Thursday, 3 November 2011
Movie Review: The Exorcist (1973)
One of the most disturbing films ever made, The Exorcist retains its ability to shock. William Friedkin's adaptation of the best-selling novel by William Peter Blatty preys on the darkest fear of every family: that a child can be lost to forces that are evil beyond comprehension.
At night, Chris starts to hear strange sounds inside the house. Regan starts to uncharacteristically mis-behave, and claims that her bed is being rocked violently. Regan becomes more irritable and difficult to handle; a battery of physical and psychological tests fail to reveal a cause. Chris' boyfriend, film director Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), dies in mysterious circumstances when looking after Regan, and is found at the bottom of the narrow staircase outside the house, his head rotated 180 degrees. With a dead body on his streets, Lieutenant Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) starts to investigate the strange goings-on around Regan, but he is unable to come up with answers.
Along with Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976), The Exorcist made the devil into a Hollywood celebrity, and the three films spawned numerous sequels and imitators. By placing a child in unimaginable physical distress and not flinching, The Exorcist made by far the biggest impact. While the devil was responsible for Regan's horror, the film pinched the nerve of panic that children can be lost to all-powerful external forces (drugs, crime, disease), and that the medical establishment can be utterly helpless. The church becomes the final resort, and desperate ancient rituals the path to salvation. The Exorcist can almost be blamed for setting the bar of disaster too high: anything that afflicts a child short of a demonic possession can't be too bad.
As the transformation of Regan is given time to develop, many scenes are dedicated to the back story of Father Karras. Losing his faith, losing his mother and racked by guilt, Karras is wondering what his purpose in life is. His journey to despair parallels Regan's descent to hell, and the two will meet when Karras realizes that he does have one more mission to fulfil. Jason Miller brings Karras to life with a deepening sadness behind his dark eyes, a man suffering his own version of a journey into blackness.
The Exorcist is a dark, brooding, and unrelenting trip to horror's deepest heart.
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