By Dan Skip Allen
The Exorcist is considered one of, if not the scariest horror film of all time. It came out fifty years ago to huge acclaim from critics and fans alike. People were running scared out of the theater throughout the country, and I guess that is a good sign people liked this film. Another sign is that it made a lot of money during its time in theaters in 1973. From personal conversations I have had with people who saw it back then, the reports are very true.
Chris McNeill (Ellen Burstyn) is a mother of a teen girl, Regan (Linda Blair). She is like any other girl, except she starts to get sick and starts to hear things in her room coming from the attic at night. Her mother tries to get her medical help, but when nothing works, she reaches out to the local clergyman in D.C., Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). He notices something strange in the girl and asks for the help of a specialist in the field of exorcisms, Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow)
I don't usually get scared from horror films, but this one is very scary. William Friedkin, the director, adapts William Peter Blatty's novel in a way that makes everybody who sees this film scream in terror. There are multiple ways this story freaks out its viewers. The first is it gives the character of Regan, taken over by a demon Pazuzu, vulgar language, the second is she speaks in tongues, and the third is she levitates and spins her head around. These are three perfect ways to freak out any audience.
Friedkin, who was coming off a Best Picture and Director win at the Academy Awards for The French Connection hit another home run with The Exorcist. It is like Jaws and Star Wars, which after it captured the public consciousness. He created a film that everybody was talking about in some way. They went to see it over and over again, and brought their friends and families as well. People were scared out of their minds in a good way.
The ‘70s was a dark era of film. There were a lot of gritty and raw films. The grain used in the film played a big part in that. This decade spawned many great filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. William Friedkin was one of those filmmakers who had a great career from this point on. His first film was a Sonny and Cher vehicle called Good Times in 1967, and his last film, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, will debut at the Venice Film Festival next month. He had a long and storied career for over five and a half decades.
Ellen Burstyn as the mother in this film is beside herself. She can't believe what has happened to her daughter. She has real emotions about why this happened and how such a thing could happen to her beautiful daughter. Every person she asks for help is useless, until the inevitable must be the answer. The answer is as scary as what has happened to her daughter — that she's been possessed. She uses everything in her acting repertoire to show how she is helpless to stop the situation. She gives a great performance.
Linda Blair is another one in the film who brings everything she has at her disposal. Friedkin gets her to do some of the most reprehensible things as this character while being taken over by Pazuzu. She curses and asks for sex while being possessed. It's not very becoming of a girl her age. And her transformation from the beginning of the film to the end is quite frankly incredible. This is a breakout performance from Blair. The one most people remember her for in her career. She is literally and figuratively beside herself as this character.
Part of what makes this film so good is its score by Mike Oldfield and Jack Nitzsche. It plays a handful of chords at the most inopportune times, but the rest of the score was very menacing and frightening all at the same time. It's a very good score, which is one that is remembered and discussed in the same way as the Halloween score. They are both very memorable in my eyes. Great horror scores don't come around every day either.
Max Von Sydow has had a long and storied career. Arguably, his role as Father Lankester Merrin in The Exorcist is one of his best. The scene where he comes to the McNeill home at night is a very memorable one. The producers turned it into a poster for the film. It's one of the most popular film posters ever. It's so good in so many ways. He is great in this role, even though he isn't in much of the film, making the most of the little screen time he is given.
The Exorcist is one of the greatest horror films of all time. It is the forerunner of this great genre. Burstyn, Blair, and Sydow all give great performances. Friedkin takes Blatty's novel and brings it to vivid life in such a dark and twisted way. The effects and makeup are both very good, transforming Blair into a twisted version of herself. The legacy of this film still remains at fifty years old. People are still freaked out when they see it, and that's because everybody involved did their best to make this happen. This film stands on its own as one of the greatest horror films ever, bar none.
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