← Back to Reviews
The Exorcist
(William Friedkin, 1973)
(Starring: Linda Blair; Ellen Burstyn; Jason Miller; Max Von Sydow)

Some movies can be a victim of their own success, especially when it comes to later generations, and I think The Exorcist falls into that trap. Even though this was my first true viewing of the movie, I've seen so many scenes before--- the "pea-soup" scene, the "360-degree-head-turn" scene, "the power-of-Christ-compels-you" scene, as well as numerous other iconic scenes from the movie--- that it hampered my enjoyment of the movie. Watching The Exorcist in 2014, after seeing the movie discussed and parodied so many times over the years, is like reading a book after you've already read the Cliff Notes version, so nothing is a surprise, not even the ending, and the result is a somewhat underwhelming, disappointing experience. That's not a proper critique of the movie itself, however, since it isn't the movie's fault that, forty years after it release, it remains so iconic and so ingrained in popular culture. The longevity of The Exorcist is a testament to the movie's strength and its impact on the genre. It's just a shame that people like myself can't travel back to 1973 and watch The Exorcist in a theater when it was still fresh and new and hadn't already been spoiled and ripped off by countless inferiors.

Is The Exorcist the most frightening film of all time, as so many people label it? No, not even close. And I don't think I would've agreed with that claim even if I had seen the movie in 1973. What it is, however, is a slow-build of tension and dread and suspense that's effectively creepy and unsettling, which is then enhanced by a strong cast, great directing, a solid script, phenomenal special-effects, and an accompanying score that punctuates the horror and gets under your skin. The movie is remembered most for the shocking transformation of fresh-faced Linda Blair into the decomposing, demon-infested embodiment of evil; and appropriately so, since it taps into the parental fear of wanting to protect your child from harm and disease and, you know, demonic possession. (In a weird, twisted sense, I guess you could also say that The Exorcist is a metaphor for a really extreme case of puberty, where, instead of pimples, we get skin lacerations; in response to burgeoning, hormonal-induced desires of sexuality, we stab ourselves in the privates with a crucifix; and, as a result of feeling alienated and alone, we possess priests and propel them out of two-story windows. Normal stuff for any pubescent teenager.)

The highlight of the movie for me, however, was Jason Miller's portrayal of the guilt-ridden priest. The early scenes involving his mother, as well as the ensuing visions after her death, were some of the best scenes in the movie. During the exorcism, when the demon takes the form of the priest's deceased mother and preys on his feelings of guilt and abandonment, the effect is chilling. And speaking of the exorcism, the last thirty minutes of the movie, when the act finally takes place, is thrilling and exceptionally well-crafted. The movie is more of a slow-burn than I expected, but the methodical pace adds to the gravity of the final sequence. When Max Von Sydow finally arrives outside the house, briefcase in tow, in that iconic shot that's often used on the posters and box-covers of the movie, you know that *****'s about to go down. I also appreciate that most of the characters, especially for a horror movie, remain level-headed about the proceedings. Even the priest, instead of immediately jumping on the exorcism bandwagon, approaches the matter with skepticism and rationalism.

It's unfortunate that The Exorcist's legacy has essentially handicapped it for modern audiences. We've heard "Luke, I am your father," long before we watch The Empire Strikes Back. We've seen the iconic shower scene in Psycho years before we watch the actual movie. And we've already had the majority of thrills from the The Exorcist spoiled for us long before we get to put those iconic scenes in context. As a result, despite being a very effective horror movie and containing many great elements, I can't help but feel that The Exorcist is a tad overrated.