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The Exorcist

USA 1973
produced by
William Peter Blatty, Noel Marshall (executive) for Hoya Productions, Warner Brothers
directed by William Friedkin
starring Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Rev.William O'Malley, Barton Hayman, Peter Masterson, Rudolf Schündler, Gina Petrushka, Robert Symonds, Arthur Storch, Rev.Thomas Bermingham, Vasiliki Maliaros, Titos Vandis, Wallace Rooney, Ron Faber, Donna Mitchell, Roy Cooper, Robert Gerringer, Mercedes McCambridge (voice), William Peter Blatty, Eileen Dietz
screenplay by William Peter Blatty based on his novel, theme music: Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, special effects by Marcel Vercoutere

Exorcist

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) can't help but noticing that her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) acts a tad strangely, and her health seems to deteriorate - especially her mental health -, but doctors are simply unable to find any kind of cure and suggest a healthy diet of tranqulilizers and electro shocks in the controlled enviroment of a looney bin - something Chris is not too fond of. But when she takes her daughter home with her, her boyfriend dies under mysterious circumstances while looking after Regan, and to Chris it becomes more and more clear that Regan is possessed by something or other - Regan herself at one point claims it's the Devil - so she asks father Karras (Jason Miller) for help, a priest and psychiatrist who happens to be the expert on all things possession around.

Karras, who is your typical priest who has lost his faith, at first doubts that Regan is really possessed, but when the girl, who is by now horribly disfigured, digs into his mind and plays on the guilt he feels about his mother's death in an asylum - something the girl simply couldn't have known - he comes to the conclusion that an exorcism actually would be for the best of the girl and everyone around her. So Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), one of the last official exorcists in the USA, is called in to perform the rites - but whatever possesses Regan is stronger than a few drops of holy water and puts up a fight, ultimately once again picking on Father Karras' guilt - which is when Merrin sends him out to come to his senses, but while Karras is out, the demon that possesses Regan has its way with Father Merrin, who suffers from a heart condition, and before you know it Merrin has died from a heart attack.

Now Karras has had enough, and he tries the hands-on approach against Regan's demon by simply strangling the girl - to a point where the demon leaves her and instead possesses him - at which point Karras throws himself out of a window to his death ... and Regan is saved.

Lee J.Cobb plays an investigating cop who has surprisingly little to do with the actual plot ...

 

The Exorcist is, of course, a legitimate milestone of horror history, an unnerving and at the same time intelligent and thought through piece of possession cinema that not only thanks to a big budget is miles away from your usual grindhouse shocker, it's elegantly directed and it's full of scenes that have made horror- and cinema-history all by themselves - from Linda Blair's head spinning around to her puking pea soup and hurling abuse and profanities at priests (in Mercedes McCambridge's voice, actually) to the seemingly randomly interpersed subliminl images.

All that said, The Exorcist also isn't without its flaws, the film's set-up is way too long: It's a full 40 minutes until the first possession scene, and all this time is wasted with introducing the characters in way too great detail, plus an elongated sequence of Father Merrin in Iraq that while looking good adds little to the film's actual plot and could/should have been tossed out altogether. Plus, at times the film tries too hard to be intelligent on many an occasion to a point where the pseudo-intellectual dialogue turns into a tired cliché. And then there's Ellen Burstyn, whose exaggerated pseudo-method acting more often than not misses the point and that at least from today's point of view seems horribly dated and utterly annoying.

Still, the film's fortes outweigh its weaknesses, and even if you are not into horror you might find yourself liking it, and no matter how you turn it, it's a milestone film - but a flawed milestone.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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