The Exorcist (1973) dir. William Friedkin



The best thing that could ever happen to a horror film is to have a culture surrounding itself, to build up buzz and excitement. As a self-professed horror fanatic, experiencing the suspense of a whole culture surrounding a certain film is a pinnacle point for any fan of the genre. With that said, I am incredibly jealous of anyone able to experience the phenomenon that was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist back in ’73. Taking the cinema world by storm, The Exorcist, based on the book by William Peter Blatty (who also wrote the script), follows the story of an actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) who starts to notice that her 12-year-old daughter Regan (the unbeatable Linda Blair) is exhibiting uncharacteristic and incredibly strange behavior. Believing that Regan is possibly possessed by a demon, Chris hires two priests to investigate her case; Father Karras (Jason Miller), a young priest who starts to doubt his faith, and Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), an elderly priest who has personal ties to the current demonic depossession of Regan.

The setup is fairly simple, but the execution is anything but. What William Friedkin constructs with The Exorcist is nothing short of brilliance, creating a new level of horror that the world of 1973 had yet to see in the mainstream. Friedkin throws out whatever you would expect from a horror film; instead of making you jump out of your seat in fear, he makes you sink into it, in a constant dread of what is coming next. To achieve this effect, Friedkin decided that the build up is what makes the climax even more horrific, and he was right. The methods used in this film were very unique at the time; inserting horrific, half-a-second subliminal pictures laid out through the film that you could only catch if you paused at the right moment, keeping the shocking scenes few and far between, and the use of a very subtle yet incredibly effective soundtrack.

All these little tricks make the film subtly horrifying, but what makes The Exorcist work is the fact that it’s just simply a well-made film. Most horror films don’t worry about the quality of the acting or the direction, unfortunately, but Friedkin decided that the horror was only partial to the quality of this picture. Showcasing some incredible acting, especially from the likes of Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow, The Exorcist draws you in not with horror, but with the prospect of a very well made dramatic film. Only when the horrors get going does this film really showcase its duality of genres.


I could go on all day about just how great this film is (take my word that you should see it if you haven’t yet), but I couldn’t talk about The Exorcist without dabbling into the uniqueness of this cultural phenomenon and the making thereof. First of all, while Friedkin was a genius, his methods were questionable. For example, a lot of the reactions in the film are legitimate. From shooting a live gun on set to make everyone jump to actually bringing the room temperature to below Celsius, the ways to the mean in the making of this film were definitely unique to say the least, and worthy of a Wikipedia and IMDB trivia read one day.

Along with this, the movie opened to absolute hysteria. Reports of people fainting and going into fits in the theater, and interviews of shaken up people leaving their showings on the news. The film was unavoidable, and led to The Exorcist being a box office smash – becoming a rare instance where a horror film was nominated for best picture of that year. To call The Exorcist the greatest horror film of all time is definitely subjective, but it calling one of, if not the most important horror films of all time is not an understatement. If you love the genre in any way, this film should be essential viewing by now, so if you haven’t seen it, get on that.

The Exorcist
dir. William Friedkin
132 Min

Screens Saturday, 10/8, 11:30 @Coolidge Corner Theatre
Special introduction by members of the Talking Board Historical Society

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