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The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST. Pretty good. Pretty popular. Pazuzu possesses the young lady, she behaves inappropriately according to most forms of etiquette, the two priest guys of different generations say the magic words and die, hooray for everyone. Please note that it’s not called “THE EXORCISTS,” there is only one exorcist of record, so either Father Merrin or Father Karras is getting the shaft in that title. Whichever one you like least. Fuck that guy. Who does he think he’s fooling, trying to be The Exorcist by sacrificing his life for a little girl? Go away, loser, there’s no room for you in this title.

There’s a persistent myth that when she pukes up green stuff it looks like split pea soup. In fact it looks like Nickelodeon slime. If you read the book it’s very clear about that. Anyway – good movie.

There are a handful of beloved classics that are part of what I consider “the modern era” of horror and yet were made before I, a pretty old guy, was born. Of those I’m more attached to PSYCHO, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but THE EXORCIST is a good one too. It’s been around long enough and been considered important enough that arguably one or two people have said one or two things about it, and there might not be much room for new points to be made. But I’m not looking to make a definitive review here. I’m just trying to make one a little less dumb than the first time I wrote about it.

I always think it’s interesting that it starts with ten minutes of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, STRANGE BREW) on an archaeological dig in Iraq and doesn’t feel obligated to explain it. Yeah, he’s a priest, he’s also Indiana Jones, people can do different things, just go with it. He finds a medallion that corresponds to a large statue which I know from reading is a character called Pazuzu, taken from Assyrian and Babylonian mythology, a “demon of the home” and “wandering wind demon” who’s supposed to be the one who possesses the little girl. I think maybe uncovering the medallion is supposed to set the demon loose and lead to the possession, but if so I don’t really know where the movie indicates that, or even where it says the name Pazuzu. You might just have to know it from sequels and other material, same way you would with a Star Wars.

Whatever his reasons may be (I don’t want to judge him), this Pazuzu fella begins to inhabit the body of young Regan (Linda Blair, CHAINED HEAT), daughter of famous actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn, THE WICKER MAN [2006]), currently in our nation’s capital to film a movie about unrest on college campuses. Regan begins behaving strangely and obscenely, strange and obscene things happen around her, mysterious crucifixes appear in her room, eventually she’s speaking in various voices and languages, her face is turning into a monster, etc. If left unchecked perhaps she would fully turn into Pazuzu and, according to myths, protect homes as well as pregnant women and fly around in the mountains breaking the wings of other demons. That’s not movie canon though. This version of Pazuzu seems to have very few charms. He’s just gross. Kind of an edgelord, come to think of it. A troll.

Is this the work of the same artist?

We get some glimpses of regular Regan before all the pazuzabaloo, and she’s quite the opposite – a bright, funny, creative kid who makes little paintings and sculptures. (Is she supposed to be the one who desecrated the Virgin Mary statue in the church? It is a desecration with some style to it, after all. And she has the materials. But we never see her even leave the house. It’s hard to imagine her breaking into the church and doing that.) She found a ouija board in the house they’re renting and has been playing with it off screen. Honestly I don’t like this part because it’s such an obvious ploy to make this part of the Hasbro cinematic universe and set up Regan joining GI Joe when COBRA teams up with Pazuzu. Also I don’t like the possibility that we’re supposed to think playing this dumb party game attracts demons, but hopefully they weren’t thinking that.

I’ve always liked the parts about Regan getting all the medical tests when they’re trying to try to figure out what’s wrong with her. Friedkin was the top choice of the author of the book, William Peter Blatty, who thought the director’s experience in documentaries and the “documentary realism” of THE FRENCH CONNECTION would apply well. The studio didn’t agree, but their choices (Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols) all turned it down. The way Friedkin grounds everything – lots of on location shooting, out in the real world, then treating the situation as you would a real problem: going to hospitals, getting evaluated, listening to theories, trying to see what seems like the most plausible explanation – is actually what struck me most this viewing. The realistic feel of those scenes continues into the one where Chris first sees the bed violently shaking on its own. At this point there is clearly no plausible explanation. You can’t say it’s “nerves.” You can’t say it’s muscle spasms. Well, they do say that, but Chris knows that’s ridiculous. As the movie builds, Regan will start wearing monster makeup and the room will turn so cold you can see everyone’s breath and stuff, but for now Friedkin doesn’t bring in the gothic horror atmosphere. It’s just… the bed is shaking. It’s so effective.

Just seeing poor Linda Blair getting flopped up and down so violently is pretty upsetting. It’s clearly really being done to her, to some extent. And I love the details like all the sudden she’s strapped down and there’s padding wrapped around all the parts of the bed. These are the kinds of solutions you have to come up with.

On this viewing I also had one of those experiences where a scene is so famous you would assume it’s lost its power but really you were taking it for granted and you forgot all the context, so when you see it again it hits you way harder than you expected. Like when I watched THE TERMINATOR for the first time in a million years and realized “I’ll be back” is not just some one-liner, it’s from the scene where the Terminator comes to the police station looking for Sarah Connor and he’s told “Look, it may take a while. If you wanna wait, there’s a bench over there.” So he looks around, scanning the structure of the building, says, “I’ll be back” and walks out. The officer at the desk thinks nothing of it, but you’re like, oh shit, what is he gonna do? And like ten seconds later he rams his car through the lobby. Beautiful.

The EXORCIST equivalent is the scene where Regan turns her head around backwards. As far as I ever remembered, it was just a weird, creepy thing she did, a supernatural thing. I’m sure this is obvious to most people, but I don’t think I ever understood that when she says, “Do you know what she did? Your cunting daughter?” she’s speaking in the voice of Chris’ deceased director, Burke, whose head twisted backwards when he died, officially from a drunken fall down the stairs. So the demon is taunting and confirming that Burke was really killed by a possessed Regan, twisting his head backwards and throwing him out the window. And also it’s a weird, creepy, supernatural thing.

I can’t tell if Blatty and/or Friedkin saw any meaning in all this happening to a movie star’s family, as opposed to anyone else. I wondered if it was the idea of the godless Hollywood people being less likely to believe in Christian good and demonic evil, but I don’t think the movie really points in that direction. What I did notice is that Chris is kind of an entitled jerk, always yelling at people. Usually it’s at the doctors, and you can justify and forgive it because she’s freaking out about not knowing how to help her daughter. But before all that there’s a time where she’s upset that Regan’s dad doesn’t make himself available on the phone to talk to his daughter on her birthday, and she takes it out on some random operator. Not cool. I guarantee you that more than once she’s pulled a Do you know who I am!? I’m Chris MacNeil. I’m the star of Warner Bros.’ CRASH COURSE! It might not come out because the director is dead and nobody has mentioned if I have to come back or not but still, I’m Chris MacNeil!

I wonder if that operator is like “Holy shit, I got yelled at by Chris MacNeil!”

One thing her profession does do for the movie is create a real class contrast with Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller, TOY SOLDIERS). Chris rents this giant house in Georgetown while filming, and owns a place in L.A., but she’s selling it and planning a trip to Europe while a new place gets built. When Regan asks for a horse Chris doesn’t say no, she says “We’ll see.” She has an assistant and a maid and butler. We see the poor maid having to scrub Regan’s piss out of the carpet after a demonic possession/party incident.

Meanwhile, Father Karras is  very working class. A boxer, we see in photos, and later at the gym, when he takes out his frustrations on a bag. (I wish he got to punch the Devil in this, but that doesn’t happen in a movie until THE TOXIC AVENGER III.) He lives like Travolta in STAYING ALIVE in a tiny, ratty apartment in Georgetown, periodically going to New York to check on his mother (Vasiliki Maliaros), who has a tiny, ratty apartment of her own. When she can’t take care of herself his uncle (Titos Vandis, FLETCH LIVES) puts her in a home where she doesn’t have her own room and has to be strapped to the bed. Karras can’t bear to leave her there, but neither he or his uncle can afford better, so (in between scenes) he brings her home, which leads to her dying alone, to his great guilt.

I’m not sure I ever thought about the obvious contrast between Chris having access to any kind of healthcare she needs (though it won’t help) and Karras having to settle for the shitty level of it that he can afford. I guess that’s one of the things that hits you different in a movie when you’re young vs. when you’ve dealt with that type of stuff with your own parents.

Or maybe I just wasn’t observant enough before, because it also never occurred to me that Karras is so upset to see his mom confused and strapped to a bed, and then he has to see the same thing with Regan (and the demon knows it and taunts Karras about his mother).

The boys

You know what, I’m leaning toward Karras being the titular Exorcist, even if later prequels are about the other guy. Merrin gets that adventure in Iraq at the beginning, but Karras is the one the movie checks in with throughout. We see him as an onlooker when Chris is filming a scene on campus, then we get what’s going on in his life, and he finds out important information when he gets interviewed by the detective (Lee J. Cobb, COOGAN’S BLUFF). He’s a psychiatrist, he believes in science, he’s also having a crisis of faith after the death of his mother, so this is an important lesson to him too, that actually evil is caused by a mean monster from the middle east and it’s worth dying to stop him.

I kid. But that is what it’s about, I think. I’ve always thought THE EXORCIST was a good, well directed movie, but since it was so famous as the one that scared the absolute shit out of people, made everybody faint and puke and pee and die and go to Hell right there in the theater, and since it was never very scary for me, I felt kinda left out. I figured you had to actually believe in that stuff, or at least be raised in a religion that told you it was real, so that you have a fear of it deep down in your bones, otherwise it doesn’t seem like much. If you read about the terror it caused at the time, there’s talk of people worrying that having seen the movie would endanger their souls or some shit. And even when I went to church as a kid that wasn’t the type of stuff they taught us. That’s just not a frame of reference I have, there is no part of me that’s even mildly superstitious about anything like that, so when it seems like believing it is a prerequisite to enjoying the movie suddenly I turn into the Christopher Hitchens of horror, I guess.

For example I still get worked up thinking about the movie where Eric Bana played a real life cop who believed drug addicts were actually possessed by demons, and tried to perform an exorcism on the job. They advertised it as a true story, which begs the question “Uh… this guy who believed this was allowed to go around with a gun and point it at people? As his job? And you assume we’re gonna be okay with that?”

That’s what makes it different from, say, a Freddy movie. No, I don’t have to believe in Freddy to enjoy a Freddy movie. But also the people who make the Freddy movies aren’t trying to tell me he’s real. The makers of THE EXORCIST did in fact believe in demonic possession, claimed this was based on “a real case” (in which there were no deaths, please note) and tried to make the movie “accurate.” A 2019 article in the Jesuit magazine America tells how Blatty read a 1949 article about a supposed exorcism in Maryland during his junior year of studying theology at Georgetown University, and considered it “tangible evidence of transcendence.” Decades later when researching the book he “found most tales of possession inconclusive and overly credulous,” and was concerned that maybe he shouldn’t write about it if he didn’t believe in it. But someone got him a copy of a priest’s diary from that 1949 case that originally drew his interest, and he found that to be “beyond any doubt.”

For his part, Friedkin told the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that although he was raised Jewish he “made the film as a believer, not as a skeptic,” that he “believed in the possibility of demonic possession and the possibility of exorcism,” and that he and Blatty “made that film to spread the Gospel.” He cast two actual Jesuit priests in the film so they could act as technical advisors as well as bless the set or come to Sunday dinner with he and Blatty and say Mass. (One of the priests, William J. O’Malley, who played Father Dyer, was accused in 2019 of sexually abusing one of his students in the ‘80s. I don’t know if that makes the blessing void or not.)

Friedkin also claims in the interview that the movie caused a huge rush of new people wanting to become priests or join the Catholic church. It sounds like how TOP GUN got people to join the Air Force.

The America article mentions that Jane Fonda turned down the role of Chris, saying, “The reason I don’t want to do it is because I don’t believe in magic.” I’m with Jane. But you know, it doesn’t really bother me anymore. Friedkin and Blatty’s conviction about this stuff is probly part of what makes it good. If Michael Bay believed Transformers were real that would probly make for a hell of a movie. I am not a religious person, and I don’t like the idea of blaming evil on some little Assyrian fella with a snake for a dick instead of on the real, existing human beings who actually do the shit. Also I just think Pazuzu is a pretty cool guy, I actually want them to make another EXORCIST prequel that’s just about Pazuzu in Assyria, and it’s indistinguishable from a SCORPION KING movie. But I am enjoying watching these EXORCIST movies and seeing the different ways the characters struggle with questions of faith and good and evil and what not in the face of magic.

David Gordon Green’s THE EXORCIST: THE BELIEVER comes out this week, but that’s honestly not why I rewatched this. I actually just felt like watching part II again, but doing that inspired me to watch part III again, and then I started realizing that there are all these characters in the sequels that I didn’t really remember from the first movie, which in turn made me realize I may not have revisited it since the extended cut’s theatrical re-release under the title “THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE”… which it turns out was 23 god damn years ago! So I went back to the theatrical cut (still good) and I invite you all to join me in the coming days as I look at all of the theatrically released THE EXORCIST joints. (I’ve heard the TV show is good, but don’t think I’ll have time for that now.)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2023 at 7:23 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

38 Responses to “The Exorcist”

  1. This one is so due for a rewatch from me. However my sister recently watched it for the first time and suddenly asked me afterwards “Hey, was that butler that one teacher from DIE LÜMMEL VON DER ERSTEN BANK?” ( A cheesy yet popular German seven part comedy movie series from the late 60s and early 70s about students pulling pranks on their bumbling teachers.) Turns out it was indeed beloved German character actor Rudolf Schündler and for some reason his appearance in the movie never comes up when people talk about it here. I’m not even sure if I recognized him when I saw the movie 20 years ago. (And he also was in the original SUSPIRIA and a German EXORCIST cash-in named MAGDALENA, VOM TEUFEL BESSESSEN, which I have never seen, but that it was directed by a guy who was best known for porn doesn’t make me believe it’s good.)

    So does it mean that we are also getting a REPOSSESSED review? I mean, it’s having its Blu-Ray premiere soon! (Just kidding of course, although it is imo one of the better pseudo-ZAZ movies and according to Linda Blair in an old interview, was pretty instrumental in helping her get over some of the more traumatic moments of making the real EXORCISTeses.)

  2. Wow, Jane Fonda is a regular Steve Ditko:

    As the 1990s began, Jim Shooter, who was running Valiant Comics after being ousted as Marvel’s editor-in-chief, became a steady source of work for Ditko. Between 1991 and 1992, Ditko worked on Valiant’s Shadowman, World Wrestling Federation, Magnus: Robot Fighter, Solar and X-O Manowar. Valiant dropped both Shooter and Ditko in 1993, but Shooter launched another line, which he named Defiant, in 1994. Ditko was invited to work on the new line, but produced art for only a single issue of Dark Dominion before walking away from the company. As Shooter has explained it, Ditko objected that the premise of the Defiant world was “Platonic” in its assumption that ideal or phantasmal forms exist behind the surface of the real world, whereas Ditko considered himself Aristotelian, in that he believed the real-world surface is all there is. He took a similar stand when offered work by editor Ron Fontes on an indy anthology title featuring a vampire. The creator of Doctor Strange and artist on countless Marvel, Charlton and Warren horror stories cited objectivist principles in his refusal to work on any story that featured supernatural elements.

    Funny to think of Jane Fonda or Steve Ditko hearing The Lovin Spoonful or B.O.B. on the radio and getting so pissed off

  3. If Pazuzu teams up with Cobra we are doomed.

  4. I gotta admit, I haven’t watched this since THE VERSION MOTHERFUCKERS AIN’T SEEN ONCE was in theaters, and that screening, in between hour-long bouts of being the boringest goddamn movie you’ve ever seen in your fucking life, was basically a hilarious comedy about a foul-mouthed rascal of a party animal demon who makes kids say the darnedest things so that all the squares drop their monocles. Not scary in the slightest. I mean, I was raised Catholic but jesus christ not THAT Catholic.

    So I’m with CJ: probably time to give it a revisit.

  5. I have always had the exact relationship to this one that Vern outlines here. It’s fine, I guess, but so much of it seems to be premised on the audience having a genuine belief in spooks (which I do not have) that I can’t help but feel that the movie and I are incapable of meeting halfway. However, I will say that the hospital scenes really, really, really get to me – I’ve got a hardcore phobia of needles (which has made life in the COVID era a real treat, let me tell you), so shit like that really hits me in a place that most horror movies never get anywhere near. Maybe this is what all those superstitious people in the audience are getting out of the rest of it, a movie that plays on a very particular set of feelings that most other films don’t bother addressing in any way at all, let alone the viciously assaultive manner we see here.

  6. Not saying your personal believes/opinions about the effectiveness of certain horror movie types is invalid, but honestly I don’t think you have to believe in ghosts or demons or heaven or hell to be scared by such a movie. I mean, the movie tries really hard to pull out a bunch of scares, from classic tactics like loud noises or bumps in the night to creepy images and “What the fuck am I looking at!?” Plus maybe the extremely unsettling thought that you or a loved one might be a prisoner in your own body. I never really looked at this like a religious movie. I’m so unreligious, I’ve never even been baptised! (No, really, probably the coolest thing our mother ever did for us.)

    But that’s okay, personally I never saw a slasher movie that was scary (to me), although I would shit my pants if some motherfucker in a mask would stalk me with a knife. So who am I to judge?

  7. Glad I’m not the only one who never quite warmed to this. I watched it recently– no idea which cut– and it works in individual moments but doesn’t cohere for me. I agree it’s not very scary, but I rarely find any horror movie to be scary. For the record, I was raised Catholic and was an altar boy for eight years, but have eschewed religion since.

    I do like Jason Miller’s character the most. Friedkin’s raw, realistic, occasionally visceral filmatism always works for me. My favorite shot is Von Sydow closing the door on a scared Ellen Burstyn.

    But on the whole I’m way more of an EXORCIST III man. You’re probably going to get me to watch II, though.

    Friedkin would later make a documentary about Father Amorth, the titular Pope’s Exorcist, whom Russell Crowe would later still play (with an amazing accent) in an okay movie. These exorcism movies go to the well of “possessed kid in a bed” too often. Give me a possessed guy walkin’ around in the world, or a possessed dog (HELL BUD) or something.

  8. Bill, did you make up HELL BUD? In any case, that is a really funny joke. (Also could be a movie about possessed weed, somebody get Jack Kirby’s buddy Charles Band on the phone.)

  9. Also, appropos of little, but there’s something very beautiful about the filmmaker with the closest relationship to Kirby being Charles Band/the one closest to the roots of underground comics being Don Dohler. LMK if you’d ever like to hear about my being the world’s foremost living expert on the childhood letters of Don Dohler and what the recipients thought of them.

    Also, Sergio Aragonés and Jordorowsky is pretty good, too.

  10. Good idea for a movie they could and should make: JORDOROWSKY’S GROO

  11. “pazuzabaloo” goddamn you Vern (slow clap)

  12. I’m Team Didn’t Find This Scary, but I like how this film wrestled with the question of meaning in a post- Civil Rights / Great Society / Women’s Rights / Sexual Revolution / Counter-culture / fucking godless dirty drug-addled hippie world living through the hangover of a lot of wrenching change, where roles and insitutions and previously settled truths have been unsettled or shattered. Add in Vietnam and Watergate, and we’re talking serious drama. By some authorities it was a time of disillusionment*. All your answers questioned!

    The juxtaposition of characters and generations and journeys in this film does a really nice job of making us wrestle with the question: “What now?” Now that we’ve demythologized and relativized and secularized, now that I have more choices about who or what to be in terms of vocation, identity, and belief…what do I do with that? Who am I? Who are we? What holds meaning? What is real? What is worth fighting for? Whatever one’s own spiritual-religious sensibilities or relationship to this film’s own metaphyiscal worldview, there is something poignant in how each of these people wrestles with that question and with their circumstances. Especially Father Karras, who always seems to be fighting one sort of demon or another in this film. There’s a ROCKY I-II kind of quality to the first act depiction of Karras and his milieu, and like our old friend, Karras keeps on punching through his despair and toward love. Same with Chris McNeil. Good stuff.

    * https://www.nytimes.com/1973/09/25/archives/gallup-finds-mood-of-disillusionment.html

  13. A movie that’s certainly had Mr. Toad’s wild ride of a legacy. Just in my lifetime, it’s gone from “The best horror movie EVAH” to “Yeah… Real scary… (for crybaby CATHOLICS) (and the Beatles actually suck)” like five or six times.

    And like most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s tough to call it the ‘best horror movie EVAH’ because while it’s certainly assaultive and upsetting, as mentioned above, Freddy it ain’t. On the other hand, the edgelord ‘CATHOLIC SOFTIE’ take, while convenient for the leather jacket crowd (a small percentage of which have actually watched it, as evident by the following point) may be even more off-base. While the movie technically has antagonist of a demon and a hero of a priest, it’s a pretty nonreligious movie. It instead, chooses to press the more universal buttons of parenting (“my precious little angel in the bedroom is LITERALLY turning into a monster, and I’m helpless to do anything about it”), guilt (“I’m supposed to be caring for my parents in return for them caring for me, but they’re sick and dying, and I’m helpless to do anything about it”), etc. Do people really believe it was up there with fucking Gone With the Wind and Wizard of Oz in the box office because of Catholicism? Jeez, the churches must of been jam-packed and absolutely BOOMING in 1972 (spoiler: they weren’t).

    At the end of the day, the movie endures (in both good and bad light) because there’s A LOT to it. Friedkin, regardless of your feelings towards him, cannot be accused of making ’empty entertainments’. And he pulls A LOT of cards from the shoe for this number. As I said above, it’s a very assaultive and upsetting motion picture, that only gets more interesting when you start to unpack exactly why it’s assaultive and upsetting


    Well that covered my screen with coffee…

  15. The William O’Malley revelation is awful, and then there’s the medical examination scene that features Paul Bateson, who in 1979 was convicted for murder and who claimed responsibility for a bunch of other killings, the very same killings that were the inspiration behind the Friedkin directed CRUISING.

  16. You know, I’ve seen horror films about voodoo, Native American spirits, Bigfoot, living scarecrows, zombies, vampires, sexy vampires, Graboids, dinosaur clones, cyborgs, aliens, voodoo sharks… I’m not sure why The Exorcist provokes this reaction of “I don’t believe in this crap so it’s not scary!”

    Okay, fine, you don’t like the director or whoever going “it’s real!” But that seems like letting an outside factor influence your enjoyment of a movie. And I can get doing that if the filmmakers did something heinous like film in Apartheid-era South Africa or cast Ezra Miller, but this seems pretty innocuous. I mean, Blair Witch Project did that. The Fourth Kind did that. You’re telling me you’re pissed off at The Fourth Kind?

  17. I did make up HELL BUD, even though SCARE BUD was right there. My bad.

    Would watch JODOROWSKY’S GROO.

  18. I didn’t see THE FOURTH KIND. And I’m sorry if I made that part of the review too boring to finish, but I did eventually get to a point there.

  19. I always felt quite guilty that The Exorcist is seen as an absolute classic and I just feel “meh” about it… I do get why it is a classic though, but it is just not part of my own classics. I feel the same way about The Godfather – I get it, I understand why it is often on the top 10 list of whatever movie magazine, but for me I would always prefer other gangster movies that Coppola’s trilogy. Feeling the same with the Exorcist – I prefer a thousands times a movie like John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (although technically, it is not really an exorcism movie – I know).
    Anyway – good to see that I am not the only one not feeling totally excited by the Exorcist, while recognizing that it is a good movie.

    Off topic but is anyone excited by the trailer of the new John Woo movie (Silent Night)? – I know John Woo does not have an amazing track record in Hollywood compared to his Hong Kong movies… but the trailer got me hopeful it would be a nice little fun action/revenge movie to add next to John Wick and Nobody…

  20. ATTN: Mr Site Owner

    Regarding my initial comment, I didn’t realize you explicitly said:

    But here’s my point. Only Catholics think this movie is really that scary

    in your first review (because I never read it)

    So when I mention those who regard it as “Yeah… Real scary… (for crybaby CATHOLICS) (and the Beatles actually suck)”, I wasn’t taking about you personally (because I didn’t you explicitly said the above, because I never read that review), even though it may appear like I was. I was more commenting on a trend that seemed to be happening in the ’90s, where dudes sporting interesting haircuts, wearing Nekromantik t-shirts, and professing a love of the “sick shit”, loved to bore people at parties about how their rosary clutching grandma found The Exorcist real spooky, but any real man with an interesting haircut, a Nekromantik t-shirt, and a love of the “sick shit” knew it was soft like Charmin

  21. I would like to call attention to Vern’s self-derided first review, where he pointed out the difference between seeing the movie with an audience and seeing it alone. At my screening 20 bazillion years ago, there were people who’d clearly seen the film 40 times and thought everything Pazuzu said was hilarious. I hold that if you see ANYTHING 40 times, it becomes a comedy. That rubbed off on the whole crowd, and the film became a laff riot. That’s not to say it isn’t still scary at home.

  22. That’s more or less the reason why I always preferred to watch horror movies alone and NOT in a movie theatre. In your own dark bed- or living room, you are trapped with the spook on your screen. Every sudden bump makes you jump. In your movie theatre, you are in a huge arena, together with up to several hundred other people who do everything to destroy the atmosphere, even if it’s just by being in the same room as you while you watch it.

  23. I saw this when I was young and impressionable and I thought it was pretty bloody scary. Not as much Hollywood fun as Donner’s THE OMEN, which I’ve rewatched more often, but I’m bound to say it scared me at the time.

    Since we were just talking about Roger Ebert, can I say that here in the UK one reason I’m not much bothered about rewatching THE EXORCIST is the persistent boosting of it by Mark Kermode as his favourite movie? Clearly he too first saw it at an impressionable age and he’s never gotten over it, or indeed stopped banging on about it. For the record, I agree with Kermode on a lot of things, but his status as THE UK mainstream media’s film critic makes for a lack of range of opinion and too much cultural bandwidth being given over to Kermode’s hobbyhorses. That BBC Radio 4 abandoned its movie magazine The Film Programme, against the advice of the likes of Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan, among others, to launch the less interesting, less incisive and narrower in scope Kermode-fronted Screenshot is symptomatic of the personality-led approach taken by the British media to film. They lack faith in the interest of the subject matter so they wheel out the person everyone recognises again and again.

  24. I’d say the problem, if there is one, with THE EXORCIST is less that it’s only scary if you believe in demons, and more with our overfamiliarity with it. I saw the big moments parodied and/or copied a dozen times before I saw the real deal. It’s like how future generations will never understand the impact the first shot of the spaceship in STAR WARS had on audiences at the time who’d never seen anything like that. We’ve now seen all kinds of shit like THE EXORCIST. It is almost certainly in the top ten or twenty most ripped off movies of all time. That’s bound to dilute the power of the original.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think anybody’s done it better since. The big set-pieces are still the best of their kind. My problem is the stuff in between them. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes 70s pacing and sound design defeat me. I’ve gotta be in the right state of mind or there’s a chance all that dead air and mumbling will push me right out.

  25. Borg9- Yeah, it’s probably hard for a certain kind of attentive film fan in the UK to think of THE EXORCIST without thinking of Kermode. I enjoyed him at one point, but I got tired when I realised he knew what he was going to say for pretty much every film. Action film starring aging star? I know what he’s going to say. Grimy post-HOSTEL/SAW horror film? I know what he’s going to say. Raunchy comedy? I know. New Michael Bay film? Oh boy, do I know what he’s going to say. He does have his obsessions he returns to again and again; Joe Cornish was publicly pretty upset with him for spending most of his ATTACK THE BLOCK review waxing lyrical about SHAUN OF THE DEAD, as he does when most quirky British comedies come his way.

    I must admit I never knowing listened to Radio 4’s Film Programme (I surely caught bits here and there), but what the BBC did to it’s flagship TV Film Programme (simply titled FILM [INSERT LAST TWO DIGITS OF YEAR]) c.2010, turning it into a YouTube-chasing “Magazine” show, was a national embarrassment that somehow dragged on for seven years. Not that Barry Norman or certainly Jonathan Ross were ever hugely insightful, but it was certainly still a huge step down (similar to what happened with AT THE MOVIES in the US when they tagged Ben “I AM LEGEND is one of the greatest movies ever made” Lyons as a host).

    As for THE EXORCIST itself, seemingly same as most here. Good, not my favourite.

    I wasn’t that keen on the TV show, but admittedly I had to binge it quickly over a long weekend or something when it was leaving Prime, probably not the ideal way to watch it, at least not for me. I know a couple of posters here loved it.

  26. No offense taken, jojo. I was obviously being hyperbolic there but I did/do believe religious beliefs are part of what made the movie scarier to some people and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Nekromantic t-shirt before so I was unaware of this being discussed by other people at the time.

  27. Thank you, Jojo and Bill, you’ve really brightened my mood with those kind words. Being funny is a tall order around here, so I’m glad that joke was a good one. They could and should totally make that movie!

    Shoutout to my consistently-excellent friend Pac and the fun-ass way-smart excellence of the rest a you too.

    Because I don’t have much to say, I’ll offer you this: MVP: MOST VERTICAL PHANTASAM.

    (And Bill, I thought HELL BUD was actually the funnier of the joke for NOT rhyming and being weirder, though both were for sure hilarious.)

    See you all around. You’re all awesome.

  28. On the topic of crazy stories about audiences freaking out and puking: My favourite is still the one that my mother told me (and that I was never able to confirm, but it sounded like made up bullshit to me even when I was a kid). It went that a German school wanted to scare the kids straight and make sure they learn early on how bad horror movies are, so they took them to see the most disgusting and horrifying of them all. (Obviously this one.) It ended with hundreds of kids fleeing the theatre mid-movie crying, covered in vomit, followed by the teachers who reacted pretty much the same.

  29. Great write-up once again, Vern. I remember vaguely picking up on the class theme while watching this, but you really drove the point home.

    I feel a pretty strong personal connection to THE EXORCIST, which I’ll try to explain here. I was never a big horror guy, as I was very easily spooked as a child. I blame being exposed to a promo for Cronenbergs’s The Fly as a three year old and having to get through a Nightmare on Elm Street-themed haunted house (less awesome than it sounds) at age seven for that. This only really subsided when I finally watched those movies in my thirties, albeit still with great trepidation. Before this, Freddy would actually show up in my dreams every few years, scaring me a great deal. After watching a few Elm Streets, this was put to bed with a dream in which I saw Freddy in my bedroom and decided that I did not care if it was the real guy or someone pulling a prank.

    Since then, I use the Halloween period to catch up on classic horror movies. I gave THE EXORCIST, The Version You’ve Never Seen, a try three years ago, and found it to be thoroughly scary, gripping, and cathartic. The Version You etc. has more scenes in which doctors speculate about what makes Regan act the way she does, and prescribing Ritalin. I had then recently been diagnosed with ADHD, after another inexplicable depression, and had started on Ritalin myself, ad

  30. Majestyk,
    So funny you made the point about seeing this with people who have seen it a million times. I took a History of Horror Film class in college and the first film we watched was Texas Chain Saw. A couple of people started laughing early on during the hitchhiker scene (it is pretty funny), and from that point on you would have thought we were watching Caddyshack. And there were a lot of people there who had never seen it, but the folks who had ruined it. The professor was genuinely shocked. Once one or two people broke the ice with a few chuckles, everyone fell in line. It’s a mood breaker.

  31. I immediately felt a connection to Regan and her, at first, undefinable affliction. The doctors are struggling and making ridiculous diagnoses instead of admitting that they just don’t know (of course, ADHD was not as well-defined, if at all, in 1973). Her mother’s concern for her touched me deeply, as did the lengths to which the two priests go to save her. In the end, they are prepared to do what those smug doctors would never do to save a child’s life: sacrifice their own. To me, that is what the movie is about: what do you do when a child gets really sick, and how far would you go to save it? Corny as it may sound, I took heart from the love of humanity, and of a child they don’t know, that drives the two priests to do what they do. The fact that they are priests or represent a certain religion is moot to me, as the theme comes across strongly from my perspective. I was very surprised to read that Friedkin was a true believer himself, as a secular reading of the movie comes so naturally to me (and how does a guy with such a big ego submit to anything bigger than himself?).

    So, to sum up, does the movie speak to my own wish that my parents had understood me better and showed more care for young me, trying to get on with undiagnosed ADHD well into my thirties? Would the version of me who had felt seen and was helped better have been as scared by movies that play on the hidden darkness that lies in all of us? I wouldn’t be able to say, but funny as it may sound, THE EXORCIST made me feel seen in a way that people rarely have done, and that is worth a lot to me.

  32. My two posts above are supposed to be one, if that wasn’t clear. I posted the first one by accident. Sorry for the choppy reading.

  33. A.L.F.- Great seeing you around here again.

    Another limey-specific note around THE EXORCIST is that Graham Garden, best know as part of the Monty Python-adjacent comedy trio The Goodies, reviewed this for The New Scientist; he was asked specifically because he, like fellow Graham Chapman, had trained as a doctor (and written for the DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE series and/or some of its various spin-offs); apparently there was a lot of concern around the angiography what effect it would have on the public’s relationship with the procedure.

    One thing I’m never quite able to imagine is what it would have been like to be my age at this time. I can’t quite imagine living the first 30 years with all of popular culture more or less keeping within Hays Code territory, and all of a sudden 67 hits and we get BONNIE & CLYDE, and from there MIDNIGHT COWBOY, STRAW DOGS, GODFATHER, CLOCKWORK ORANGE, FRITZ THE CAT, this, DEATH WISH etc, not to mention DEEP THROAT and eventually the weird inbetween world of CALIGULA. I just can’t imagine how that transition must have seemed. I don’t think anything cultural in my lifetime quite compares (I guess the internet maybe).

  34. Thanks for that, Jeroen. I really like your take on it.

  35. I think what works about the film is that Friedkin understood to embrace the exploitation nature of the novel with class (Blatty was also brilliant to make a Gothic-style yarn but in modern America and with reality of exorcism procedurals. A thing lost from the book in adaptation was Karras having to prove its legit possession, so the book operates as a mystery on that route among others.)


    (1) I think the visceral disturbing nature comes from that still-hard to watch for me medical procedure and the infamous crucifix masturbation scene, you’re seeing a little girl symbolically violated sexually. First by science, then by the demon. Friedkin knew what he was doing by showing the blood both times. It’s innocence lost and we watched it.

    (2) Vern alludes to Karras’ narrative, a sad lonely man who thinks choosing the cloth was a mistake and what that might’ve cost him. He’s the emotional lynchpin. We might not relate to his faith issues but his guilt? Fuck, we can all relate to that angst.

    I’m not a “believer” ever but in this story’s context, I buy demons. Same way I believed vampires when I re-read DRACULA.* Good stories make you believe the impossible. Most demon movies rest on that clutch of reaffirming faith, Friedkin and Blatty had other currents going on to make you be invested.

    As for this being the first “elevated horror” film, I think this kicks the shit out of your modern A24/Neon sorts. If they had done this now, this would’ve been at least a half hour longer and much slower. If that 2000 cut proved, this movie didn’t need to be longer. 2 hours in and out, I still don’t feel like I missed a thing and hey GREAT pacing!

    *=IIRC Blatty’s EXORCIST audiobook is still on YouTube. Dude was a talent with voices, added creepyness.

  36. The medical parts are my favorite parts too because we know it obviously isn’t medical but what else would you do? The book is like 300 pages of medical and then 75 pages of exorcism. The movie obviously had to shift the balance more towards exorcism.

  37. Thanks for the kind words, Vern. As you can probably see, it was hard for me to write. But I don’t really have another place to express these thoughts, so I’m glad I could do it here.

  38. This is a hall of famer for me, one of the all time greats. It’s so effective because it really IS so grounded. What occurs is as fantastical as it gets but they wrap it in such an aura of plausibility that it really fucks with you.

    Vern, I get the sensation of being put off sometimes by movies that might be read as validating superstitions of the religious zealots. That’s bugged me in some other movies (A Knock at The Cabin being an infuriating example of it), but I think the Exorcist avoids that. There is no zealot character who is proven to have “correct” superstions, and science isn’t denounced. The priests are all pretty worldly guys. Karras is a psychiatrist and tackled the problem scientifically for most of the run. Dyer is a cool dude whose comfortable hanging out at a movie star’s party. Even the higher-up priests who later approve the exorcism seem to pretty skeptical about the whole thing. And the medical/scientific team aren’t treated like short-sighted doubting thomases. They’re pretty dignified characters in their own right, and in fact it’s one of the doctors who finally proposes that they look into exorcism, albeit for what he views as psychosomatic purposes. It all feels like this is a world where science and medicine are true and 99.99% of the time they are the explanation, but the horror show is when you find yourself in that 0.01% scenario. I think the movie earns where it goes with very intelligent characters and an a generally rational worldview.

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