SciFridays: “The Exorcist” (1973)

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Baddie – The devil, probably.

Lesson – Exorcisms can be effective but at high cost.

Of all of the movies I shamefully have not watched, The Exorcist is the one I’ve seen the most of, just not consecutively. It’s one of the most referenced movies of all time, and it’s basically the definition of exorcism horror.

To be honest with you all – I have mixed feelings about The Exorcist. I do, however, definitely feel very strongly about two things:

  1. There’s a good reason it’s one of the most important horror movies.
  2. It’s a messed up movie.

As far as I know, there are no significant exorcism movies pre-The Exorcist, and certainly none that approached the limits as much as this movie did. I should clarify that, as someone born in 1990 who consumes horror movies readily, I was not prepared for how uncomfortable this film would make me.

I’ve stated before that I was not a fan of demons/possessed people speaking in profanities for the sake of shock and awe (Evil Dead remake, that’s you). When I wrote that, I knew it stemmed from the likes of The Exorcist but, having not seen it, I didn’t know why that particular technique became a thing. Well let me tell you – it’s deeply perturbing. In the case of Regan, because it’s a twelve-year old girl, confronting the audience (and other characters) with sexuality in the form of obscene language is, like I said, perturbing. Accompanied with the chastity of priests, the religious context, and the occasional obscene gesture, it’s probably the most powerful thing in the movie. So I now revise my opinion slightly. 


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That pretty much explains the ‘messed up’ part of the movie, but in case you’re wondering, yes, there are other moments of super violence. However, I think The Exorcist gets most of its power from the pacing. One of the other things I was not expecting was how slow it is. Obviously, when it hits, it hits hard, but there are quieter moments of horror and simply quiet moments with no horror. As a contemporary viewer, I knew the possession was coming so I got some suspense out of waiting. I’m not sure how original movie-goers would have felt, but it definitely added, for me, tension.


Warner Bros.

I guess most of my confusion and/or ambivalence comes from the end. For me, a lot of character exposition got tossed out the window and then after that I was left just kind of just going…huh. Huh. Hmm. Roll credits.

Now, for me, the ‘scariest’ part of this movie is the angiogram, because medicine is terrifying. Other than that, though, there are not so many ‘scary’ moments. Tense moments, uncomfortable moments, but maybe not traditional jump-out-and-scare-you-fear-for-your-life moments. Then again, maybe exorcisms and/or possessions are really scary for you, so maybe this movie will scare you.

I can’t get through this review without talking prosthetics and special effects. They are amazing, particularly considering this movie is almost twice my age. Seriously great stuff – it would not be the same movie without them.

Ultimately, this movie makes me into one of those people who says things like, “You NEED to watch The Exorcist to understand horror.” because you really should. Particularly exorcism horror, true, but it’s just one of those movies that are referenced so often that if you include it in your horror repertoire you’ll have much greater context when you watch other movies.

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