1973

Film #300: The Exorcist (1973)

As I’ve previously discussed in other posts, comedy was a genre that was being sparsely represented at the Oscars in the 1970s. One genre that has rarely had a look in during any of the decades is that of horror which has hardly featured in the last 85 years. In fact it took over forty years for a horror film to garner a nod at the Academy Awards but the film that was given the nomination certainly deserved it.

That film in question was The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s version of William Peter Blatty’s story. The Exorcist is one of those films that I don’t really want to write a plot summary for as I feel a lot of people already know it. But the main bulk of the film is based around actress Chris MacNeill who gets increasingly worried about the behaviour of her twelve year old daughter Reagan. She believes that Reagan’s mood swings and uncharacteristic behaviour is due to psychological problems. But in fact her daughter has become possessed by an evil spirit which found its way into their house. Although Reagan’s possession and the famous exorcism scenes are what made the film well-known, I feel that this The Exorcist is more about the journey of young priest Damien Karras. Karras, who is both a priest and a psychiatrist struggles with his faith throughout the course of the film and this story comes to a head following the death of his mother. It’s his idea to go through with the exorcism and he ultimately becomes the hero of the tale. Perhaps the film’s more memorable priest is Lankester Merrin, who is the exorcist of the title, but he only appears briefly at the start and finish of the movie. Indeed one of the great things about The Exorcist is the way in which the tension and horror are built up so all of the pivotal characters are involved in the final exorcism scene. Friedkin brilliantly builds up the tension throughout the film, making you question for ages what the problem with Reagan actually is. The interconnecting stories featuring the MacNeils and Damien then come to a head in possibly one of the most famous horror sequences of all time.

From the lighting to Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ sequence every part of the film process is used to full effect and I’m personally still freaked out by certain scenes every time I watch The Exorcist. The four central cast members are all fantastic most notably Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow as Karras and Merrin. Doing my research for this post it turned out that the original casting plans could have seen Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando take on the roles. I do feel this would have been a mistake and The Exorcist actually benefited from having a lack of familiar faces. Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair meanwhile are fantastic as the down-to-earth family who are inflicted by an evil demon. Blair in particular should be praised for her Oscar-nominated performance and I do feel she should have won the award. For a horror film, I think The Exorcist did particularly well at the Oscars picking up ten nominations including nods for Miller, Blair, Burstyn and Friedkin. Meanwhile, William J Blatty won for his incredibly tense adapted screenplay which kept me hooked throughout. Whilst The Exorcist also won the award for Sound Editing, I do feel that it should have won more. In fact I would go as far as to say that The Exorcist should have won the Best Picture prize primarily for the good work it did promoting the horror genre as a whole.

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