It’s been a while since a horror film dominated the oscar’s top categories. Back in 1973, the exorcist with it’s critical and commercial acclaim, also made a major impact in the minds of the viewers as one of the scariest films of all time. The movie featured Ellen Burstyn (who deserved the oscar award for ‘requiem for a dream’, over Julia Roberts), Max von Sydow (who won the hearts of the audience with his astounding performances, especially in ‘the Virgin springs’), Kitty Winn (the one who stood shoulder to shoulder with Al Pacino in ‘The panic in the needle park’), Lee J Cobb (Veteran actor), Jack MacGowran (the actor who passed away after the making of this film), Jason Miller (an actor who deserved more recognition) and Linda Blair (whose career ended as soon as it started).
Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) is a priest cum archeologist who digs up a demon’s head from a dig in Northern Iraq. Later, he finds the head of a demon. Then in Washington, actress Chris MacNeil’s (Ellen Burstyn) daughter Regan (Linda Blair) starts behaving abnormally overtime. After seeing over 88 doctors, Chris gets the final diagnosis, i.e her daughter is possessed by an external intelligence A.K.A a ghost or a demon. At the same time in a parallel story-telling, we are introduced to a depressed and frustrated Father Karras Damien (Jason Miller). He lost faith in his job as the psychiatric councilor in church. The paths of Chris and Karras coincide and he finally agrees to see Regan, as the exorcist.
William Friedkin made a perfect gruesome horror that scares people with story telling along with traditional sudden scares and gory violence. William Peter Blatty’s ingenious script have so many memorable moments in both scary as well non-scary aspects. The characters have depth and you will love them for their individual personalities.
Screenshot, the exorcist 1973
Chris is an independent single working mother, who is very casual and friendly with everyone around her. Then after her daughter’s condition gets worse, she changes from a down to earth celebrity to an over-stressed and helpless person who cannot buy everything with money and fame. Ellen Burstyn’s best performance after Requiem for a dream. We see her deep emotions through her eyes, even if she is she’s trying to hide her tension with a smile or genteel. There are several memorable acting moments of hers; like her reaction after she’s told about her friend’s death. Another preferable scene is the one where she asks Father Karras to see her daughter as a priest. She doesn’t beg like a typical parent, instead bluntly says how much injustice is being done to her and her daughter as no one could mitigate the issue. Karras couldn’t match his logical explanations before her.
Father Karras is my favorite character in this film. He is torn between his commitment and his unhappiness with the job as it is also keeping him away from his sick mother. He is a selfless and dedicated individual. He volunteers to do the exorcism after getting Regan’s “Help me” message, in a nerve-racking moment. Lankaster Merrin is an interesting character and Max von Sydow imprinted with his controlled and realistic performance as an aged individual. He was 45 when he acted in this film, an information that was new to me, via IMDB reference. Kitty Winn showed a lot of potential as a good actress as Sharon with the little screen time she had. Linda Blair was cute and lovable as Regan, but terrifying as the demon. She changed her body languages and style while portraying the latter. It is only unfortunate that her acting career did not take off well.
The technical aspects deserve it’s own credits. This movie was taken at a time before steady cam and rigging came into prominence. They had to work out different methods to takes different shots. For eg: the spider walk, the single shot that followed Sharon climbing up the stairs and a shot where Regan assaults the psychiatrist. The room is frozen by the demon and they had to reduce the room temperature to -4 degrees to get natural reactions from the actors. Editing was stupendous and it added extra effect to the horror sequences. Music is aptly composed and it dissolves with each sequence. Most of the film is silent of course. Listen to the “tubular bells” soundtrack to clear your minds.
Screenshot, the exorcist 1973
The exorcist is more than just a horror flick. The final exorcism sequence is very disturbing, some people might find it difficult to watch the on-screen torture of a 12-year-old, but then it carries a powerful message against child abuse and desolation of innocence. Merrin sees himself as an ugly animal, as he is forced to do the exorcism harshly, mutilating Regan (or her body). It goes with the flow of the film as the ending feels like the earth after heavy rain (I am not giving anything more away). The movie has elements of drama and symbolism in it’s story line. The demon that possessed is shown as an external being who uses harassment and obscenity as it’s weapon. It uses it upon a pre-adolescent girl, clearly stressing the mindset of the “other side” of humanity. The base of this film is people’s faith in good, which will eventually help them in the face of adversity. William Friedkin with William Peter Blatty’s script created a formidable movie. A memorable cult classic.
Featured image: screenshot from the movie, Warner Bros