Movie Review: The Exorcist (1973)

Rating: B/ So, I finally watched The Exorcist; which makes me kind of late to the party, doesn’t it? My dad, who is a Catholic (or used to be at one time) assured me it was one of the scariest, if not the scariest, movies ever, and he has been talking up just how scary it is for years. Well, as usual, the experience falls short of the hype. Which is not to say The Exorcist is a bad movie; it is definitely an unnerving film with some undeniably creepy moments, and taut editing that makes your hair stand up on end. But I didn’t find myself becoming terrified by it, and there’s definitely something darkly humorous about a possessed twelve-year-old spitting up green goo on a priest’s glasses, and wildly stringing together obscenities like a pro.

What I’m trying to say is that The Exorcist runs a thin line between horror and camp, and for every scene that curdled my blood there was another that had me laughing, albeit uncomfortably. I sort of think you have to be a Catholic (even a lapsed one, like my dad) to really get what this movie is trying to do. For someone like me who believes that things can be explained by science, at least for the most part (I certainly keep my mind open for paranormal stuff) The Exorcist was just medium scary, not a colon-blowing horror show. But if you have belief (the one thing I don’t have) or if you have had belief at one time- once a Catholic, always a Catholic- this movie should keep you up whimpering in a fetal position. My dad insisted he needed a good stiff drink before he watched it, and not only that, he refused to see the movie until he had been to the liquor store.

But basically, I think my dad and I had seen two different movies. My dad saw the film that scared the shit out of him when he was a young Catholic. I saw a movie that is, well, scary, even if it is trying a bit too hard. In The Exorcist, twelve-year-old Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) is a perfectly adorable little moppet when her well-to-do actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn) finds her using a Ouija board and talking to her new pal, ‘Captain Howdy.’ Sounds legit, right? No sooner has Chris dismissed this weirdness as a child’s imagination than Regan gets sick and starts acting freaky, and that’s before the projectile vomiting. And the floating.

The doctors can’t do jack shit for Regan, so her mom turns to Father Damien (Jason Miller,) a depressed fellow who’s just lost his mom and generally carries the weight of the world around on his shoulders. Along with Father Merrin (Max von Sydow,) who has a heart condition (yes you read that right, Damien sets out to expel the evil spirit from Regan’s body. On the upside, they have the power of Jesus on their side. On the downside, well, Merrin is a stooped over old man who is perpetually gobbling pills for his heart condition and Damien barely has faith at all.

Featuring good acting (although Burstyn, who was outstanding as the diet pill gobbling mom in Requiem for a Dream, falls a little short of greatness here) an amazing make-up job on young Linda Blair, and genuinely disturbing moments, what The Exorcist lacks in good ol’ subtlety it makes up for in pure chutzpah. As an agnostic , this film makes you think This shit couldn’t actually happen… right? No where can I get me some holy water to keep by my bed while I sleep? One things for sure, The Exorcist made me glad I don’t mess with Ouija boards or any of that voodoo hoodoo shit. A realist I might be, but when it comes right down to it, I’d rather be safe than sorry, and by sorry I mean dead or spitting up split pea soup while jamming a crucifix into my lady parts. And Regan does that and more in this movie. Is it any wonder poor Linda Blair had psychiatric problems after she made this movie?

Although it’s certainly not for kids (unless you plan on paying for their therapy for the next twenty years or so,) The Exorcist isn’t quite as scary as I thought (or maybe hoped) it might be. There’s something undeniably disturbing about seeing a child do the things Linda Blair does on screen, and I have to wonder where her parents were when she was being traumatized by this role. Drinking margaritas and gushing over their daughter’s newfound stardom? Anyway, while I have some moral issues with the production of this movie, the movie itself is a classic for a reason. It terrified generations of people, and still fucks with viewer’s heads to this very day. How many people can say that for their movie? Everybody should see this movie once in their lives, at least to see what all the hype is about. Or whatever. I still think The Shining is scarier.

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