The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic possession of a young girl and her mother’s desperate attempts to win back her daughter through an exorcism conducted by two priests.
The movie stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow (Sleepless; Needful Things; The Night Visitor), Jason Miller, Linda Blair (Repossessed; The Chilling; Grotesque), and (in voice only) Mercedes McCambridge.
The Exorcist was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. on December 26, 1973. The film earned ten Academy Award nominations—winning two (Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay). It became one of the highest earning movies of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide. It is also the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture.
The film has had a significant influence on popular culture. It was named the scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and Movies.com and by viewers of AMC in 2006. Time Out (London) voted it the best horror film of all-time in 2016. In 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved as part of its National Film Registry.
In northern Iraq, the Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow), a Roman Catholic priest, is leading an archaeological dig when he discovers a small stone amulet. It resembles the statue of Pazuzu, a monstrous creature in the form of a human, bird of prey, scorpion and serpent. Already suffering from a serious, and potentially deadly, heart condition, Merrin then realises that Pazuzu, whom he had defeated years ago, has returned for revenge—and that their rematch will be a fight to his death.
In Georgetown, Washington, D.C., another priest, named Damien Karras (Jason Miller), apparently loses faith in God after he fails to cure his sick mother who dies in a mental hospital.
Elsewhere, movie actress Christine “Chris” McNeill (Ellen Burstyn), who is on location in Georgetown, notices that her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is acting strangely since having played with an ouija board. The symptoms include her using foul language, abnormally high strength, and causing her bed to shake.
Regan is given painful tests and x-rays, but they prove negative. Unbeknownst to both Chris and Dr. Klein (Barton Heyman), she is now possessed by Pazuzu, whom Regan had called “Captain Howdy”…
“Although harrowing, its effects depend entirely on technical manipulation, and with Friedkin’s pedestrian handling of background story and supporting characters, we’re left more or less willing the film towards its climax … It would all be forgiveable, somehow, if the film was at all likely to alter anyone’s perceptions one jot. But all The Exorcist does is take its audience for a ride, spewing it out the other end, shaken up but none the wiser.” CPE, Time Out (London)
“Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all? It’s hard to say. Even in the extremes of Friedkin’s vision there is still a feeling that this is, after all, cinematic escapism and not a confrontation with real life. There is a fine line to be drawn there, and “The Exorcist” finds it and stays a millimeter on this side.” RogerEbert.com, December 26, 1973
More recent reviews:
” …though it may be filled with rigorously examined ideas and wonderfully observed character moments, its primary concern is with shocking, scaring and, yes, horrifying its audience out of their wits – does mainstream cinema contain a more upsetting image than the crucifix scene? That it still succeeds, almost four decades later, is testament to Friedkin’s remarkable vision.” Tom Huddleston, Time Out (London)
Several versions of The Exorcist have been released: the 1979 theatrical re-issue was reconverted to 70mm, with its 1.75:1 ratio cropped to 2.20:1 to use all the available screen width that 70mm offers. This was also the first time the sound was remixed to six-channel Dolby Stereo sound. Almost all video versions feature this soundtrack.
On October 8th 2013, The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary Edition was released on Blu-ray. This includes:
Beyond Comprehension: William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist: 40 years after his novel was published, The Exorcist author, screenwriter and producer returns to where it all began. First stop is a cabin/guest house in the hills of Encino, California, where Blatty wrote the novel. The author visits the place for the first time in 40 years and shares not only memories of writing the book, but also discusses how it inspired him. We then meet Blatty in two key and iconic locations; Georgetown University where the film was shot, and at the now-famous Exorcist steps. Throughout, Blatty reads from his novel, including an excerpt from a chilling newly published passage.
Talk of the Devil: While at Georgetown University, William Peter Blatty heard about a true case of possession from Father Eugene Gallagher. At the time the film came out, the priest talked at length about exorcism, the true story and about Blatty; this footage is now available for the first time in many years. It is as revealing as it is shocking.
- Introduction by William Friedkin
- Two Audio Commentaries with William Friedkin
- Audio Commentary with William Peter Blatty
- The Fear of God: 25 Years of the Exorcist (1998 BBC Documentary)
- Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist
- The Exorcist Locations: Georgetown Then and Now
- Faces of Evil: The Different Versions of The Exorcist
- Interviews: The Original Cut, Stairway to Heaven, The Final Reckoning
- Sketches & Storyboards
- Original Ending
- Radio Spots
- TV Spots
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