Note: This review is based on the 2000 cut of the film more commonly referred to as “The Version You’ve Never Seen Before”.
The Exorcist is a horror film from a time when movie-makers expected a little more patience from their audience. Back then, you had to pay attention through torturous minutes of boring sequences, such as that dreadful concept known as “character development”, with nary an explosion in sight. Yet those willing to subject themselves to an hour’s worth of story progression, plot set-up and tension-building are rewarded with a stellar second half which almost feels like a completely different film.
After an archeological dig out in the Middle East, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) discovers the Devil has come to Earth. Back in Washington DC, a young girl named Regan (Linda Blair) is acting rather strangely, spending large amounts of time with her imaginary friend, Captain Howdy, and developing a very volatile temper. Her condition worsens rapidly and soon Regan, claiming to be the embodiment of the Devil, becomes a danger to herself and others. Regan’s Mother turns to Father Karras (Jason Miller), a Catholic priest who has been questioning his own faith, to exorcise her daughter. Father Karras and Father Merrin work together to try and drive the evil force from Regan, but the Devil won’t leave without a fight.
Possibly the one complaint I hear most frequently about this film is “It’s boring”. I suppose it all depends on your attention span, but I’d sooner classify the film as “slow”, and that’s only in regards to the first half. Today’s audience, at least the younger set, have a rough time sitting through movies that don’t have at least one explosion every 10 minutes followed by bullet-time effects and catchy one-liners, so they watch movies like “Exorcist: the Beginning”, instead. The original Exorcist just doesn’t stand a chance with the hordes of Paul Anderson and Uwe Boll-fanatics out there. I will admit, though, that this movie starts off very sluggishly, and when I was a kid, (elementary school) I didn’t make it all the way through the first time I rented the movie (or, that is, the first time my Mom rented it for me). Never-the-less, for those of you without ADD that manage to suffer through the film’s “boring” half, you’re treated to a very intense and frightening look at demonic possession.
Regan’s possession is what people remember best about the film (obviously), and rightfully so, as it is extremely memorable for how sick and disturbing it can be. Seeing a 10 year old girl masturbating with a cross until she’s a bloody mess, telling a priest what his Mother is doing in Hell or spinning her head around in circles and puking up green slime…it’s not the sort of thing you’re soon to forget.
The special effects range from minimalist to “in your face” and they all work perfectly. To achieve the icy breath of Regan’s freezing-cold bedroom, they actually hooked refrigeration units up to the room to lower the temperature. The “spider-walk” scene was done by a gymnast dressed to look like Regan and the way she contorts her body is very unearthly. And, of course, there’s the spinning head and the green puke.
Despite being “boring” by some people’s standards, the Exorcist is a fantastic film with lots of disturbing imagery and a very strong finish. I give it an A. Also, if you’re ever in DC for any reason, I recommend you visit the infamous staircase. It’s just as creepy in real life as it is in the film.