Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

The Exorcist holds up even while intoxicated

By WILL KIRSCH | October 6, 2016

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GAGE SKIDMORE/cc-by-SA-2.0 Linda Blair’s iconic role in The Exorcist served as a launching pad for the then relatively unknown actress.

The Exorcist

It is probably fair to say that most people have some idea of what The Exorcist is and what it is about. However, if you have the mind of a tween and refuse to associate yourself with anything “old,” here is a brief plot. The film tells the story of a single mother and actress named Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) who, along with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair), personal assistant Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn) and a live-in maid and servant, are temporarily living in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. However the film does not begin with the introduction of main characters Chris and Regan.

The opening sequence follows Catholic priest Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) on an archeological expedition in Iraq (which was possible in 1973). Merrin finds a small bust of an unnamed demon, after which some bizarre things happen. So, naturally, he decides to take it back to the United States with him. Back in Georgetown and some amount of time later, bizarre things start to happen — shocking — in the MacNeil home.

Around this time Regan introduces Chris to “Captain Howdy,” a spirit with whom they communicate via Ouija board. Regan then falls ill and begins to behave strangely. Combine that with someone dying under mysterious circumstances while babysitting Regan and what you get is a justifiable case for possession.

Enter Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a triple threat of priest, counselor and psychiatrist. Karras is called upon by Chris to exorcise her daughter but is originally hesitant, believing that Regan merely has mental problems. Eventually though, Karras comes around and the real fun begins.

Fame aside, I was not as blown away by this movie as would be expected. It is scary to be sure. Very scary. However the plot is somewhat convoluted and unclear at points and lacks a certain amount of believable progression.

For instance why would an evil demon end up in the home of a family that has nothing to do with the Father Merrin, who found the statue? Maybe I missed something due to topical Friday-night circumstances, but to me this seemed a bit unrealistic. This may be ironic given that the entire movie is about something unrealistic.

Plot aside let me reassert that this is a really scary movie. Every single moment is more tense than the beginning of a middle school dance. That tension makes it all the more frightening when something does actually happen and that something will generally make your skin crawl. Honestly this movie made the devil so wholly terrifying that I am surprised it did not drive an entire generation to the faith. Seeing a little girl turn her head all the way around without moving her body while she threatens her mother in a raspy, demonic voice is kind of a lot.

This movie is made so tense by a few things: acting, cinematography, and sound. The acting is not particularly remarkable in any way, except maybe for Miller and von Sydow as Karras and Merrin, but the constant looks of distress maintained by nearly every character lets you know that things are not going to go well.

The cinematography and sound, on the other hand, are quite remarkable. Each shot is framed in such a way that you feel as if something is going to explode out of the background or appear around a corner. The sound, both the score and the real noise in the film, is equally terror-inducing.

There is an extended sequence where Regan is having medical tests run on her to find out what is wrong with her, and I would be lying if I told you the amplified sound of those machines did not make me scared to make eye contact with a doctor.

Those elements combined made watching this movie the most suspenseful thing that has happened to me since a very formative 15-minute event which took place near the end of high school. If you get that joke, please get back to me. I would like to congratulate you.

In addition to impressive sound and cinematography, The Exorcist had fairly impressive special effects considering that it is 43 years old. This might be because it did not rely on them too heavily, instead focusing more on the human drama aspect of the story. However, what effects there are seem more than enough to make the movie all the much more scary.

Overall, my opinion on this movie is not terribly relevant. Regardless of what I say, it still won two Academy Awards and was nominated for eight more, and it went down in history as one of the highest grossing films of all time.

Honestly though it was just fine — not particularly earth-shattering. Scary to be sure, but the plot was at times frustrating and incomplete. One could argue that my failure to follow the plot had more to do with my blood alcohol content than it did the film itself, but I am not so sure. Regardless you do not have to write a column, so I’m the one who has to deal with it.

Perhaps there is some degree of a moral to this review. If there is, it is something along the lines of, “Do not imbibe freely before watching one of the world’s most famous horror films because you will spend half the night wondering whether a demon is going to turn you into a ventriloquist puppet.” That, or maybe I am a bad critic. Anyway I would like to say a quick thanks to my friend Eduardo Romo for accompanying me on this journey. Te amo, Güey.

Overall Rating: 6.89/10


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