Halloween Review – The Exorcist (Director’s Cut)

Once again we come to Halloween proper, and I have a review of a classic horror film that, through sheer oversight, hasn’t been reviewed here before – William Friedkin’s classic, The Exorcist.

Title: The Exorcist – Director’s Cut

Cast & Crew

Directed by William Friedkin
Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.

Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil
Max von Sydow as Father Merrin
Lee J. Cobb as Lt. Kinderman
Kitty Winn as Sharon
Jack MacGowran as Burke Dennings
Jason Miller as Father Karras
Linda Blair as Regan
William O’Malley as Father Dyer
Vasiliki Maliaros as Karras’ Mother
Mercedes McCambridge as Demon (voice)

Full cast and crew information available on IMDB

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Amazon.com.

The Premise

While in Georgetown shooting a film, Regan, the daughter of actress Chris McNeil, becomes apparently psychologically disturbed, apparently hallucinating a shaking bed, and experiencing behavioral changes. However, it becomes clear that something more sinister is at work. Meanwhile, priest Father Karras is undergoing a crisis of faith, and older priest Father Merrin returns to face an evil he fought once before.

High Points

Chris MacNeil’s desperation comes across as legit, both through Burstyn’s performance and Blatty’s writing. Additionally, the scenes where various medical tests are being performed on Regan look both legit, and disturbing. Additionally, the exorcism sequences are also well written and well performed.

Additionally, the film does a very good job of setting up Pazuzu’s slowly building influence. First the dogs fighting in the desert, then we see some children fighting in the waiting room of the hospital, and along with the rising tensions between Chris and her housekeepers and their guests. The film’s core and the use of subliminal Pazuzu-heads also does a very good job of keeping the audience on edge.

Low Points

The character of Lt. Kinderman serves no purpose, and causes the plot to drag. Arguably, he could be considered an audience perspective character. The problem is that we already have two with Chris McNeil and Father Karras. While Lt. Kinderman does play a role in the third film, the novel it was based on hadn’t been written when the film was made – and Kinderman appears in the original novel as well, and is just as insignificant a character there. The best that I can figure for his purpose in the story is that he serves as a further stressor on McNeil and Karras. He doesn’t work as a way of augmenting the sense of dread and foreboding that the desecration of the statue of the Virgin Mary or the scenes in Iraq do. Still, the character could be *ahem* exorcised from the book and the film without any ill effects.

Also, I’m not too fond with how the doctors are depicted in the film. In the novel, I got a sense that they were slowly becoming more and more out of their depth and recognizing this, but still attempting to be helpful – which ultimately leads to their referral to Father Karras. In the film they come across as cold, rigid and dogmatic, while members of the Church are depicted as warmer and more helpful. While I’m someone who was raised Catholic, and likes seeing the church depicted in a positive light, as opposed to a big Dark And Sinister Conspiracy, this still kind of rubbed me wrong.

Content Notes

No nudity to speak of, but massive amounts of profanity, and some blood, though most in the context of simulated medical procedures.

The Scores

Originality: This is an adaptation, though one that tones down the original significantly. In particular, the infamous “Let Jesus **** You!” scene was dramatically more disturbing and grotesque in the novel, and would likely have been illegal to film in any country. 4 out of 6.

Effects: Pretty well done for the time. While the green projectile vomit and the rotating head are the most commonly known special effects from the film, and are certainly the flashiest, the simulated spinal tap and other invasive medical tests shouldn’t be discounted and are probably far more significant, and more were likely more difficult to pull off. 5 out of 6.

Story: The story is excellently written, and even though the film is considerably toned down from the original, it does hold up, even on repeated viewings. 5 out of 6.

Acting: Mercedes McCambridge does a fantastic job as the voice of Pazuzu, and Linda Blair’s performance compliments McCambridge’s work excellently. As mentioned under the High Point, Burstyn’s performance as Chris nails the notes for a desperate parent, based on my prior experiences with desperate parents. 6 out of 6.

Production: The production quality here, from effects to sound design to the music is all excellent. In particular, every note of music, and just about every sound we here all helps to build tension in the film – especially in the sequences in Iraq. 5 out of 6.

Emotional Response: Emotionally, I felt a lot of empathy for Chris. Aside from that, the film does a good job of constructing a sense of dread and foreboding over the film’s total length. 5 out of 6.

Overall: This film is justifiably considered one of the best horror films of all time. More then that, I feel that it could be considered one of the best overall films of all time, and I would feel comfortable in saying that this is one of those films that everyone should see at least once. 6 out of 6.

In Total, the Director’s Cut of The Exorcist receives 36 out of 42.

One reply

  1. I’d have bumped production and possibly emotional response up to a 6– and I didn’t have anything like the reactions we were hearing about when the film first came out (and I was too young, of course, to see it).

    On another note, a fairly lengthy, detailed account of the true story behind the “True Story” behind the film can be found here (and following pages). It’s great reading, though it will disappoint non-skeptics.

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