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The Exorcist

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

For most of my lifetime, every scary film has been judged against 1973's THE EXORCIST. After all these years, nothing else compares.

The film opens with a long sequence at an archeological dig in Iraq, where Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) encounters the first findings tied to an ancient demon. As he watches, the unburied artifacts cause disturbing behavior all around him. The sequence concludes in an onslaught of dissonant noises and dust.

The next scenes are idyllic pictures of Georgetown, Washington, where famed film actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) live in a beautiful brownstone on a perfect street.

When things begin to go bump in the night in the attic and Regan demonstrates odd behaviors, small at first and then escalating in severity, Chris takes Regan to every doctor and psychiatrist looking for answers.

Director William Friedkin is at his best here in his thrilling follow up to his 1971 Best Picture winner "The French Connection".

Friedkin escalates the tension throughout, making us suffer through Chris's fears, Regan's medical tests and the rising horror as Regan begins demonstrating some very powerful and very nasty behavior.

Chris finds herself turning to her local, rebel priest Father Karras (Jason Miller) for answers.

He in turn, brings in Father Merrin to support him in the film's final scenes.

This is a film classic. From the time Regan first turns violent through the harrowing final 20 minutes in which Merrin and Karras perform the rites of exorcism over her tortured body, the film twists its suspense tighter.

What a cast!

Burstyn is 100% believable as a tortured mother running out of answers. Miller is superb as Karras. His recent loss of his mother haunts him and the demon's leverage of that fact (Dimi, why did you abandon me!!??") tear Karras apart. Miller will make you feel it.

Lee J. Cobb is pitch perfect as police detective Kinderman, Kitty Wynn is good as Chris's loyal assistant Sharon and Von Sydow is perfection as Father Merrin.

The only weak link in the acting department are Linda Blair's scenes in the first half hour of the film. Before she's possessed, her line readings are horrible and you can feel Burstyn and Wynn pulling her along, it's painful.

But once the demon takes hold, you have to credit Blair with a strong physical performance and actress Mercedes McCambridge for the voice work she does for the possessed Regan.

That husky, life time smoker voice that emerges from Blair "It's a wonderful day for an exorcism" still haunts & deeply disturbs.

The makeup by Dick Smith is startling, the Oscar winning sound mix is SO unsettling, I defy you to not get the creeps listening to what in the hell is going on behind Regan's bedroom door as Merrin and Karris first approach it together.

The screenplay adaption by William Peter Blatty of his own best selling novel also won an Oscar, deservedly so.

The only films that I have ever felt even approached this one for creating terror have been the two "Conjuring" films, but even they don't equal the white knuckle dread that a good, loud presentation of THE EXORCIST generates in a darkened room.

A modern classic, it still scares the hell out of me in all the right horror movie ways and gets an A+.

Followed by numerous inferior sequels, including the laughable "Exorcist II: The Heretic" in 1977.

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