Thursday, December 1, 2011

Film Review: The Exorcist (1973)

Director: William Friendkin.

Synopsis: When a child is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

My Thoughts: When I reviewed the book version of The Exorcist the other week I kept making rather vague references to what I remembered of the film. It seems I perhaps should have re-watched the film before I shared some of those perspectives because it seems like I misremembered much of the film!

Watching the film as a 13 year old what really stood out to me was the girl descending into deeper levels of creepy possessed demon-ness. Her transformation from loveable, happy child into a creature hell-bent on destroying the lives of everyone it comes into contact with was a stark shock for little me, and the images of Regan's head spinning, and the "help me" formed on her stomach haunted me for nights after I first saw the film. Because the poignant transformation had such an impact on the young impressionable me, when I read the book and found an abundance of conflict between psychology and religion and how religion can survive alongside the sciences in the modern world, it felt like a new addition to the story. What I  found upon rewatching it though, is that this conflict is indeed present in the film, and like the book actually takes prescendence over much of the exorcism/possession stuff.

Not being particularly religious (read: stone-cold atheist) the conflict isn't something I've come into contact with, but the representation of it on film with the character of Father Karras makes it painfully clear that religion is much harder to sell, shall we say, and also much harder to swallow. Though he seems clear that there is a god, his psychology background makes it impossible to believe that Regan could possibly be possessed. Though it's explained more within the book, he's clearly more confident with saying she's suffering from some undiagnosable mental disorder than a mystical being possessing her body. It's an interesting predicament, because as an atheist/agnostic I really can't see the difference between demons and god, but for Karras there is a definite difference between them and his scientific background doesn't allow him to suspend his disbelief quite that far. It makes for a possession narrative that's much better equipped for modern audiences and modern society, far more accessible and believable.

For anyone who hasn't seen the film (shame on you) the special effects are hardly of the standard that we're used to today, but I still found them realistic enough to have me hugging  my legs to my chest. To be honest, I find it much more effective to use the physical special effects, as used in The Exorcist, than the CGI ones favoured today. They don't always pass as more realistic, but they have a tangibility that you simply can't get from CGI, regardless of the studio designing them. This is definitely true in this film. The shaking bed and possessed puppetry does border on laughable from time to time, but you can get a real sense of why this film had people in hysterics when it was released. In fact, I think it's one of the few old films where you're completely excused for still feeling fear during. Night of the Living Dead, though a favourite of mine, is decidedly unscary, even though I recognise where the fear would be for older audiences.

The atmosphere is fantastic in this film, and the soundtrack further amplifies the overall feeling of the movie. Perhaps the best example of this film's dark and moody atmosphere is the shot used on most DVD covers of the film. Father Merrin standing underneath the streetlight as light shines down on him in the dark from the open window of Regan's bedroom. Stunning. While the rest of the film doesn't quite meet the same high standard of this image, it does reflect the general cinematic style of the film.

All of this adds up to create a phenomenal, and understandably classic, horror film. One that I implore you all watch, and even if you've seen it before, watch it again. No more discussion, just do it. Now.

4.5 out of 5 pints of pea soup vomit


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  2. Timeless movie indeed. The subtleties and subliminal messages really did it for me too. When the mother walks across the room and we see a small image of Pazuzu's face in the corner of the screen I darted out of my seat to take a closer look at what I just saw. Had to rewind it and everything. And if I had to imagine how the king of demons would shit talk someone, it'd be, "Your mother sucks cocks in hell".