The Exorcist

Dir: William Friedkin, 1973

9/10

Exorcist

One of the most famous horror films of all time, Friedkin’s tale of demonic possession scared audiences all over the USA with its head spinning and vomiting.

Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is a 12 old girl on location with her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn).

The preteen finds an ouija board and plays with it, unwittingly releasing a demon which possesses her.

She begins to exhibit strange behaviour and paranormal occurrences happen, such as the bed shaking and what sounds like rats scurrying about in the attic.

The director of the film, Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), dies from being thrown from Regan’s bedroom on the top floor.Now a murder scene, Lieutenant Kinderman is around trying to find out what happened

With doctors unable to diagnose anything physically wrong with the girl, they recommend a priest perform an exorcism as a way of making her think the possession has left her.

Seeking help from Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest struggling with his faith, he reluctantly sees Regan.

After a couple of visits, Karras goes to the bishop to seek approval for an exorcism. They agree as long as it is performed by somebody who has experience of performing the holy ritual.

Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), goes to the MacNeil house and begins the exorcism.

For its time, the film was quite shocking. Linda Blair vomiting over Jason Miller and her head turning around 360 degrees, was enough to make audiences faint. But, only in America.

Written by William Peter Blatty, adapting from his own book, The Exorcist looks a little less convincing by today’s standards. It’s not scary anymore but that doesn’t stop it from it being good, solid entertainment.

Max Von Sydow is the star of the film. His portrayal of a priest, with a heart problem irreparably damaged by his previous exorcism, is one of fear and cynicism. Merrin knows what to expect and is aware that this could kill him.

Miller as the lost priest is very convincing as a man full of doubt. A psychiatrist, Karras is well aware of mental health issues rather than acts of god. He sees pain everywhere and can’t understand how a god could allow this to happen.

Blair is a little annoying as the prepossessed girl. However, once the demon starts to show itself, Blair knocks socks off, Miller and Burstyn.

The makeup is still genuinely unsettling. A horrific mask of cuts, contact lenses and bad teeth reveal a frightening face of Pazuzu, the demon possessing the scared child.

In England, the film didn’t have the same vociferous feedback as the States. The only concern the censors had was over the use of Regan saying “cunting” and sexually assaulting herself with a crucifix.

The producers were able to prove that, in the scene, it wasn’t Linda Blair but an adult stand in. With this in mind, the film was awarded an ‘X’ certificate, uncut.

In the early eighties, the film was released on the new video format by Warner Home Video.

exorcist-the-18275l
UK release on Betamax

A popular rental, the video did quite well until the dreaded Video Recordings Act 1984 came into force. The act stipulates that all home media must be approved by the BBFC.

Issued in America, and the majority of the rest of the world, the video hit a brick wall in Britain going by the name of James Ferman (yes, the very same dickhead).

Ferman felt that it was a very good film but, if it was released on video, impressionable young girls could watch it and be seriously harmed (see? I told you he was a dickhead).

The director of the board suffered from severe bouts of egotistical twatism with an overactive imagination.

So, overruling all the other examiners at the censorship body, Ferman informed Warner Bros. that a certificate would not be forthcoming.

Rather than have the stigma of it being banned, the distributors simply withdrew it from the classification process and removed the last of the stock from the shelves.

Over the years, Warner often communicated with Ferman about a possible release, even if it meant making cuts but nothing ever came of it.

However, in 1998, the film was remastered and re-released to theatres for its 25th anniversary. Again, it was passed uncut. But, Ferman had already made a point of saying that a video certificate would not be gi

In 1999, Ferman retired from the board and a new director was appointed, Andreas Whittam Smith.

Whittam-Smith was a lot more liberal and relaxed than his predecessor, and was more than happy to, finally, allow The Exorcist on video with an uncut ’18’ certificate.

exorcist '18' (2)
First ever certificated UK VHS release

The film did particularly well on its release at the cinema and sold well on video. In 2000, Friedkin prepared a new edit of the film, as a favour to Blatty. The novelist and screenwriter always had an issue with the the released version, feeling that Friedkin’s cut removed the most important elements of the story. Blatty frequently badgered Friedkin to release another version.

The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen was released to theatres and on video/DVD with around 12 mins of extra footage. The new footage included Regan’s infamous ‘spider walk’ scene in a slightly altered form.

exorcist the version you've never seen (2)
Poster for extended version

A pretty good film, it was spoilt by the added digital effects. This makes the film look amateurish.

All in all, if you’re going to watch it, and I highly recommend you do, then go for the original 1973 version. It’s a brilliant film.

 

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