31 Nights of Horror - Halloween Night: The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist  is the only film that continues to frighten the holy spirit out of me. Nothing comes close to the terror this film persistently exhibits. It is the only film in my long experience as a horror movie fan that I can easily, without a moment's hesitation, label as pure evil. Just thinking and writing about this film is making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I think I'm going to go to church now to say a couple Hail Mary's.

I watched this film early on in my life when religion was introduced to me and I was sort of forming my own ideas about spirituality and organized religion. It was a crucial intersection of those very ideals and when this film was thrown in the midst of all that, it really shook me and created such a catalyst of fear within the dark recesses of my soul. No other film in this world makes me wane like The Exorcist  does.

The Exorcist  tells the classic story of the struggle between good and evil....light and darkness. The film focuses on a little girl named Regan, played ever so innocently by a young Linda Blair. It is the kind of role that stays with an actress and never lets her go. Blair has yet to escape the character of Regan and it has, both unfortunately and fortunately, defined her entire career.

The film is filled with such great actors. Ellen Burstyn is absolutely perfect in the role of actress Chris MacNeil, Regan's mother. She exhibits such panic and desperate horror that it is easy to feel what she feels when she finds out her 12 year-old daughter is possessed by the fuckin' devil. In fact, it is her acting that ultimately makes the film feel as desolate as it does.

The Exorcist   opens in the barren deserts of Northern Iraq, where an archeologist/priest named Father Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow) discovers an old amulet resembling a demon that he has fought many years ago named Pazuzu. It is a very eerie scene bleeding with foreshadowing. You realize that Merrin gets the sinking feeling that his fight with this particular demon is not over and that things are gonna get downright evil soon. 

The legendary Von Sydow (in old man makeup) plays the classic Father Merrin with such an iconic presence that he really feels like an old savior ready to do battle again with Pazuzu, alongside Jason Miller, who plays the equally classic Father Karras. Both priests represent the light fighting the darkness. Pazuzu, of course represents that darkness here and man, does the dude put on quite a disturbing show. I'm not sure if I should write anymore about this film for fear of evoking evil spirits into my domain.

My mother watched this film in the theater when she was pregnant with me....I think this may have something to do with the sheer unease I have for this crazy fucked up film. But, then again if you have scenes in your movie involving a young girl furiously jabbing a crucifix into her most sacred of orifices...then, perhaps the film is pretty goddamn disturbing on its own and perhaps it's not just my mother's film-viewing choices while carrying a child inside her that may have shaped my current state of panic for The Exorcist. Sure, one can make the argument that the film seems a bit silly in today's world of quality special FX. I mean, the film's FX was ground-breaking at the time and still, for the most part, holds up...but, I think the "silliness" has more to do with the fact that the film has been the subject of countless parodies...even by Linda Blair, herself. It may have lost some of its bite since it was first released back in 1973....however, when you watch the film under a more serious pretense there are certain elements that tend to creep under your skin and stay with you for quite awhile. Hell, there have even been reports of cast members and people being involved with the film claiming the film to be cursed. According to these claims, there were accounts of fires on set and deaths relating to this curse...but, who knows? Perhaps these occurrences were coincidence. 

Perhaps not.

It's a pretty scary film...not just for its subject matter, but it is also a competent story written from the imagination of William Peter Blatty. It has impeccable character development and deals with religion from many points of view. The strong monarch of religion ready to do battle with the forces of evil, the weak individual struggling with his own religious path and the normal everyday notion of family thrown into the massive grip of evil. All these elements under the masterful direction of William Friedkin make for a terrifying experience. And for this alone, the film is as relevant as ever in a society filled with broken faith and poisoned religious ideals. 

This is the one film on my list that I will not recommend watching by yourself in a dark place. Unless, of course, you want to invite the fuckin' devil over for some nachos and soul-taking. Personally, The Exorcist  is the one film that still scares me. I hardly ever watch it. Whenever I feel like revisiting it, for whatever reason, I usually talk myself out of it and end up watching the behind-the-scenes stuff...maybe to reassure myself that it is only a "movie".

The Exorcist  is a genuinely scary American masterpiece and it will not soon lose its place as number one on my 31 Nights of Horror list.

5 out of 5

Captain Howdy wishes you a Happy Halloween.

Thanks for reading our 31 Nights of Horror!