I’d be hard pressed to come up with a more seminal horror film than The Exorcist. There are a few that are certainly up there, but it was how The Exorcist upped the ante that resulted in all the others that came after. Now, all that said, it’s confession time: I had never seen The Exorcist until now. This isn’t new with me; Alien used to be my go-to “Holy shit, you haven’t seen that?!” film before I watched it for this blog, but there will almost certainly always be a few that I haven’t seen that are considered must see films, even outside the list. So, knowing full well how appreciated the film is and how classic it’s become, I went into The Exorcist with some expectations, to say the least. So, how did I end up? Well, suffice it to say, my expectations were met, and then some.
The plot is simple: young girl gets possessed by a demon (or, in his own words, “the Devil”), and her mother must call in the services of a priest (in this case, two) to perform an exorcism to free her from evil’s grasp and whatnot. I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again: it’s the simple premises that tend to be the best ones. There really isn’t much to this film in terms of story, but there is a lot to this film in terms of effect. It delves into the premise, starts setting it up, and then the whole rest of the picture is just mood, and it’s glorious. Now, I’ll grant the film’s detractors some leeway; the film isn’t really ‘holy crap’ scary, but what it is is disturbing, if at the very least mildly. There’s numerous reports of people vomiting in the theaters when this was released, and while that reaction may be a bit much to my tastes and opinions, I can certainly see how some people would cringe at some of the things little Regan MacNeil does and says and turns into. The makeup for this was certainly a big piece of that puzzle, and it was definitely effective, as was Linda Blair in the central role, and Ellen Burstyn, who plays her mother, certainly deserved her nomination for Best Actress for this one. The other aspects I did want to bring up are the cinematography, which was very carefully measured, and William Friedkin’s direction, which was… excessive, but dutifully so. Fun fact: the set for Regan’s bedroom was built inside a freezer for the exorcism scenes, so the characters’ breath would be visible. That’s some hardcore production right there.
It’s nice to see a well regarded film, one that damn near every fan of the genre will call a certified classic, and have it be everything (or practically almost everything) it’s been made out to be. It’s not perfect, and in my opinion, it strays a hair’s length from true greatness, but for it to be the first ever horror film to be nominated for Best Picture is a well deserved and rightfully earned honor. I won’t begrudge you if you haven’t seen this one, but if you haven’t, this is certainly one to keep an eye out for, and to make the time to see if you get the chance. Even if it’s not holy-crap scary, it’s supremely effective at the type of horror it tries to do, and it deserves every bit of its excellent reception.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10