Every genre of film has the proverbial “measuring stick”, a film that all other films in that genre are measured by. Action movies have Die Hard, science fiction has The Matrix, and gangster movies have Goodfellas. Long deemed as “the scariest movie ever made”, The Exorcist is the longstanding measuring stick of the horror genre.
Released in 1973, a day and age with limited and vague movie ratings, this film kicked up quite a stir in the world. Reports of moviegoers fainting, vomiting, heart attacks and even miscarriages started to spread throughout the world. Many places sought to have the film banned for its obscene and sometimes blasphemous imagery. Many critics and concerned folk believed the film should have been given an X rating for how shocking its imagery was.
Despite the controversy (and maybe even in thanks to it), the movie spread like wildfire. While the studio expected it to underperform thanks in part to the film going severely over budget and containing little-known actors, the film quickly sold out hundreds of theaters and forced the studio to give it a wider release. People couldn’t get enough of it, often waiting in line for hours in the cold just to see it another time. All the publicity and attention eventually paid off, as the film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and became the highest grossing R-rated movie for decades.
The movie’s content was the only thing scary about the film, as The Exorcist is heavily regarded as one of the most cursed movies of all time thanks in part to misfortune the cast and crew experienced while on set. Here’s just a few occurrences that led many to believe the film was cursed:
- The set for the house was destroyed in a fire, delaying filming. Suspiciously, Reagan’s room was untouched by the fire.
- Several actors suffered injuries while on set. Ellen Burstyn, who portrays Regan’s mother, Chris, suffered an injury that still plagues her to this day when she was thrown to the ground by a possessed Reagan. Speaking of Reagan, Linda Blair was thrown from her shaking bed, injuring her back.
- There were a total of 9 deaths that occurred during production that were connected to those who worked on the film. Actors Jack MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros, whose characters died in the movie, passed away while the film was in post production. Several family members of actors also died while the film was still in production.
- Mercedes McCambridge, the voice of the demon Pazuzu that possesses Reagan, lost her son after he killed his wife and children, ending his own life in the process.
So yeah, there’s a lot of history to this film, but how does it hold up all these years later?
Is it the scariest movie of all time? Probably not.
Is it still one of the best made horror movies ever made? Oh hell yes.
The plot is simple: A young girl is possessed by a demon and a pair of priests must exercise the demon from her body. This film laid the groundwork for all those possession movies that would be released in the following years, claiming to be “the next Exorcist”. Despite the numerous attempts, I still find this to be the best take on the exorcism genre. The tone is so hauntingly dread-filled and gothic in an almost beautiful way. Most of this is in due part to the incredible directing and tantalizing soundtrack (I’m a firm believer that the “Exorcist theme” is one of the most chilling horror themes out there). The film takes its time before getting to the good stuff, slowly instilling the sense that something is about to go wrong from the very first scene.
Where the film really produces its true horror is through the performance of Linda Blair as Reagan, who was only 14 at the time. Blair’s performance has gone down as one of the most impressive and terrifying performances in history, and for good reason. The shift from cute, innocent girl to monster proclaiming to be the Devil is truly shocking to see. The horrible acts Reagan commits throughout the film are heightened by the fact that Blair was behind all of them, from acts of violence to doing unsavory things with a crucifix. It’s a performance that has and will continue to stand the test of time for it’s raw, unapologetic perversion of an innocent soul.
Alongside Blair are additional powerful performances from Jason Miller and Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn portrays Chris, Reagan’s mother, who depressingly begins to break down as her daughter continues to fall deeper into the hands of the demon. Her performance can be quite heart-wrenching to watch, as she’s willing to do whatever she must for her daughter and refuses to be be undermined by doctors. It’s a feeling many have experienced before, trying to get someone to believe you and being told it’s not as big of a deal as you think.
Jason Miller‘s Father Karras explores the other theme of the film: conflictions with one’s faith. Karras is a seasoned priest who is slowly starting to lose his faith as he is plagued by more misfortune, including his elderly mother being admitted to an elder institution. The true test of his faith comes when he is tasked to assist in the exorcism of Reagan. The idea that the only thing that could possibly save an innocent little girl is the same thing you’ve been doubting yourself about is a compelling piece of narrative that really stuck with me.
I’m a firm believer that special effects will always look better practically than digitally, and this film is proof of why. Even nearly 50 years later, the practical effects on display are equally impressive and disturbing. The makeup used for Reagan’s transformation into a full blown demon has made her face an icon of internet jump scares (we all remember The Maze Game). Additional animatronics and mechanisms such as Reagan’s shaking bed and her rotating head still look believable to this day. The one stunt that takes the cake for me, however, is Reagan’s spiderwalk down the stairs with a mouthful of blood. This scene, removed from the original version but later added to the director’s cut, comes out of nowhere and freaked the hell out me when I first saw it. The distortion of the human body is something that has always creeped me out, and never has been on better display than this scene.
So, while I don’t believe The Exorcist is jump out of your seat scary nowadays, I still find it to be one of the most impressively constructed horror film of all time. Although it takes a bit to really get going, I found the narrative to be thoroughly engaging, the effects to be incredibly impressive, and the performances to be undeniably affective in both scary and emotional scenes. It deserves its place in the annals of history, and should deserve a place on your television this Halloween season.
I promise you this drink is a lot better than the name implies.
We all know that scene from The Exorcist, where poor possessed Reagan hoses Father Karras with a stream of slimy green goop. For whatever reason my dumb brain had the thought “how can I make that into a drink?”. Well, I believe I have a recipe for you that justifies such an idea.
If you’re a fan of frozen margaritas you’ll find a lot to like in this. The tequila and lime are your staples, but we’re also throwing in some frozen mango for extra texture and juiciness, as well as mint leaves for added freshness. This drink wouldn’t be a stranger poolside or at a beach bar, so be sure to come back to this one when the sun is beating down on you.
- 2 shots tequila
- 1 shot of lime juice
- 1/4 cup of frozen mango chunks
- 1/4 cup of mint leaves (additional leaves for garnish)
- 1 cup of ice
- Coarse salt
- Prepare your glass by running a lime wedge over the rim and coating it with salt.
- In a blender, add your tequila, lime, mango and mint, then blend to combine.
- Add the ice and blend until slushy.
- Pour into prepared glass and garnish with mint leaves.