The Exorcist

Can a film nearly thirty years old stand merit a re-release and earn as much acclaim as it did the first time around? If the film is The Exorcist is can. Back in 1973, The Exorcist was a sensation. It broke box office records and scared the crap out of audiences. It was shocking and profane and unlike much of what was out there. In today's marketplace, other movies are shocking and profane. However, they tend to substitute any sense of a story with excessive gore, thinking a high body count can keep people interested. The Exorcist excels above the others by creating an incredible sense of tension and anxiety. This time around, The Exorcist has remastered sound and eleven extra minutes, originally excised from the film.

Director William Friedkin (Jade, Rules of Engagement) originally wanted to make a two-hour movie. He took out the parts to make the story flow better. Over the past three decades, author William Peter Blatty and Friedkin had a friendly disagreement until Friedkin finally relented. This extra footage includes an expanded ending, some more exposition, and the infamous spider-walking scene. But it is not the spider-walking scene that is truly creepy, it is what happens right after it. Aside from the new footage, some of the old footage remains classic. Especially the appearance of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow). He exits the car and looks up at the house, with fog ominously rolling in. His body is outlined in the street light. The next scene shows the door opening, and his outline in the doorway. Some of the extra dialogues supposedly makes the film more spiritual, but this will fly over the heads of most people.

The story is familiar (come on, it is thirty years old). Regan (Linda Blair, Scream, Famous) is possessed. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream, The Yards) enlists the help of Father Karras (Jason Miller, Trance, Rudy). Karras is the priest at Georgetown, and is reeling with guilt over the death of his mother. Karras gets Merrin (von Sydow, Snow Falling on Cedars, What Dreams May Come), a priest who conducted an exorcism years ago, to help. What is interesting to note is that the actual exorcism doesn't begin until a little after the halfway point in the movie. So much of the beginning is with Chris, trying to figure out what is wrong with her daughter. The exorcism is a last ditch effort. She is a worried mother exhausting every possible avenue. Friedkin starts slowly. Little things that seem out of place happen first, then slowly things begin to escalate. What begins as nervous laughter amongst the audience disappears into complete silence. He is a master at slowly ratcheting up the tension and discomfort until it nearly becomes unbearable.

It doesn't even matter that the special effects aren't great. Scenes of Blair floating above the bed and thrashing about possessed are effective. Mercedes McCambridge is excellent as the voice of a possessed Regan. Other scenes with Regan's infamous projectile vomiting and head twisting, taken separately, look cheesy. But taken in context with the intensity of the scene, it just doesn't matter. The vast majority of the movie audience skews toward a younger crowd. Just look at the abundance of teen oriented movies playing. Most of the people who go to movies were not alive when The Exorcist came out. If they saw it at all, it was on video. Now, the have the chance to see it on the big screen, in the dark. Aside from some horribly outdated clothes, the movie holds up remarkably well.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, 11 minutes, Rated R for strong language and disturbing images.

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