“Scariest Film of All Time:” A Review of The Exorcist

For my column this month, I decided to watch the “scariest film of all time:” The Exorcist. Even though I consider myself a big horror fan, I have never watched the entire film from beginning to end. I have seen caught a few scenes here and there on TV, but that’s it. I know about the pea soup vomit, the spider walk, and the head spinning, so I was aware of the graphic nature of the horror — so, here’s your warning if you haven’t seen the movie, there will be spoilers.

I rented the extended director’s cut DVD copy from my library and as I checked out, the librarian gave me a bewildered look like, “Are you sure you want to watch this?” She warned me to cover my eyes and ears (haha). The librarian’s reaction actually made me more excited to watch it.

So, I settled in on a Sunday afternoon (I purposely watched it during the daytime). There were a lot of things in the movie I didn’t realize or expect: the movie starts in the Middle East. It also started very slowly for me. Maybe because I’m used to modern horror movies that start off with a dead body right away. It feels more like a drama, maybe like Silence of the Lambs (another movie I have not seen all the way through). I also did not realize the mother, Chris, was played by Ellen Burstyn and that her character was an actress. I enjoyed the lieutenant character, Kinderman (I wonder if that is a play on Kinder Man) and the doses of humor he supplied in such a dark movie.

Sometimes I found the scenes where Regan (Linda Blair) was still Regan more frightening than when she was using her demonic voice. For instance, when the psychiatrist asks her, “Is there someone inside you?” Regan says in a small, tired voice, “Sometimes.” That is probably my favorite line of dialogue from the movie, and such good acting from Linda here.

When we finally get to the exorcism scene in the end, I had expected it to go on for longer, but it probably only takes ten minutes.

Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is the older priest and a man of faith while Father Karras (Jason Miller) is going through a crisis of faith after the death of his mother. He asks Merrin, “Why this girl?” to which Merrin responds, “The point is to make us despair.” This line also summed up the movie for me because as we’re watching this movie, our hearts are breaking for both Chris and Regan. Sometimes we don’t understand why horrible things happen (especially to good/innocent people), but the point is to never give up. In the end, both Merrin and Karras didn’t, and they sacrificed their lives to save Regan.

After watching the entire movie, I realized I had seen or was at least aware of all the scary parts. The most horrifying for me was definitely the spinal testing scene in the hospital. I’m not saying I was disappointed or anything, but I was more impressed with the acting while watching the movie. I looked up the movie’s IMDB page, and I was surprised that this was Jason Miller’s first movie role. Linda Blair was great especially for all the stuff she had to go through physically and emotionally (and wearing all that make-up). I was surprised that they had hired an actress to do the demon’s voice. I for sure thought they had altered Linda’s voice. It was also one of the few horror movies to be nominated and win awards at the Oscars. I’m also curious to see what they left out of the original version versus the extended version I watched.

Did I think this was the scariest film of all time? Maybe, if I had watched it as a kid. But the themes of faith (and loss of faith) and love and sacrifice and the acting from the cast are what truly makes The Exorcist a classic horror movie.

2 Comments

  • Lane Robins October 31, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    And I still haven’t seen it! I’m glad for your take on it, because I think I really missed the window. It’s become such a pop culture touchstone that it would be hard to actually see it “pristine” if you know what I mean.

    Reply
  • Ron Edison November 1, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    I read the book first and really enjoyed it–enough that I slept with the lights on and piled other books on top of it to prevent the “evil” from leaking out when I wasn’t reading it. (I even considered sticking the book in the freezer.) The story was partly based on incidents we heard about in 8th grade from our Catholic school teacher and a TV documentary put out by the Lutheran Church. I didn’t see the movie until it had been out on video for a while and probably because I was familiar with the story, had read the book, and heard all the media buzz about the film, it didn’t impress me as much as expected.

    Reply

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