The Exorcist (1973)
WRITER: William Peter Blatty
DIRECTOR: William Friedkin
STARRING: Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil
Max Von Sydow as Father Merrin
Lee J. Cobb as Lt. Kinderman
Jason Miller as Father Karras
Linda Blair as Regan
QUICK CUT: Really? We don't know the plot of this yet? Okay, fine. A young girl becomes possessed by a powerful demon, and is eventually brought face to face with the priest that exorcised it years ago.
Regan - The poor girl who gets possessed by unseen forces, and your average teenager. Smart for her age, a little mischievous even before the demon arrives. Smart, crafty, artsy, and a bit hyperactive.
Chris - Regan's mom, and an actress, who has come to Georgetown, Washington DC to film a movie, and brought her daughter along with her. She's very dedicated to her daughter, despite the demanding job, and goes to great lengths to help her once things start going wrong.
Father Merrin - The priest who once faced the demon now housed within Regan, and slowly drawn back into the plot. We sadly don't learn much about him, aside from being a bit hardened by time, and determined to keep the demon away.
Father Karras - The priest we spend much of our time with, outside of the McNeil family. He works at Georgetown university. He's slowly been losing his faith, and when his mother dies, it takes the biggest hit yet, at the worst time possible when his skills are called to help young Regan.
Lt. Kinderman - A detective working the case of the dead bodies that start appearing around the McNeil house, with a penchant for films. He comes into the story way too late, and is ultimately underdeveloped and doesn't do much. I include him here simply to mock his presence.
THE GUTS: Wait, what?? The Exorcist? THE EXORCIST?? The original? Not any of the terrible sequels? What is happening here? Is this a Christmas miracle? What have I done to deserve this little gift? Was I good enough to not get a piece of coal this year??
Seriously though, yes. This review IS of the original Exorcist. Well, the director's cut, but you follow my meaning. Many of you may be well aware, and scratching your heads thinking, this is not the usual Trisk movie! And you are right.
I promised changes were coming in 2014, and this is the start of them, and getting a jump on things early. We will be adding more reviews of more classic and accepted-as-good horror movies, instead of the greater cheesier ones. There was a different movie planned for beginning that next month, but when I saw that The Exorcist's 40th anniversary was today, literally today, December 26th, I had to shift plans around and review this first.
And what better way to kick off reviewing older classic horror flicks, than with THE classic horror flick to which so many are held up to as the standard?
Before we really get into things though, I have a confession to make; I have never ever seen The Exorcist. Ever. Seriously, the horror guy has some gaps in his experiences, and this is a big one. In fact, as I am writing these very words in this very introduction, I still have yet to watch it, and part of me is afeared that this little experiment and expansion of the Trisk style is going to fail miserably. I'm sure with most of the classics things will still be fine, they all have that air of cheese, but...THIS IS THE EXORCIST. So, y'all are in for something interesting either way. ;)
We open up innocently enough in the Iraqi desert, where they must be searching for the Stargate or something, and a young boy comes running up to Ming Von Sydow to tell him that they've found something.
For the most part, they've just dug up the usual artifacts of past civilisations, but there is a strange amulet thingy that Leland Gaunt takes a certain interest in, but before we can find out anymore about it, we jump to him popping nitro pills in a cafe nearby.
We learn the man is a priest during some thrilling cataloguing action, and his time to leave is coming up. Now, the pace is sure taking its time here, and we are definitely in slow burn territory, but there's enough interesting sounds and visuals to hold your interest during this mostly dialogue free section.
Chief Justice Fargo begins his Long Walk into the Cursed Earth, and comes across a statue that resembles the amulet he dug up. It's a bit unclear, and I hope that sorts itself out eventually. At the worst, in a sequel.
Once that diversion finishes up, we jump to Georgetown and more familiar, less sandy surroundings. It's a nice, sharp shift of tone from the harsh, bright desert to the cool, modern surroundings of a typical family's home. Certainly the last place you'd expect something to go wrong in!
The movie apparently falls apart completely and an actress comes out of her trailer hoping for some clarification on the script and...OH! no no, just a movie within the movie establishing some light humour. I'm so used to worse movies actually pulling crap like that...
We dive deep into character development mode as we cut between scenes of Chris at home with her daughter Regan, and another priest that she keeps seeing around, but we also get to see him on his own. There's a very telling scene in its simplicity, where Karras sees a homeless man asking for money, and the priest says nothing, instead just walking away. It says so much about his character with just a brief moment, while he says nothing at all.
The priest heads home and helps to take care of his mother, and back at Chris and Regan's place, Regan is just being a little devil of a scamp by being a mischievous kid!
Hey, I may not have seen it before, but I *am* familiar with the plot.
On top of that, she's found a Ouija board and started chatting up Captain Howdy on the spiritual interweb. Yeah, this is gonna end about as well as any other teenaged girl talking to invisible strangers through incomprehensible means, isn't it?
After her birthday, Regan's mom gets woken up in the early morning by a phonecall to find her daughter laying next to her because her own bed was shaking. Chris checks out the house and hears some noises she's been blaming on rats up to this point. She opens up the attic door and climbs up to investigate.
Naturally, when things get this quiet, it's time for a scare, and we're too early in the movie for anything too major, so it's just delivered by one of the housekeepers poking his head up into the attic and calling out for Chris. At least it wasn't a cat.
Regan's suddenly being taken for tests, which is good because she seems to be randomly flashing up evil faces on the screen, all of a sudden... I like that the creepy face flashes of legend don't kick in until Regan's clearly been possessed and acting strangely, which we only notice because of the earlier time spent with her.
The medical tests don't really reveal much, but it does amuse me that even here, forty years ago, doctors were still misdiagnosing and perscribing Ritalin.
While Father Karras attends to his mother some more and visits her in a hospital, Chris throws a party at her place, which leads to her boyfriend and director calling out the butler on being a Nazi. And Chris asks about seeing Karras around with another priest, learning that his mother died. Well, thanks for doing that off camera, movie.
The party comes to an abrupt end when Regan shows up, tells a guest he's going to die, and mistakes the carpet for a toilet. Frankly, I've seen parties survive worse, but it was a different time.
As Regan's bed thinks its the San Andreas, we jump over to Karras and see he's pretty wrecked from the death of his mom, which we missed out on. Seems like an odd thing to build up, have be an important part of his development, and then leave out.
Karras falls asleep, and has a nightmare that's a really effective scene, with some deep symbology if you wanna get into that stuff. But it's especially effective for being mostly wordless save for Karras's mumblings in his sleep that come through into the dream. The music is haunting, and everything just feels a little bit off.
The dream is capped off by his mother descending into the subway as she begs him for help. It's a great metaphor for his fears of her soul possibly descending into Hell. Capped off by another ominous shot of the demon flashing momentarily.
Back at the doctor's, the hyperactive disorder seems to have been ruled out, and they're starting to think its a lesion on Regan's brain. I wonder if anyone thought about how much this sounded like "Legion", an oft-used name for demonic entities en masse.
After an overly involved brainscan, the doctors rush to Regan's home after her convulsions have gotten worse. Which is putting it mildly. When they show up, Regan's flailing around, swearing, and slapping people. Yeah, I'd say we are now officially beyond 'lesion' here.
I also hate to say it, but I must; considering this was made in the 70s with no real effects, watching Linda Blair shake, bounce, and shift around violently ends up looking way sillier than they probably wanted. It looks very dated these days. It's brief, but I can see it throwing some people out of the film.
With even more tests turning up nothing, the plot shambles along. When Chris comes home to find Regan's window wide open, she discovers that Burke was watching over her, and has ended up dead. Again, off camera. Sigh.
To top it off, Regan comes downstairs to say hey...while barfing up blood, and doing it on her hands and feet, and her back arched. Yep, definitely not a tumour.
Now that we've exhausted the physical, Chris takes her daughter to a psychiatrist who tries to speak to Captain Howdy, despite Regan's misgivings about doing so. Well, he comes forward all right, and tries to rip off the doctor's little howdy. I guess he's no fan of psychiatry.
While Karras is out running, he gets paid a visit by a Lt. Kinderman, looking into Burke's death. And he's made the astounding leap to witchcraft because Burke's head was twisted around like a Barbie doll. Which all somehow leads him to Karras, because he wrote a paper about the psychology of witchcraft. It all feels a bit overly convoluted to get these two together.
After he's done harassing and threatening the father to tell him if there's any mentally ill priests, we jump back to the medical side of our plot. Regan's not getting any better, and pretty much being labelled as crazy and under threat of being locked up.
I like that almost the exact halfway point is when the medical and psychological excuses dry up, and they suggest exorcism. It's a good time for that turn, and has had decent build up. Dropping it at this point divides the movie neatly in half philosophically, much like the movie's opinions on it, presenting it as both a religious ceremony and a 'form of suggestion' to deal with the person's psychosis, trying to explain it away through science. Yet it takes no clear stance one way, or the other. It could easily be either explanation as the movie presents them.
Kinderman wanders over from Karras's side of the story and investigates the steps that Burke tumbled down. He finds the nearby McNeil household and pays them a visit. He asks a lot of probing questions, and it's really hard to get a handle on just how much he suspects Regan might have defenestrated the director. This is honestly the best use of the character, his best scene, and almost makes it worth having him there.
Once he's gone, Regan throws a fit, like a literal tornado hit her room, and stabbing herself in sensitive places with a cross. Regan twists her head around much like Burke's was reportedly, and more or less admits to the murder.
That pushes Chris over the edge and she arranges a meeting with Karras, where she breaks down and tells him everything. Everything she's gone through, all the doctors, and they've finally led her to him. Karras is reluctant to go towards exorcism, and damnit, man. We've spent half the movie dancing around that bush, you are late to that particular party.
So Karras meets with Regan, if for no other reason than to put Chris's mind at ease. Of course, that doesn't happen, because the instant he walks into the little girl's bedroom, I don't think you can explain away her looks with psychosis.
The demon and Karras begin a battle of wits, as Karras tries to outthink what he believes to be a little girl, and trip it up in her knowledge. But he came ill prepared to this fight, as the demon horfs pea soup all over his face.
After he gets cleaned up, Karras does his best to try and talk Chris out of her course of action, get Regan more, real psychiatric help, but he's beginning to have doubts. Thanks to the things the demon said to him, he's beginning to suspect possession is an actual thing in this case.
The priest spends some time listening to recordings of Regan and her mom, and preparing his spirit, before making an attempt at an exorcism. When he arrives, Regan/the demon seems eager to begin, seeing it as a way for it and Karras to get closer. And I don't think the demon means dating.
Let me just pause here, and note that this is some time later, Regan is in different clothes, and she is STILL covered in pea soup. She clearly does not like it, stop feeding it to her!!
And let the games begin!
Karras shows up, drawers start opening, and Regan starts speaking in tongues. He whips out a bottle of holy water and sprays her with it making her scream in pain. Of course, when he heads downstairs to take a break from poking the bear, he reveals to Chris that it wasn't holy water at all, but straight from the Potomac.
We get some scenes of Karras investigating, figuring out his recordings, and finding out new things, but it's all pretty standard stuff these days. Good for what it is, and the time it was made, though.
Karras goes to his bosses giving his recommendation to do the exorcism, and they hash out the details, wanting someone with experience, so it's time to call in Father Started the Movie.
So, with Leland Gaunt returning to the film almost 90 minutes later, the real fun can begin, and the whole Exorcist thing that the title promises. Preperations are made, Karras wants to talk more, get the details out, but Merrin is more than ready to dive right in.
They go into a lengthy sequence of praying over the child, and in lesser hands, this would be a real dog of a scene. But with these actors, and under these filmmakers, it manages to work, and be tense. Having the lights turned low and being into the plot helps, too. If someone hasn't bought into the movie by this point, I can easily see someone being bored by the tedium, though.
When she's not trashing the room or cracking walls, Regan knows the weak link is Karras, and taunts him with his mother's deeds and his own actions, but he remains strong, only wavering momentarily here and there. She manages to tear free of her bindings and begins floating above the bed as they near the end of their prayers, and Karras rebinds her hands together over her chest.
After catching a glimpse of the demon statue that waved at us earlier, Merrin settles the girl down on the bed once more, and decides they need a break before continuing. Floating kids is a good time to grab a drink.
Karras checks on Regan while the older priest pops some more nitro, and the demon inside her begins speaking in the voice of Karras's mother. It's a good reflection of the scenes from earlier in the movie, when he tended to his actual mother, and you can actually see how far he's come. There was a cold, resigned, "I must do this because" sort of vibe when he was being dragged to his mom's place to care for her, but now he's gentler, kinder, and you could argue its because of Karras rediscovering some of his lost faith during these trying events.
Following all that, Karris takes a brief seat outside, while Ming continues to pray. He returns to the room, just as Detective Pointless returns to the front door. Inside Regan's room, Karras finds Merrin dead and tries resuscitating him before attacking the girl and demanding the creature enter him.
The demon sees this as a sweet deal, and Karras's eyes turn yellow. But he has a good look around and realises this isn't the nursery of Sam Winchester, and tosses himself out the window.
Kinderman runs into the room, far, FAR too late, only able to witness the aftermath of Karras defenestrating himself and rolling down the stairs outside. The priest's friend from the church is there pretty quick, and forgives Karras of all his sins before he dies.
The movie wraps up with the McNeil's moving out, to no one's surprise. They run into Karras's replacement, Father Dyer, who has a few words to say as they leave, and that's about it.
Well, besides running into Detective McWhy's He In This Movie? at the front door to the house. And much like the rest of his appearances, he's late to the party after the family is gone.
Video: Well, it's a well known, beloved movie, that gets a decent transfer, no surprise there. I'm not quite sure on the presentation in 16:9 though, and I'm pretty sure that's not how it was initially presented. Still, it looks good in this aspect ratio, and as near as I can tell they retained much of the proper composition.
Audio: Not in the original mono, but sampled up to 5.1, and they do a decent job of the conversion. All the dialogue is sharp and in the center, and they make decent use of the surrounds in all the right ways.
Sound Bite: "All right, then we've got clean rats!" Chris's reaction to Carl telling her there can't be rats because there's no mess.
1 - Karris's mother.
2 - Burke falls out a window and down some stairs.
3 - Father Merrin dies while praying over Regan.
4 - After taking in the demon, Father Karris tosses himself out the window and down about six dozen stone stairs to finish them both off.
Best Corpse: Is it any wonder that it's Karras's death? Most of the rest happen off camera, and that fall down the stairs is legendary.
Blood Type - C: The movie is pretty bloodless, since it works on you psychologically and not relying on gore. Which is a good thing, don't get me wrong! And the effects are dated, but not bad by any stretch. Regan looks nicely horrific. And she does spew a bit of blood, giving the movie some red.
Sex Appeal: Zilch, unless I am blanking. Well, there's a racy defiled statue of the Virgin Mary.
Movie Review: Oh, now here we go. This movie is legendary. So, what did *I* think of it? How does it hold up? Well, in short, it IS really good. But it IS also very flawed. There's some hefty gaps in storytelling, as the movie expects you to figure out some things on your own. And that is fair enough! I love that, normally. But in this case, it ends up with a lot of scenes that don't make sense until either future movies, or commentaries, or a lot of thought goes into them. You kinda get what they want you to get though, but this almost becomes a crutch the movie uses to skim over things. Still, there's nothing wrong with doing that, in theory. It's just used a bit much for my liking here. A pinch more clarity would've been nice. Still, the story is pretty solid, and the acting is great for the main cast. Even at the time child actor Linda Blair is really good. She may not have delivered the actual lines while she was possessed, but there was still acting involved, and she did a good job as Regan. The biggest shame here is, time and knowledge and cultural awareness have robbed this movie of many of its scares and impact, and I certainly don't hold that against it, expect for the goofier bits that occur from things like Regan bouncing back and forth on her bed. It's still a taut, tense drama, even if the scares have been lessened because we've seen them all before, and we all know the plot. With only a few minor flaws, it gets a four out of five painfully in-depth brainscans.
Entertainment Value: It goes without saying that there's not a lot of cheese here, so the entertainment comes from other places, and that's from being a good movie. It's tense, and you get into it easily, and the characters are well drawn with a slow burn so you really get to know them. It's great to poke fun at Kinderman, who never really serves a purpose in the story besides being a cop, and a cop should be investigating these deaths. It almost feels like he's there more as setup for more things in later stories, like if this was a series. But the big question is; is this truly the greatest horror movie of all time? Gosh, no. The movie is dated, it's been overhyped and held up on a pedestal it may or may not deserve. But the fact remains, it HAS been forty years. We've gotten better at some things, and those things leave this movie behind in another era. I don't want to say this movie is overrated, because it's still good, and worth watching, but it is a victim of its own reputation, and yeah, it is overrated a bit. But still good. But there's better. Still, a solid three out of five bowls of pea soup.
Maybe if I hadn't seen the parody homage comedy movie, RePossessed a dozen times in my lifetime before ever seeing this, I'd appreciate it more.