Posted in Classics, Horror

A Look Back at the Horror – The Exorcist

Now this is where things start getting some creeps that send a shiver up your spine! The 1973 film The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty (first as a novel, then as a screenplay), is known today as one of the staples of horror in film.

We start off in the deserts of Northern Iraq where a Catholic priest by the name of Lankester Merrin stumble upon a couple of items that seem out of place: a small medallion with an inscription (part of it says “Saint John”) and the head of a carved figure, almost dog-like. Seeing these items leaves him unsettled. Maybe there’s some spooky witchcraft going on here? This suspicion is somewhat confirmed at the end of this opening sequence when Merrin finds a statue resembling a demon (and with a bit of research it appears to represent Pazuzu, a demon from Assyrian lore, though the film never explicitly states this).

After this we start to follow the story of Chris McNeil, and actress living in Washington D.C., and her 12-year-old daughter, Regan. Around this time Chis begins to hear strange noises in the attic, as if something is banging around violently. Coincidentally Regan has also been playing with a Ouija board, saying that she has been talking to spirits on her own. From this point on things begin to get weird in the McNeil household, like when during a party Regan comes down from her room, telling a man that he was going to “die up there,” then urinated on the floor. After the party, Chris puts Regan to bed, only to come back to her room to find the bed shaking violently of its own volition.

Next we are introduced to Father Damien Karras, a Catholic priest that works as a psychological councilor. Not only is Karras starting to lose his faith, but his elderly mother falls ill and is taken to a mental care hospital,blaming him for it (though he had nothing to do with it). A couple of days later his mother passes away, leaving Karras with an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Meanwhile Regan’s situation worsens. Chris tries to take Regan to medical professionals, but upon examination there seems to be nothing wrong with her physically or mentally. Eventually, one of the doctors says that perhaps Chris should try to call on priests to perform an Exorcism (there it is!). At this point Chris turns to Father Karras for help on getting an exorcism underway. At first Karras is skeptical, but over time he eventually brings up Regan’s case to the Catholic church.

When picking a priest to perform the exorcism, they find that there is only one that has had past experience with exorcising demons: Father Merrin. Merrin is called to D.C. and, with the assistance of Father Karras, the exorcism begins.

After watching this film I can see why The Exorcist is held as staple in horror. I must say though that I expected it to more…terrifying? Maybe that’s just me getting my hopes up, and the fact that I normally find myself more scared than others when it comes to horror. But that’s not to say that this film didn’t fit the horror genre. The happenings in this movie, while not what I would call truly horrifying, were definitely creepy and uncanny, especially as the film continues. While I may not have the best frame of reference in judging horror films, I’d say that The Exorcist falls on the milder side. If you are looking for something that won’t scare your pants off but still leave you creeped out, this is the one. And it definitely deserves the badge of a classic movie.

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