In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d take the time to discuss what has been hailed by many as the best horror film of all time – The Exorcist!
Say what you will about it, you can’t deny that The Exorcist has stood the test of time and manages to scare people even today, without the need of our modern technology. People who went to see it at the cinema would pass out (with one man managing to break his jaw and sue Warner Brothers for it) or simply leave in disgust, something which many horror movies now consider a badge of honour. Indeed, The Exorcist could not be bought on video in the UK until 1999 when an uncut version was finally approved of. It is a film that is loved by Christian believers and Satanists alike – which is a phenomenal achievement in itself, if you think about it! Made in 1973, it was originally based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, which was widely considered ‘the most terrifying novel ever written’. The story was apparently based on a real life exorcism of a young boy, making the tale all the more chilling to read. William Peter Blatty went on to be the producer of the film version, with William Friedkin taking the role of director, and this turned out to be a winning combination.
On the surface, The Exorcist may appear to be just another bog-standard horror film, but in actual fact it is so much more than that. It explores the always controversial battle of science against religion, of ancient against modern, of mother against daughter. There are so many elements at play here which collide catastrophically together in the film, creating a story that no other movie has ever come close to replicating. Not only is it truly horrific to watch, but there is some food for thought offered too, which is a very rare occurrence in a horror film. Whilst it has been criticised by some as simply being a tool to frighten people back into religion, I believe that William Friekin’s touch of humour in the film adds the idea that beliefs should be suspended throughout the viewing of the film. People don’t have to really believe in demonic possession in order to find the thought of it a scary one!
The special effects used were so simple (for example, thick pea soup was used as vomit!) and yet still incredibly effective, and so I think that a lot of recent horror movies should take note of this. CGI isn’t necessarily the way to go! Little blood is used and instead the viewer is subjected to beds spinning out of control, and seeing a little girl having superhuman powers and an absurdly deep voice. Though this might not sound too scary, it is all very disturbing to watch. The part where Regan’s head spins round will remain with me forever, I reckon. A lot of work went into doing the make-up for the possessed Regan, and I really respect the fact that a lot of different ‘looks’ were tried before they settled on the one which we all know and love.
From this movie, perhaps it is Linda Blair who has gained the most fame from it – who could forget her vomiting, levitating, twisting, masturbating antics in The Exorcist? It took that one role to immediately elevate her to many horror-fans number one icon of the genre. She even stated herself that people continued to act terrified of her when she was out and about, something which she found most baffling as a young girl, especially as she didn’t even fully understand the implications of the vulgar things that she had to do in the film. Linda Blair received death threats from religious nuts who believed that the film ‘glorified Satan’ and so was issued bodyguards for six months after the films release. Whilst this outrage might sound utterly mad to our deeply sceptical generation, don’t forget that the world in the 1970’s was a very different place to where we are today. The Exorcist very much played with the fears that people had at that time and it is for this reason that it struck a chord with many viewers.
So, I wish everyone reading this a happy Halloween and I hope that you all take the time to see The Exorcist at some point – it is well worth it!