The Reel Deal with Missy & Molly ‘The Exorcist’: Still scary after almost 40 years

Missy Katner

Lumen Assistant Editor

&

Molly Grosskreutz

A&E Assistant Editor

As a nod to the recent Halloween holiday, we wanted to review some sort of horror film. After much dis­cussion and a few failed attempts at watching other films, we stumbled upon the 1973 classic “The Exorcist.”

William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” is a hugely popular horror film that has endured the test of time. Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is a rising actress who must pause her career in order to help her troubled daugh­ter Regan (Linda Blair) overcome a mysterious disorder. After medical treatment proves ineffective, Chris turns to a young priest (Max von Sy­dow) for help, who struggles with demons of his own.

MG: Let me start out by saying that it has taken me a good 10 years to work up the courage to watch this film in its entirety. Now that I have watched it (minus a few moments where I had to look away), I realize why it is regarded so highly.

MK: This was also my first view­ing of “The Exorcist.” I heard many claims that the movie produces insomnia, recurrent nightmares, fear of beds, etc. The hype seemed impossibly high. I expected a film similar to “The Shining” or “Silence of the Lambs.” Both are famously frightening, but come across as too dated and/or ridiculous to give me goosebumps. I was wrong.

MG: Few moments in film history are as iconic as the shaking bed or Regan’s 360-degree head turn, and that’s not all the demon inside Re­gan’s body is capable of doing! I was stunned by young Linda Blair’s performance throughout this movie. The seizing, the thrashing, the claw­ing, the whipping…poor Blair must have been exhausted after each and every take! And Blair is a master of contrast. She transitions seamlessly from ideal daughter to slime-spew­ing demon.

MK: I was shocked by her perfor­mance as well. I just don’t know how you could go on after demon possession—as a character and an actor. Judging by Blair’s film career, you don’t. Uncredited reporter in “Scream”? Poor Linda Blair indeed.

MG: That’s actually really sad to hear, but at least “The Exorcist” is still around. The only thing that dates “The Exorcist” is the cloth­ing choices. “The Exorcist” is not your modern horror movie. It has its fair share of gore and disturbing images, but I think its power lies in its pacing and expert storytelling rather than its special effects. I was surprised by how long the exposi­tion lasted and how few jumps and effects there were in the beginning, but the narrative was paced in a way that made the climactic exorcism at the end worth the wait.

MK: I’ve never been more stressed during a climactic scene—okay may­be excluding the final scene of “Back to the Future” when the DeLorean clunks out and Doc Brown can’t get the wires connected. Anyway, hor­ror flicks are usually brimming with cheap quick scares, but the “The Ex­orcist” slowly pulls you in. The first hour fools you into thinking “this isn’t scary at all.” It’s a very clever ruse—the intimate scenes of a par­ent tucking in her child provide a sort of realism that make the pos­session of young Regan all the more shocking. Every scene with the de­mon/Regan in the bedroom raises the stakes a little higher. But I agree. The two elements that set this movie apart from other horror films are the pacing and character establishment.

MG: Which leads me to the priest characters in this film. Since when do Catholic priests double as ar­chaeologists, psychiatrists, and ac­tion heroes? Father Merrin is an attractive young priest who could have been cast as Rocky Balboa, and in fact, he boxes as a hobby. I was amused by this unlikely juxtaposi­tion.

MK: Father Merrin might be one the most compelling protagonists I’ve seen in a while. The priest/psychia­trist/exorcist/ex-boxer worked for me. I thought he provided just the right amount of disbelief, strength, and compassion that the film need­ed.

MG: An unlikely yet memorable hero indeed. Certain aspects of the film were confusing. The film opens with an extended survey of an archaeological dig taking place in Iraq, during which some sort of idol is discovered. We never really dis­cover the relevance of this idol or of the opening scene in general. Also, I do not understand why Chris, Re­gan’s mother, is a movie actress. I do not think that subplot adds to the story in any way.

MK: Was the prologue useful? In my opinion, not really. I would have ap­preciated a tie-in to the archeologi­cal find, although the scene could be there to confuse us and make us con­template its meaning for 40 years. Brilliant…. But I think filmmakers who created a priest/psychiatrist/exorcist/ex-boxer character might apply the “why not” explanation to these questions. Why is the main character a famous actress living in Georgetown? Well, why not.

MG: Ha, I’ll go along with that. I felt a profound connection to Chris throughout the entire film. First, I thought her wardrobe was groovy, and second, I felt so bad for her! It is obvious that her daughter means more to her than anything else, and when Regan gets “sick,” Chris is profoundly distraught and shaken.

MK: Instead of deviating straight into the supernatural, the film chose to first view the possession through a modern lens. Chris’ initial refusal to accept exorcism is based purely on our current perception of truth. But deep down, she knows that the medical and psychological expla­nations of Regan’s behavior (“we believe it is a lesion of the temporal lobe”) are bunk. It is interesting to see science look obsolete and foolish with its loud clunky equipment. In comparison, the spiritual solution seems logical. Intentional or not, I think the smoking doctor was the cherry on the top.

MG: It’s been almost 40 years, and this film makes modern horror mov­ies seem like laughable wannabes in comparison. I think this film has endured because of its strong sto­rytelling. It does not rely on special effects to scare people, it uses good, old-fashioned tension and minimal­ism. The lack of computer-generat­ed effects was refreshing, and made this film an experience that felt more authentic.

MK: I’ll admit it—I have a prejudice against horror movies. I feel they are cheap and sometimes demented ways to get entertainment. All you need is one screaming blonde, 12 gallons of fake blood, and some nut with a video camera. “The Exorcist” reveals that this has not always been characteristic of the genre. It is artis­tic, mysterious, and chilling. With­out the extreme blood and gore, it achieved what a horror film is meant to do—scare the living daylights out of me.

Final Verdict

MG: Thumbs way up.

MK: Thumbs up.

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