[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B003IHVKRY][/pullquote] Horror films are one of the most consistently popular genres in popular culture. There are slasher films like Friday the 13th, torture-porn like Saw and ˜found footage’ like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project. There are more low-budget horror films than almost any other, because the idea of being scared is an experience that we as a film-going audience seem to have an endless demand for. There’s something primal and visceral about watching something horrific and it really captures our imaginations. The 1970s was something of a golden era for horror, following on from the success of the Hammer Horror films and Hitchcock’s classic Psycho and, before the genre was dealt a blow with the ˜video nasties’ campaign, there was a renewed push to try and scare audiences with graphic and boundary-smashing content. The undisputed king of controversy was, and still remains, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
The story follows Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) who begins to behave in an unusual way. After seeing a series of psychiatrists and medical doctors, none of whom can help, Chris is convinced that she must be possessed. She turns to local catholic, Father Karras (Jason Miller), who is sceptical at first, but eventually approaches the church to perform an exorcism with aging Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow).
Upon release, The Exorcist became a sensation, taking huge receipts at the box office, fuelled by a marketing campaign and word of mouth that described the film as the most horrific and scary ever made. Warner Brothers cleverly refused to allow publication of images of Linda Blair when possessed, which created the idea that they were too horrific to be shown. There were reports of people fainting in the cinema and the general public hysteria surrounding the film, at the time unheard of, helped propel it into the cultural zeitgeist and establish it at the top of the horror genre.
˜The Filmologist’ Alexander Barahona says:
If the purpose of art is to stimulate subjective debate, then a film that can polarise the monolithic Catholic Church must be a masterpiece. Applauded as spiritual and loathed as blasphemous, The Exorcist‘s vision of diabolic terror is articulated so elegantly and ˜realistically’ that it defies its roots as a fictional novel; appearing more like an enactment of some dusty recording from an un-trodden corner of the Vatican archive. I only regret one thing about the film: I wasn’t around to appreciate the extraordinary degree of hysteria its release generated, a momentous resonance that’ll never be felt in film again.
The Exorcist has had an uneasy relationship with critics and viewers for years, with some arguing that it goes too far and that it represents the grotesque, not for entertainment, but rather for impact.
˜That Film Brat’ James Haves says:
When I first watched The Exorcist, my consistent thought throughout the film was ˜oh god, when is it going to end?’ Not in a painfully bad way, in an emotionally painful way. No film has caused more scares than The Exorcist. While widely regarded as one of (if not the) greatest horror films of all time, I just didn’t find it enjoyable. It caused levels of discomfort for me so intense that I had to pause the film every 30 minutes or so to gather myself. It may well be one of the best films ever made critically, but for me it simply wasn’t entertaining or enjoyable.
Whatever your opinion there can be no doubt of its quality. The levels of technical skill that go into the film are almost unparalleled in the horror genre (except for perhaps The Shining). It should be remembered that The Exorcist was nominated for ten and won two Oscars in the year of its release. Friedkin went to extraordinary lengths to get the realistic responses from his actors, including firing a gun on set and slapping Miller in the face in order to create a sombre mood from the actor. There were even reports of deaths linked to the filming, which created the myth that the film was cursed. As it turns out, the only death associated was of Jack MacGrowen (the film director in the early scene), who died of influenza.
From its obscure opening scene in Northern Iraq, to its Casablanca-inspired ending, The Exorcist ripples with tension and fear. Combined with Mike Oldfield’s haunting and memorable theme, Tubular Bells, every aspect of the film is incredible. Unlike many other horror films that break the tension with a nervous laugh or joke, The Exorcist cranks up the atmosphere of doom and foreboding, never once letting up as the horrific events unfold. Never afraid to push every boundary (the infamous crucifix scene) and delve into the bizarre (the spider walk) it does everything that a great horror should do and more.