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USA 1973
Directed by
William Friedkin
122 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Exorcist

Synopsis: An account of the last known exorcism carried out by the Catholic Church, one that occurred in 1949, as fictionalized by William Peter Blatty in his novel, "The Exorcist".

Although long-since superseded in terms of graphic violence The Exorcist was a huge (and unexpected)  hit in its day and whilst by today’s standards some of the SFX are hokey it remains a very effective demonic possession horror film.

Given that that is the sort of thing that you want to watch, despite a few plot conveniences, like the fact that Ellen Burstyn’s film star character happens to be making a movie around the corner from her home and that Jason Miller’s Father Karras’s workplace happens to lie in-between, William Friedkin invests what is traditionally schlock-schock material with dramatic substance and genuinely creepy atmosphere. 

After an oddly misleading prologue in which we meet Max von Sydow's Father Merrin at an archeological dig in Iraq the film proper starts in New York.  12-year old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) the daughter of a leading film actress Chris MacNeil (Burstyn). When inexplicably she starts behaving oddly her mother takes her to a fleets of medicos who come up with all manner of diagnoses as Regan spins further and further out-of-control.  Eventually one of the doctors advises calling in non-traditional help and so enters local priest-cum psychiatrist Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and Father Merrin (von Sydow) who together undertake an exorcism.

The film has a somewhat misleading title as Father Merrin actually has a minor role dramatically-speaking  and it is, understandably, the exorcism itself which is the focal point of the film. This is well-handled by Friedkin who takes the subject matter seriously and involves us in the escalting lead-up by creating rich characters, particularly that of Father Karras. a modern-day sceptic confronting his own psychological demons.  Casting is also a strength of the film with all the actors treating the material equally seriously. Burstyn is convincing as the grieving mother (given that you accept that she would keep Regan at home during such a bizarre experience) , Miller, an actor whose profile did not build on the success of the film, equally so as the troubled priest, he and von Sydow being excellent in the actual exorcism sequence, whilst Linda Blair delivers brilliantly in a role which she would never really escape. 

FYI: There are various versions available however Friedkin stands by the original 1973 version as the definitive one. There was a 1977 still-born sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic directed by John Boorman.




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