix and its eerie as hell score by Steve Boeddeker, various moments had me jumping out of my skin.
An incredible cast provide convincing performances. The two lead roles are played by Ellen Burstyn, who ploughs through a gauntlet of emotions in her portrayal of a distressed mother who watches on as her daughter turns into a monster. Then there is Jason Miller, who gives a heart breaking turn as the lapsed priest guilt ridden over the death of his mother (who dies earlier in the picture).
The young Linda Blair puts on a brave performance in the daunting role of a foul mouthed, crazed, self mutilating creature. Her performance is enhanced by the superb voice work of Mercedes McCambridge who reportedly drank raw eggs and whisky, and chain smoked to achieve the un-Godly demon growl featured in the film.
Other roles are performed admirably by Kitty Winn as Burstyn’s assistant, Lee J. Cobb as a police detective investigating a murder case which implicates the possessed child, and the excellent Max Von Sydow as a fragile and battle scarred man of the cloth.
Apart from its confronting and shocking nature, The Exorcist is also a film which asks many theological questions in regards to faith and the roles of good and evil in the world. Its deep philosophical slant drives a deep wedge between it and other films of its ilk, which do not have the intelligence or substance to tackle such themes, as this movie so cleverly does.
For this reason The Exorcist not only tops the horror genre but transcends it, resulting in a profound experience where moviemaking horror, thrillingly dramatic storytelling and deeply felt spirituality of the Catholic kind make for pivotal viewing.