Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Exorcist

 What on earth is there possibly left for anyone to write about this seminal of all horror films? It has just finished playing here on NZ telly and all the way through it I wondered what I could write that hasn't been written before? Well I won't try to! Anyway I cannot for the life of me recall the last time I watched 1973's The Exorcist. It would be twenty plus years at least. But I do recall the first time which was as a 17 year old in 1988. And like so many films I have read the novel it is based on...which I was under-whelmed by! It really was a disappointment against the film even though its author William Peter Blatty wrote the film's screenplay.

 Nostalgia aside I was really looking forward to watching this again after reading two fine posts elsewhere on blogosphere.( In an aside what this has done, along with some recent re-watching of classic early 1970's film that I hadn't seen in many years, has reinforced for me that this my favorite era film wise ). But before I sat down to re-visit The Exorcist I done some reading up on it. What surprised me was that it was nominated for no less than 10 Oscars. How often, if ever, has a horror film managed that? When we think of The Exorcist we immediately think horror, Reagan, possession and its impact on popular culture. But what has been forgotten is that it is actually a pretty damn film, even outside of genre. It is so good it was even nominated for the AFI's Top 100 Best Films which is acknowledgement of its quality.

Rats??...nah we don't have rats. We have a demon though!
 The other thing that ran through my mind as I watched was how such films as this and Psycho have become so ingrained in our collective memories. Why is it these two seminal horrors have done so. Sure they are great films but what else is it that continuously draws us to them, and why have they endured, even though dated visually? Don't ask me.....I just blog here!!!!!!! Because when you think about it these two films in themselves started the slasher and possession type horror film. There are now scarier, newer, more grisly visions of what both first brought to the screen, but neither have ever been beaten.

Get your fingers away from my....!!
 In my recent review of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds I pointed out how Hitch built up the horror in that film slowly. It has become the formula for horrors since and The Exorcist follows it perfectly. Younger viewers may not get it but this is classic horror at its best. But what I particularly like with The Exorcist is how each phase of Reagan's possession is in small bite size pieces. We aren't bombarded with  the scary stuff all at once. The film slowly and inexorably ratchets up the creepiness, which culminates in the exorcism scenes. For me this is the films brilliance as a horror. I mean each time the door to Reagan's room was opened the viewer was in frightened expectation of what they were going to see.

Is that you Captain Howdy?
 I had really forgotten so much of this film! It really did feel like watching it for the first time. But it was more than this because I watched it differently than I did as a teen and into my early twenties. Back then I think we all did the horror film buzz and we watched them to scare our selves silly. Nowadays I don't care much for the genre and watch just a few a year. So this time round I watched it as film alone. What got me was yes The Exorcist is a horror but it stands up extremely well as a film ( which I've already stated ). The immediate thing I saw for the first time was the face of the demon Pazuzu which flashes up for brief milliseconds in certain scenes ( image on right if you didn't already know! ) I can honestly say I'd never seen that before!!!!!

I hope you removed ALL the crucifixes!!
 So yeah this was a film in so many respects I was watching for the first time. But I've experienced that a lot recently with many of the other films I've re-watched from my younger days this year. Also I think as we get a bit older we do get wiser and view things differently than when younger. Well, what was my impression after all these years? Well to be honest I freakin' loved it! It's power and impact haven't diminished, and at times I did feel my skin crawl! Especially during the spider walk down the stairs...that seriously creeped me out and I did get a dose of goose bumps! The other thing I had forgotten was that Reagan did two 360 head turn scenes. One in front of her mother and one with Father Merrin. Funny the little things you forget over the years isn't it?

 God damn even when the demon/Reagan opens the draw in front of Father Karras had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck! Again a little thing that I had forgotten and yet was genuinely creepy. I tell you there are many, many films I would love to have seen on their big screen release. Seriously, this must have been one hell of a ride in 1973. Just think this was only five years after 1968's Rosemary's Baby, and yet the contrast between the two couldn't be greater. Rosemary's Baby must have looked so lame! To be sure it is a fine film, and a true classic I like but look at the difference between these two horrors. Even 1976's The Omen didn't even get close to The Exorcist.

I told you to get rid of all the crosses mother!!
 So when you put it in that sort of perspective then you realise why cinemas had patrons running screaming from their seats. Some even supplied barf bags for the weak of constitution. There was just no buildup cinema wise to what The Exorcist showed on screen. The funny thing is is that 1970's films were getting more graphically violent with the likes of Dirty Harry and The French Connection but there was nothing approaching The Exorcist. For me when you look back at cinematic history certain films were events rather than just films. Psycho is undoubtedly one. On release theatres in the US ran 24 hours a day to keep up with demand. Even inter-states were clogged for miles due to people waiting to get into drive-in sessions. I think 1982's E.T certainly qualifies. It was an event and The Exorcist  undoubtedly had this status. I have several friends whose parents saw this in 1973 and they state it was beyond words. They had seen nothing like it and can vividly recall  people leaving theatres and even fainting!

Watch it...I'll puke on ya!!
 But it wasn't just the imagery that shocked patrons. The language even by a decade striving for shocks was strong. Even by today's standards it is! Sure the word ' fuck ' isn't blinked at but ' cunt ' isn't that common as such. I think 1973 audiences must have recoiled as Reagan/demon told Father Merrin to ' stick it up her arse' as well. ' Cocksucker '?, my goodness such filthy language!!  They must have had kittens when demon Reagan grabbed her mother's head and shoved it between her legs yelling ' lick me, lick me '!!! Seriously even by 2011's standards this is strong stuff. The Paranormal Activity films look soooooooo lame against scenes like that don't they?! And who was Emily Rose again???!!

The friendly neighbourhood exorcist!!
 The thing here also is I haven't been able to find any other responses to the film from 1973. Sure we know of audiences responses but what of those from the church, and other such groups? This must surely have caused serious outrage. And yet I haven't found anything. There must have been calls to have it banned etc. Yet this is the funny thing with The Exorcist because even though graphic it wasn't a cheap thrill seeking film. It is serious in tone with a fine cast and script. And this is where the crux of it comes as to why it has never been beaten. Horrors since have all tried to emulate or better The Exorcist by being bloodier, upping the shock stakes etc. And yet by doing so they all lost sight of what made it so great in the first place. It wasn't tying to shock or out do anything else.

Get back into bed you naughty girl!!
 The real thing that surprises me about the film is how it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Sure we know it is a fine film but I come back to the point of its controversial aspects. Surely it must have raised a storm of protest and if so it is surprising politics didn't kick in and see it 'overlooked'  for nominations ( it's Oscars came for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay ). But whilst a fine film it wasn't ever, ever ,ever going to beat The Sting as Best Picture!! ( I'm a HUGE The Sting fan! ). So this was a film that really made the cinematic world sit up and take notice, and not just because of its content. I think as time has gone by its reputation has preceded the fact it is regarded so highly as a film regardless of genre. It is in fact preserved in the Library of Congress as 'culturally significant' !! Amazing isn't it considering what it shows....and as for all that bad language!!

IS tatue Pazuzu??!!
 Without question The Exorcist has well and truly passed into popular culture. It must be one of the most watched and talked about films ever made.  Psycho is also one of the films that have achieved this. So for a few facts! It is the 9th highest grossing R-rated film of all time. The AFI has it third on their Top Thrills list behind Psycho and Jaws. It has been repeatedly in numerous publications etc  rated as the scariest film ever made. Most critics agree it is the most effective horror ever made, balancing a good script with gruesome effects and fine acting. I agree on all counts. This is why it lifts The Exorcist head and shoulders above ALL its competitors and imitators.

Watch your might break your neck!!
 Well readers I just absolutely enjoyed watching this seminal horror classic again. Even though I have seen it before it still had the power to creep me out and make my skin crawl. It is funny though how it and Psycho are so similar. Both are the last word in their respective horror genres. Also both Anthony Perkins and Linda Blair went on to nothing mediocre careers. They became so well known for these roles that they were never able to shake them off. Perkins admitted to not minding so much and wouldn't change a thing. Blair though stooped as low as to star in a third Exorcist and a comedy parody of the role she made so famous.

One of cinema's most iconic images?? You bet ya!! Superb.
 Without question a great film and a damn scary horror. It may not be the greatest horror though as many critics rate Nosferatu as the greatest. Regardless of which is the best The Exorcist is a film that has indelibly stamped its mark on the world of cinema. Ahead of its time it has had many, many imitators that have done nothing more than try and out do it. None have even remotely come close. My last word is this, often imitated but never beaten....and I doubt it ever will be.

 Oh in closing lets all pray that it never suffers the indignity of a re-make. But I believe rumours are out and about. This would seriously piss me off. How and why butcher a true classic? It will only try and out special effects the original and fail miserably in even trying to get close to the original in every way. Leave it alone why don't ya?!!!!!! I hate re-makes at the best of times but don't try it on this I say.

 I highly recommend a look at wikipedia's page on The Exorcist. It is extremely thorough and damn interesting. It covers all the casting ( like Audrey Hepburn being approached to play Reagan's mother and Stanley Kubrik being asked to direct ). Even facts like how the spider walk was made by a contortionist with the help of wires is examined. It is well worth a look for any serious film/The Exorcist aficionado.

 Click here for a synopsis and more from IMDB:

Awwww......wasn't she a cutie!!!

And here for a fan site:


  1. I love THE EXORCIST. In fact, it's going to be one of the first Blu-rays when I buy a Blu-ray player.

    Tell me about it. After seeing this film for the first time a couple of years ago, I went straight to IMDb to have a look at what it was nominated for and was blown away with how many it got. That was also the first thought that scrolled through the news ticker in my head; 'is this possibly the best horror film of all time according to the amount of nominations?'

    Love the staircase scene and ;ove the Pazuzu face (scared me on my first viewing of THE EXORCIST). At first I didn't know what I had just seen so I rewound slowly and paused on the right frame to get a shock. I couldn't look at it for long because I had all the lights off and had that face staring back at my on a 50" TV.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I've got a terrible sleeping pattern and I'm still up at 4.50am. Great post, mate.

  2. Long comment no problem! It is nice there are others out there like me who leave 'em long!
    Yeah this is a truly seminal film. Its impact on cinema and horror especially is immeasurable. And it did scare me several times so it still has that power to do so. A great film and certainly one of at least the top three horrors ever made.

  3. Great post! Love this film, just rated it as my fave film of the 70s in my own blog! Can't even imagine how shocking this would have been in the 70s! If there's ever a remake I'll use some of that foul language in the direction of the producers. I bet they'd have to tone it down. Not sure how they got away with it (sort of) in the first place!

  4. Honestly, I don't remember very much of this, but it's my #1 horror film, too... I just remember how scary it was!

  5. Thanks there pturner1010!! It is hard to imagine nowwhat this must have been like in 1973. It is so familiar to us now but back then when it wasn't I can understand why it was controversial and had people fleeing from their seats!

    Mette watch it again! I was surprised by how much I had forgotten. Even as a nearly 40 year old film it has the power to scare and unsettle. That is why it has endured.

  6. This and Carpenter's The Thing are 2 of my all time horror favorites. The Exorcist though, I have limit my viewings, I know it inside and out but it still gets under my skin.

    I've been to those stairs in Georgetown and its kind of chilling even in daylight.

    My parents went to see this at a midnight screening in Mexico City when it came out and they still love telling me about the walk home through darkened streets after the movie with great gusto....

  7. Daniel even looking at pictures of those stairs creeps me out! I really enjoyed watching this again after so long. It really did feel like I was seeing it for the first time. I had forgotten so much and it did creep me out. Just a minor thing like the drawer made my hair stand on end!
    Hahaha! I was like that after a friend and I saw a late night session of Friday 13th 6 in the mid 1980's. Jumped at every shadow on the way home! I would love though to have seen this is 1973 just to experience the reaction it got back then.

  8. Take a battery operated tv deep into a forest all alone in the dark,far away from any other people,far away from friendly and familiar sounds...Then watch The Exorcist and you will see just how frightening and psychologically effecting this movie actually is...

    I have never done that,but i thought doing that would change the minds of people who saw it and told me it was not scary...

    I believe that the greatest one-two punch in the history of films is by William Friedkin,with his back to back films The French Connection-1971 followed by The Exorcist-1973.They to me are the greatest Crime Drama and Horror film ever made and William Friedkin never made either type of film before,yet he managed to make the best of each genre,back to back...

  9. I have always thought that any movie should be judged according to when it was first released.I don't think it's fair to say a film has become dated,just because it's old.Everything gets old but that should not take away from a films original impact and its original effect on the film industry and audience...

    Even if The Exorcist was remade 10 times,to compare the special effects of the original to one of the remakes special effects...and then say that the original Exorcist now looks dated...Would be just wrong to do so...The effects in the Exorcist as far as i am concerned can never become dated because the movie came out in 1973 not 2011 and they were totally ground breaking at that time and always will be...

    To compare the special effects of 2001-A Space Odyssey-1968 to a CGI sci-fi film made in 2011 and then say that 2001 looks dated,is being very narrow minded IMO...

  10. I've always looked at films through the eyes of the era in which it was made. Sure I use the termn dated but any serious film aficianado will know the context in which it is used.
    Some films date better than others. For instance I don't think The Guns of Navarone has dated well at all and yet it is a still a fine film.

  11. The Guns Of Navarone you say has dated badly,in comparison to what?...

    To me...David Leans epic films dont seem dated at all Beacause he filmed them in color and used no rear screen projection...

    They are very life-like...To say the least...

    Hopefully you can some day watch the Russian version of War And Peace and then write up your thoughts on that severely under-rated film...It really is untouchable...