My Favorite Movies – The Exorcist (1973)

15 Oct

By Tanner Smith

There were people who thought the Devil himself was actually in on “The Exorcist”…hopefully, no one still thinks that after actually WATCHING “The Exorcist.”

If you look at IMDb Trivia for “The Exorcist,” it states that apparently actress Linda Blair, who played a girl possessed by a demon, received death threats from religious zealots who believed the film “glorified Satan.” First of all, who were these people–Westboro Baptist?? Secondly, there is no way “The Exorcist” “glorified Satan.”

I’ll get to that, but first, here’s a little background:

“The Exorcist,” nearly 50 years old, is still declared one of the scariest movies of all time. This film holds up really well, and the scenes that freaked a lot of people out then still scare them now. There are many reasons why it still gets under the skin of many people, but I think the main reason is that it doesn’t seem like it was made as a horror film–it seems more like it was made with intent focused on character development and gritty atmosphere, and director William Friedkin used that to make it all the more impactful when the more horrific stuff occurs. The film is scary because it feels real. That’s how many of the best horror films become successful.

I will admit…the first time I saw “The Exorcist,” I was 14 years old and had already seen the most iconic moments from the movie (thanks to a DVD I repeatedly watched, about unforgettable movie moments)–the possessed Regan (Linda Blair) vomiting on Father Karras (Jason Miller) and the parts of the exorcism that included spinning the head around and floating above the bed. I was expecting more scenes like that, not character drama, inner battles involving questioning faith, suffering loss, and lots of hospital visits. (Though, even watching it today, I think a few scenes involving medical-help could’ve been trimmed.) I just didn’t “get” “The Exorcist” when I first saw it. As time went on, however, I was able to see what it was truly about and that it was not just another scary movie; when I did, I really loved it.

Anyway, the plot involves wealthy actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and lower-class priest Damien Karras (Jason Miller) in two separate stories that wind up together when it becomes clear that Chris’ ill pre-teenage daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is possessed by a demonic spirit. Before Karras even visits the possessed Regan, we’re over an hour into the movie, and we’ve already gotten to know these characters as flawed people who are put into a situation that challenges their belief system. Chris is so successful in her line of work; she and Regan are happy together; it doesn’t seem like anything can go wrong…and then Regan gets very sick, and Chris tries so many things to make sure she gets cared for. And Karras is shaken after the death of his mother–this causes him to question his faith for a good period of time before Chris finds him and begs him to see Regan, now that she’s exhausted other options.

Something I love about when Karras first meets the possessed Regan, tied to a bed, her face all distorted, and her voice altered (and recorded by Mercedes McCambridge), is that he eases into believing that there’s something wrong with this girl apart from mental trauma. Regan demands he remove the straps keeping her confined to the bed. His response? “If you’re the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?” He’s challenging her. It’s only when he notices something that can’t be explained that he can’t deny what’s really happening. Then, he calls for an exorcism with Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), and that leads to a battle of wits and fears.

The film takes its time with the scares, and that’s why it affected audiences (some of which had to be taken out of the theater by paramedics). “The Exorcist” is essentially a character study interrupted by the supernatural, which makes for an intriguing horror film. We feel bad for Regan because she’s a sheltered child suddenly being taken over from within. We feel sympathy for Chris because she learns evil can invade her life, no matter how rich she is. And we feel what Karras is going through in this complicated point in his life when he doesn’t know what to believe anymore and he needs something to help regain his faith. (Jason Miller is really the emotional backbone of the movie–he’s really good here.) When something terrible happens to them, we feel it as it hits us deeply.

OK, now let’s talk about the load of junk that’s been hurled against “The Exorcist” that the film “glorified Satan.” That is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard about how people regard a horror film. I don’t think ANYONE who thinks that has actually seen the movie. For one thing, William Peter Blatty, the author of the film’s source novel, was Catholic and wrote the book based on his studies. For another thing, this is more a film about coming to grips with yourself and finding the courage to continue in dire situations, which is one of the common things the Bible teaches us. And finally, it’s a story based on faith and how it can help you out of some situations. How do I know this? (SPOILER ALERT!) Because the Devil doesn’t win in this movie. There is no way you can make me believe that “The Exorcist” glories the Devil in any way!

There are so many other movies about demon possession and exorcism…but not one of them came even close to the power “The Exorcist” brought us.

One Response to “My Favorite Movies – The Exorcist (1973)”

  1. Katherine Ann November 18, 2021 at 5:54 am #

    Honestly, I giggled when I read the part that people believe this movie glorifies the Devil. Absolutely impossible, for so many reasons!

    Also, this is most definitely one of my top favorite movies! The simplicity of it. And like you said, it feels real! The more simple, the better. Some possession movies today seem to be over done.. making it very unrealistic

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