That tanning light is set to "Jersey Shore"
Banned in certain countries. Fainting in the audience. Injuries. Death threats to actors. It takes an incredibly powerful movie to achieve such a response. Nowadays, just about anything can make it to theaters or be sold in stores, no matter how depraved or ridiculous (I'm looking at you, Human Centipede). Back in 1973, a horror movie was released that some believe had the Devil imprinted on the film. Not a demon or some sort of evil power, the Devil himself. It's hard to imagine such a response in today's desensitized and jaded world, but there is still one movie that capable of scaring people into hysterics. Of course, I am talking about The Exorcist.
The Exorcist is a 1973 horror movie starring Linda Blair (Repossessed, Hell Night) as Regan MacNeil and Jason Miller (That Championship Season, Toy Soldiers) as Father Damien Karras. It is adapted from the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. At an archaeological dig in Iraq, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow, The Seventh Seal, Flash Gordon) discovers a silver Catholic medallion along with a small stone amulet of a creature. In Washington D.C., actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Requiem For A Dream) begins to notice strange changes in her 12 year old daughter Regan's behavior. She brings Regan to the doctor for a series of tests. The doctors believe that Regan has a simple condition that is treatable through medication. Her condition worsens as she now has violent outbursts and mood swings. Doctors perform invasive tests, believing that she has a lesion in her brain. The results yield no answers and a visit from a psychologist ends violently. Paranormal occurrences begin with strange noises, unexplained movements, and Regan's bed shaking. With no medical answers, the doctor's recommend an exorcism. Burke Dennings, film director and a friend of Chris, visits Regan and dies falling down a long flight of stairs under mysterious circumstances. Chris reaches out to Father Karras to perform the exorcism. Karras is going through a crisis of faith due to the recent death of his mother, but he agrees to see Regan. Karras observes Regan who now speaks in a raspy voice, has facial lesions, and refers to herself as the Devil. He sees the words “Help Me” on Regan's stomach and decides to ask the Church to allow the exorcism. The Church reaches out to Father Merrin who conducted an exorcism years ago in Africa, though it almost killed him. Will Father Merrin and Father Karras be able to exorcise the demon and save Regan?
"The power of rice compels...wait, that's not right"
The Exorcist has been named “The Scariest Movie of All Time” for good reason because the movie is legitimately scary. What makes it so scary isn't the jump-at-you moments that so many horror movies rely on, though it does have plenty of those. The movie is incredibly unsettling in it's content and execution. This is achieved through superb special effects and sound effects. Iconic scenes like Regan crawling down the stairs backwards (Spiderwalking if you prefer) and her head rotating and so unnerving in their unnaturalness that is strikes a nerve deep within the audience. I don't think I've seen another movie where sound has been so essential to make scenes work as in The Exorcist. Regan's possessed voice was provided by actress Mercedes McCambridge is so gravelly and rough that, mentally, it doesn't sit well with the audience when seen coming out the mouth of a 12 year old Linda Blair. There are split-second flashes of a demonic-looking face throughout the movie which may be the most terrifying thing in the entire movie because it the image stays with you long after the movie is over. I am actually surprised more movies don't try this subtle, yet effective trick.
The movie succeeds thanks to a combination of the solid acting, believable characters, and believable, if not wholly known, content. Linda Blair is great in her role, despite her young age and Mercedes McCambridge makes the demonic role work. Jason Miller plays Father Karras well and is probably the most identifiable with the audience as he is questioning his faith and is not sure what to believe. Director William Friedkin gets the most out of his actors through Kubrickian filmmaking. When both Fathers enter the Regan's room and steam can be seen from their breath, it's due to multiple air conditioners cranking out below freezing temperatures. When Ellen Burstyn screams out in pain after being struck by a possessed Regan, she is in actual pain due to breaking her coccyx. You can say there was a method to Fiedkin's madness because he gets great performances out of his actors and is able to capture some amazing shots on camera.
It is not often that a horror movie can scare, and while I may not have shrieked in terror, I was unsettled by The Exorcist. You know a movie is good when it stays with you long after the credits have rolled and The Exorcist is able to do that. Any exorcism movie that has come out since The Exorcist has been compared to the movie and while some receive praise, they cannot reach it's greatness. The great special and sound effects, the superb acting, and great direction all lead to an enjoyable, if unnerving, watch. It is a classic for a reason and deserves all the praise it receives. A perfect horror movie for my 200th review.