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THE EXORCIST - 1973
Ratings: Australia, USA: R / Finland: K-18 / France: -16 / Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway: 18
/ Hong Kong: III /
Sweden: 15 / UK: 18
I first saw THE EXORCIST when I was about seven years old. Too young? Uh . . . hell yeah. This movie
disturbed me on such a profound level. I was a child brought up to fear
devils and demons. I didn't just watch this film back then - I completely
experienced it. Children of the seventies were not as sophisticated as
the ones creeping about now. We didn't have a Freddy, Jason, or even a
Michael Myers. We didn't know a damn thing about movie magic, either.
Okay, so maybe I knew a bit about Ray Harryhausen and his oddly fluid
monsters, and maybe I knew that, yes, that was a man behind all that Frankenstein
make-up. But I didn't have a clue about Linda Blair and what made the
head spin around. Not one clue.
THE EXORCIST was different than the other horror films. The characters looked and acted
like real people. They didn't speak all of their sentences with exclamation
points at the end like characters in horror movies usually did. Hell,
before Satan rears his ugly face, it's a downright quiet film. A child
could even fall asleep. But I didn't. And I experienced the whole damn
thing as if it happened to me. The scene that made me positively terrified
was when Regan takes her mother's face and shoves it between her legs.
"Eat Me!" Regan shrieks. I just couldn't believe it. I was stunned
to my core.
After that, I sat there paralyzed with fear. I was in the movie. I was no longer just
watching it. I was there. When Father Karras (Jason
Miller: THE EXORCIST III) first comes face
to face with Regan (Linda Blair: EXORCIST II, HELL NIGHT, WITCHERY, GROTESQUE), I was there. When Regan spins her
head around, that creepy smile on her face, I was in that room. When Karras
walks into the bedroom and finds that Father Merrin (Max von Sydow: FLASH GORDON) has failed, I was
ready to cry. When Merrin showed up, I thought things were going to be
okay - he knew what he was doing. Now that he was dead, we are completely
screwed, I said to myself. The Devil is gonna get us all. I don't think
I was the only one. The movie was a box office smash. Millions of horror
writers cite the film as the one that had the biggest impact.
This re-edited version is the movie that William Freidkin first showed author William Peter Blatty. Blatty loved it, feeling it represented his story the way it was intended.
Between Blatty's private showing and the actual release, however, Friedkin
tinkered with the movie some more, creating what, he calls today, His Director's cut.
When Blatty saw the theatrical release he was outraged. He felt that
he had been deceived.
This drove a wedge of emnity between the two men that still seems to
As of this writing, both versions are still available on DVD.
See the Fansite
THE EXORCIST FANSITE
IN 30 SECONDS
(re-enacted by bunnies)
I watched the film again as a teenager, and I was struck by how powerful it still
was. I still felt the fear that it had inspired in me as a child. When
I heard that they were re-releasing the movie with added scenes to theatres,
I was floored. I was finally going to get to see that spider walk I had
been reading about for so many years, and most importantly, I was going
to get to see this fine film in theaters where it was meant to be seen.
There were some surprises as I watched the new film in digital sound,
both good and bad.
The first thing that struck me was the way that the audience reacted. Every time
Linda Blair cursed there was laughter all around me. In fact, the more
profane she got, the more I could hear giggling and snickering. I turned
and watched two teenagers laughing when Regan was stabbing herself in
the groin with a crucifix. What the hell? I felt like Mr. Hand in Fast
Times at Ridgemont High - were all these teens on dope? Every one of them?
They must be, they're all laughing. Kidding aside, I never saw the film
as funny, so why do they?
I would say that the new generation has been slammed over the head so many times with
irony that they are desensitized to anything that seeks to disturb them
profoundly. Films like SCREAM (hated it), and even the EVIL DEAD films (brilliant), have made them watch with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks.
I think that irony and humor has its place in horror (I
write some very dark comedies myself). Humor should come from the
characters - situations are not funny, it's the way character react to
the situation. That said, I am so sick of irony in films meant to be serious.
I'm not talking about films that are written as comedies - I'm talking
about the inability of some of the new writers to stand behind their solemn
work. It is as if they are afraid of appearing pretentious and unhip,
so they feel the need to tell you just how smart they are. You've seen
a movie like HALLOWEEN before, have you? Well so have I, says the writer,
and I'm going to stick a few jokes in there just to show you how knowing
and clever I am. A perfect example of this is what became of the A NIGHTMARE
ON ELM STREET films. Freddy used to be one scary mother. Look at him
now, stalking the teeny boppers inside of their Nintendos. Positively
fucking sad. It's like everyone is making winking and leering copies of
the effective films. I guess it's sort of like Beck covering an Earth
Wind and Fire song - it sounds good, but just where the hell is the soul?
It is this winking and all knowing irony that is killing the horror genre
Okay, I seem to have went on a rant here and gotten away from reviewing the movie.
It was necessary, however, to try and gain some insight as to why this
film is not having the same impact on the new generation. THE EXORCIST still
holds up almost thirty years after it was made. The direction is flawless.
The writing is strong and effective. The performances in this film are
completely perfect. I think Jason Miller was masterful. One look into
his dark eyes when the bed rises up to his neck, and you can see the fear
and exhilaration in them. His eyes tell you two things: God really does
exist and, Holy Christ, so does Satan. Max von Sydow is great in this
film too, his confident performance is the glue that makes you believe
everything that goes down (The bad make-up is another
story. I felt sometimes that I was watching a zombie flick made by Ingmar
Ellen Burstyn (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) does a fine job as a mother completely out of her element.
When she begs Father Karras for help, you can really feel her anguish.
And, finally, we have Linda Blair. She's so good that millions of people
suffer from nightmares.
But let us not forget that this film has "added scenes". Do these scenes
make the film better? Sometimes. I'm not even sure that anything should
be added. I think that the first half of this film could be condensed
to heighten its effectiveness. Though I'll probably get booed, I think
the opening scene featuring Father Merrin and the medallion can be cut
completely and no one would know the difference.
The first of the added scenes involves Regan getting numerous tests while doctors
try to find out what is wrong with her (including
a very painful looking spinal tap). These scenes are effective
and left me feeling a bit queasy. I do think that the film works just
fine without these scenes, though.
The second added scene takes place after Karras and Merrin do the first exorcism
round. Merrin suggests to Karras that perhaps the devil is not after the
little girl, but those around her. I liked this scene. I think it adds
depth to the movie and certainly makes the viewer think a bit. Let's keep
The spider walk. This scene definitely is high on the creep factor. Although it's
all of five seconds, it stirs primal feelings of fear. Had this scene
been in the original I bet I would still remember it vividly today. Nice
touch the way the blood runs out of her mouth like that, too.
And here is where things go horribly wrong. In the original ending, Regan's mother
Father Dyer (Rev. William O'Malley) that Regan doesn't remember anything.
We see Regan then, little scars on her cute face. The mother gives Father
Dyer the medal and they pull away in the car. Dyer shoots a look at the
stairs where Karras lost his life and then the movie fades out. This ending
In the new ending, Dyer gives the medal back to Regan's mother. Okay, no big deal.
They drive away and Dyer starts walking away. He runs into Kinderman,
the homicide detective (Lee J. Cobb: THE PHANTOM CREEPS). They start talking rubbish about a film version of Wuthering
Heights starring Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball. May I inquire as to
what the fuck? Who is responsible for this? The first ending was completely
pure - it struck just the right tone and mood for the film. This new one
is the equivalent of playing an accordion during the coda of a really
good rock song - it just doesn't work.
I guess this new ending doesn't completely ruin the experience - but man, it is so
unnecessary. I've heard that director William Friedkin (ALFRED
HITCHCOCK PRESENTS [TV], TWILIGHT ZONE [TV], TALES FROM THE CRYPT [TV])
considers the original version the "director's cut". I wish
someone would have listened to him. If you haven't seen the film, do not
let this review stop you from doing so - there are so many note perfect
scenes. Just try not to giggle when you watch it, okay?
5 Shriek Girls to the Classic
and 4 to the Re-Issue
copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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