The Exorcist needs no introduction. It has managed to stay at the top of the bulk of “Best Horror Films of All Time” lists for nearly 40 years and that is an achievement in itself. When it comes to tackling a film of this nature you have to carefully look at the techniques used as well as the underlying themes and the effect it has had on society. It does not deserve to have a short and straight-to-the-point review; there should be as much effort put into a review as was put into the production of the film itself.
The story concerns a young girl named Regan who becomes possessed by a mysterious force which forces her mother to seek the help of two priests to rid her of its influence.
Where do I start here? I suppose a nice place to start is the effect The Exorcist has had on culture. The Exorcist was released in 1973 and was met with mixed critical reception. Some critics called it a masterpiece and others dared to call it a worthless piece of trash, but a funny thing happened — these critics would soon learn to accept its rightful place in history.
Upon its release, theatres reported fainting and hysteria and some even went as far to provide “Exorcist barf bags” for audience members. Everyone was caught up in the hype and it has even been reported that priests stood outside theatres blessing all who went in and out. And then came the threats and the violence. Warner Bros. hired bodyguards to protect Linda Blair for six months after the film’s release because she received death threats for portraying Regan; it’s scary how much mankind will oppose a film, isn’t it?
The special effects here are extremely creative and actually do impress in this day and age because they aren’t CGI! Don’t get me wrong, I can like CGI and it can be very effective, but there are a lot of times where makeup and creative effects take precedence over the CGI because it does take a lot of thought and careful planning to produce them. The effects in The Exorcist are just that, ingenious if you will. Everyone will recall the deleted spider-walking scene (which was added to the director’s cut) and the 360-degree head spin, but there is so much more than just those and this is one reason why it deserves the respect it has garnered over the years — these effects go hand in hand with the techniques.
Speaking of techniques, the ones used here are vast and detailed. Director William Friedkin throws us everything he has and every single camera angle has been perfectly timed to give us the atmospheric tension that oozes out of the screen. Everything is purposeful and nothing is left to chance and that is what I love in a film. The heart and soul is there in every single shot and many films after this would utilize the same techniques but would ultimately fail; no one will ever manage to replicate the techniques and atmosphere here.
The atmosphere is so chilling; not many films manage to make me feel uneasy, especially on the umpteenth viewing, as much as this one does. The scenes with Regan are so disheartening and powerful; the way it makes me feel uncomfortable is fantastic and I do believe that it is an amalgamation of everything doing this. It cannot just be one factor playing its part here; all I can say is “wow” and it is not like me to be wordless.
Next, we come to the subtext and the themes which are carefully placed throughout, not just visual imagery and the connotations but the metaphorical imagery. The core of this metaphorical imagery is the everlasting (clichéd) theme of Good vs. Evil and I think here is where it fits better than anywhere else because the teaching of Jesus Christ are about the good of mankind (amongst other things) and this film really does look past most the things written in the Bible and just gives us the plain and simple core — good and evil. Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit that is a nice philosophy to live your life by. Evil does exist in the world but it does not have to succeed just because it exists; it can be battled and that is blindingly apparent here. Think about the act of the good (Father Karras) sacrificing himself for the betterment of others who have succumbed to the evil (Regan’s possession by “the Devil”). I for one think it is a nice lesson we could and should all try and accommodate once in a while.
I will briefly address people laughing at this film because it really surprises me. It strikes me as rather sick and twisted because they are laughing at an innocent child’s peril and violation by an external force which then could be construed as a metaphor for puberty, or even rape, which makes laughter even more sick and twisted on their part. If they actually took a deep and meaningful look at the film and not just scratch the surface they would be scared. There is not a single person alive who can say they do not fear the unknown and fear the things in this world that could happen to a friend, a family member, or even themselves. The Exorcist gives those of us who actually watched it for what it was a melancholy after-effect that lingers quite some time after seeing it and in some cases after each viewing.
It has managed to last 37 years and still has the same effect, and I will not be surprised if it manages another 37 and then some.