If you believe Warner Bros.' marketing strategy, in 1973 the most frightening movie of all time was released. If you believe the overall grossing of the movie (adapted to inflation 2010: ca. 1.8 billion US-$), it is one of the most successful, if not the single most successful, horror movies of all time. And if you believe many critics, it is at least one of the smartest horror movies of all time, which was nominated for ten Academy Awards of which it won two. Whichever attribute you like to attach to 'The Exorcist', it undoubtedly remains a classic modern horror flick that is still able to convince in any terms after 40 years. William Peter Blattly wrote the original novel in 1971 – allegedly based on a true story of an exorcism that raised some attention in the 1940s in the USA. The task of turning this successful novel into a movie was taken on by William Friedkin who had already directed another popular movie, 'French Connection'. Without a doubt, Friedkin resorted to the use of (for that time) quite drastic shock effects in 'The Exorcist'. Possessed Regan vomits on priests, turns her head 360 degrees, and rams a crucifix into her bloody genitals – however, those partly quite simple effects are not the main cause for the movie's still enduring popularity (but might have been for its popularity at the time). The actual plot is much more complex and deals with the basic questions of faith. Basically, the main protagonist isn't Regan or her mother - least of all the demon – but Father Karras, who is suffering from a crisis of faith while feeling responsible for his mother's death. So it's no wonder that the controversy concerning the movie was, in the public opinion, about the shock effects, but the actual discussion was entirely about the content. Did the devil trick the priests? Did Father Karras choose his death in an altruistic effort? If he did so, didn't he go to hell for that? Or did the demon murder and throw him out the window? And what for? Was it just a cunning plot to gain two religious souls – he himself asked for Father Merrin – or did he just want to start trouble and shatter some belief in God, as Father Merrin presumed? Although, if this had been the cause, wouldn't that raise the question if the demon's existence were itself a proof of a God's existence – how could one shatter that? Whichever way one sees it, how one answers the questions, one thing remains sure: the movie is still able to entertain and inspire after 40 years.
This mainly is due to the slow pacing of the movie. Until the actual Exorcism about 90 minutes pass by. The thing the movie mainly is famous for doesn't happens until the last third of it. The presence of mistaken protagonist Max von Sydow as Father Merrin doesn't exceed 20 minutes. Friedkin weaves the story together with several fortunes, linked together quite cleverly. None of the stories seems to be the least bit neglected, be it the crisis of faith of Father Karras, Lt. Kinderman's investigation, Father Merrin's exorcism, the loving care of modern and independent mother Chris MacNeil, or the slow takeover of Regan by the demon. All these plots are based on each other and have their own focuses that could fill books. That basically is what lets the movie stand out. The exorcism or Regan's being possessed isn't necessarily the movie's focus but more of lead story around which the other characters are placed. Every single one of them is challenged and tested in his or her own way. When Father Karras is spraying possessed Regan with tap water pretending it were holy water, the demon plays along – in order to confuse. Karras, however, is sure that Regan isn't possessed but mentally disordered – because of her demonic reaction to tap water. Her mother, on the other hand, is sure that it's not Regan any more, but the demon, as a mother were able to feel and know that. This way, Friedkin deals with several aspects of the plot in a clever way. At the one hand, there is Father Karras, deeply shattered in his beliefs, disavowing possession as the demon's tool, on the other hand the open, successful, and independent mother returning to old views of faith in times of feminism – or being pushed to return to them. She is the only person knowing that this being can't possibly be Regan. With this, she accepts – maybe not knowingly – belief in the Devil. And therefore belief in God, too.
As already mentioned, those partly quite complex stories are put on screen by Friedkin in an experienced, quiet, and to the point. However, some switches between scenes are a bit rough. Another interesting thing is the music he chose – there is only one point in the movie where music that can be identified as score is used, thus a stylistic device. Only after about 15 minutes the by now legendary 'Tubular Bells' by Mike Oldfield can be heard. It's quite interesting that this happens after all the main characters have been introduced, just before the first signs of the upcoming horror can be seen. Such a passionate, slow directing which takes its time to introduce characters and build the story can seldom be found in movies of this genre nowadays. This is another reason to uphold this movie for what it is.
'The Exorcist' is still able to inspire after 40 years, even though the sands of time have left their traces on the 'scariest movie of all time' brand. But this is quite unimportant, as the movie doesn't get its significance from the shock effects but rather from the much more complex side stories.
This might be a reason for the somewhat early DVD and Blu-ray releases of 'The Exorcist'. However, the first Blu-ray release containing the Director's Cut has some things missing. There are no actual cuts to speak of, but in one scene two flashes are missing that were inserted in the Director's Cut in 2000. The following report will show this.
The Warner Bros. logo was renewed for the Blu-ray.
No runtime difference
The demon face is missing.
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A demon slightly appears next to the door.
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