Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2016 Blind Spot Series: The Exorcist



Directed by William Friedkin and written by William Peter Blatty that is based on the novel by the latter, The Exorcist is the story of a 12-year old girl who has been possessed by a demon as her mother calls upon two priests to save the girl. The film is a study into the concept of possession, evil, and what men must do to save the life of an innocent girl. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jason Miller, Mercedes McCambridge, Jack McGowran, and Max von Sydow. The Exorcist is a visceral and terrifying film from William Friedkin.

The film is a simple story of a girl who is possessed by a demon as she inhabits strange and destructive behaviors as her mother calls upon a priest to find out what is going on after doctors and scientists come to no conclusion. It’s a film that is about faith but also evil at its most diabolical where a girl is possessed by this demon where a troubled priest has to find out what he’s facing as he would call upon someone who is experienced with the idea of exorcism. William Peter Blatty’s screenplay is very complex in its approach to the narrative where it takes this simple premise and broaden it to create something grand and engaging. While the film is largely set in the Georgetown section of Washington D.C. where the actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is living for a film shoot as she has taken her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) to the production. The film begins in Iraq where an elderly priest in Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) is doing archeology work as he makes a chilling discovery that would set the tone for the entire film.

One of the unique aspects of the script is the strand of multiple narratives that are told as there is the story about Chris and her daughter Regan as the latter becomes possessed. Their narrative starts off as a normal story of a mother and daughter living in Georgetown with Chris being a normal mother despite her demanding profession. When Regan starts to feel sick and do strange thing, the story becomes more intense where Regan would eventually be possessed as the voice of this strange demon would emerge harming Regan and those who come close to her. Another part of the narrative involves a priest in Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) as a psychiatrist for a nearby church in Georgetown who has just lost his mother and blames himself where he would also lose his faith. Father Karras’ narrative would show a man unsure if he can do his duty as he is lost while he reluctantly helps Chris after meeting the police detective Lt. William F. Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) who investigates a murder nearby the MacNeil home.

Blatty’s script also succeeds in its structure where the second act is where Father Karras and Chris would meet as it play into the concept of exorcism. It’s where Father Karras would meet the possessed Regan for the first time as he is aware of what must be done but he’s also conflicted due to his lack of faith. The film’s third act is about the exorcism where Father Merrin comes in as he knows how to perform the exorcism. The climax that is about the exorcism is definitely intense as well as intriguing for the fact that these two priests are dealing with a little girl who is speaking the words of evil.

William Friedkin’s direction is definitely evocative in terms of the compositions and the mood he creates for these moments of terror and suspense. While much of the film is shot largely in Washington D.C. as the home where Regan and Chris live in is shot in New York City as some of its exteriors are also shot. The film begins with this beautiful sequence in Mosul, Iraq as it is an odd way to start a horror film but it does play into what Father Merrin would discover during a typical archeology find. What he sees would set the tone for what would come as the first ten minutes set in Iraq would then shift into Washington D.C. where everything is calm and straightforward at first. The usage of the wide and medium shots help play into the locations where Friedkin isn’t trying to establish certain locations but is more about playing into a city that is becoming haunted by strange events.

Friedkin’s approach to the suspense and horror is slow-building as well as be in unexpected moments such as the spider-crawl sequence as well as a moment where doctors try to treat Regan only to be baffled by what they saw. The moments of violence is quite intense as well as being very scary for some of the sequences where Regan, in her possessed state, would attack her own mother. Some of Friedkin’s compositions are ravishing for the way it displays the severity of the situation as it would come to ahead in this climatic third act where Father Merrin would make another appearance since the film’s opening sequence for this exorcism. The exorcism sequence goes on for a good 30 minutes as it has a lot going on as well as moments that are very scary as it play into the idea of good vs. evil and faith where the latter has Father Karras is still haunted by his own sins. What happens in this sequence isn’t about saving a girl’s life but what men would do to rid of evil from the world. Overall, Friedkin creates an intoxicating yet riveting film about priests trying to save a possessed young girl from the clutches of evil.

Cinematographer Owen Roizman does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography for the many interior lighting and shading for the scenes at the MacNeil house to some of the nighttime exteriors set in Washington D.C. as well as some of the daytime scenes with Billy Williams providing some beautiful photography for the scenes set in Iraq. Editors Norman Gay and Evan A. Lottman do amazing work with the editing as it has these unique rhythms that play into the suspense with some jump-cuts as well as some other stylish cuts that help create that sense of terror. Production designer Bill Malley, with set decorator Jerry Wunderlich and art director John Robert Lloyd, does excellent work with the look of the MacNeil home and its rooms as well as Regan‘s that include the bed when it shakes plus the homes and places of the other characters. Costume designer Joseph Fretwell III does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with the exception of the pea-stained nightgown of Regan that is filled with all sorts of crazy shit.

Makeup artist Dick Smith, with special effects makeup work by Rick Baker, does incredible work with the look of Regan in her possessed state as well as the look of Father Merrin as this elderly-looking priest. The sound work Robert Knudson and Chris Newman, with additional sound editing by Richard King and sound design by Steve Boeddeker for the 2000 re-release, is fantastic for the sound effects that are created as well as those eerie moments in Regan‘s room during the exorcism sequence. The film’s music soundtrack is this great mixture of ambient-based pieces as well as some classical music that is played in the background from composers like Krzysztof Penderecki and Anton Weber as well as cuts by Les Baxter and the film’s theme music by Mike Oldfield that is just one of the most chilling piece of music on film.

The casting by Louis DiGiaimo, Nessa Hyams, and Juliet Taylor is great as it feature some notable small roles from writer William Peter Blatty as an associate of the director on the film Chris is working on, Tito Vandis as Karras’ uncle, Vasiliki Maliaros as Karras’ ailing mother, Rudolf Schundler as Chris’ servant Karl, Gina Petrushka as Karl’s wife Willi, Barton Heyman as Dr. Klein who suggests that Regan gets some special help, Peter Masterson as a doctor in the clinic, and Father William O’Malley as Father Joseph Dyer as a priest who is a friend of Karras as he tries to make sense of what is going on. Jack MacGowran is superb as Chris’ director Burke Dennings as this guy that likes to drink where he would antagonize Karl and have a very dark encounter with Regan. Kitty Winn is terrific as Chris’ friend/personal assistant Sharon who helps Chris whatever she can as she would get a close look at the horror that is the possessed Regan. Lee J. Cobb is brilliant as Lt. William F. Kinderman as a detective who investigates a murder nearby the MacNeil home as he has some very keen observation as well as being an eccentric due to his love for films.

Linda Blair is amazing in her role as Regan as this innocent and playful 12-year old girl who becomes ravaged by her possession as she maintains this great sense of physicality and terror with Mercedes McCambrige providing some great voice work as the demon who possesses Regan. Jason Miller is excellent as Father Damien Karras as this troubled priest who had lost his faith where he tries to return to some normalcy only to see what happened to Regan as he does whatever he can to help her. Max von Sydow is remarkable in a small but crucial role as Father Lankester Merrin as a Catholic priest who sees the danger of a demon’s return as he would lead the exorcism to save Regan as it’s one of von Sydow’s defining performances. Finally, there’s Ellen Burstyn in a phenomenal performance as Chris MacNeil as Regan’s mother who is trying to make sense of what has happened to her daughter as it’s just this riveting performance of a woman calling upon whoever can save her daughter.

The Exorcist is an outstanding film from William Friedkin that features astounding performances from Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, and Lee J. Cobb. Along with a intriguing screenplay, gorgeous visuals, eerie music and sound effects, and moments that are definitely scary. The film is truly not just a standard for the genre of horror but it’s also one of the most daring and confrontational films about faith and the ideas of good vs. evil. In the end, The Exorcist is a magnificent film from William Friedkin.

William Friedkin Films: (Good Times) - (The Birthday Party) - (The Night They Raided Minsky’s) - (The Boys in the Band) - The French Connection - Sorcerer - (Brink’s Job) - Cruising - (Deal of the Century) - To Live and Die in L.A. - (Rampage (1987 film)) - (The Guardian (1990 film)) - (Blue Chips) - (Jailbreakers) - (Jade) - (12 Angry Men (1997 TV film)) - (Rules of Engagement) - (The Hunted (2003 film)) - Bug - Killer Joe

© thevoid99 2016

11 comments:

Sean said...

As you may know, I'm not generally a fan of horror movies. But I'm a buge fan of the Exorcist. You're right to heap praise on it. It's one of those rare movies where everything comes together perfectly. Great review!

keith71_98 said...

Fabulous review. I've always appreciated this film even though it has never been a horror favorite of mine. Its uncomfortable creepiness has certainly stood the test of time.

Brittani Burnham said...

I can't believe you hadn't seen this until now. This movie traumatized me when I was a kid, but I've grown to love it so much. Linda Blair was amazing, I wish she would've won the Oscar instead of Tatum ONeal (who was not supporting) Sure, she had the dubbed voice, but she still had to say all the lines in a different voice (there's a trailer with her speaking somewhere) and act all the scenes. Phenomenal performance from a 12 year old.

assholeswatchingmovies.com said...

This movie just gets to me!

thevoid99 said...

@Sean-Sometimes, the best horror films are the ones that manage to defy the genre and offer something more to a wide audience. This film is a prime example.

@keith71_98-There were some moments that did scare me as I was like "Oh fuck!" and some of it made me stop the film as I watching it on my laptop. That is part of the fun of horror movies and it's something I'm sure everyone loves to re-watch.

@Brittani-My mother saw it and never wants to see that or Rosemary's Baby ever again, then again she's still harped on her Catholic faith which is understandable. I always to see it but it was never on TV uncut and commercial free. I had to see it as a Blind Spot and it was the right choice. Linda Blair is awesome in this as it is a defining role.

@assholeswatchingmovies.com-I'm sure it does yet that is why it's so fun.

Wendell Ottley said...

This is the one film that I can say scared me. It's been many years since I watched it. I keep telling myself it's time to go back to it, but haven't mustered up the courage yet. Friedkin did a magnificent job with this one.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell-I don't blame you for not wanting to see this. My mother doesn't want to see it again. If a film like that has done a lot to make you so fucking scared that you don't want to see it again. Then it's done a hell of a job.

ruth said...

Oh my, this is the most terrifying films I've ever seen. THAT face of Regan still haunts me to this day. I don't think I could ever see this again. I remember listening to an interview w/ William Friedkin and he said he made this film because he's a believer, and perhaps that's why the faith theme is so compelling here.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-I don't blame you as well for not wanting to see it again. That is what makes a scary movie great. It's horror at its most visceral.

vinnieh said...

Excellently written review. I appreciated how the film developed the characters a lot, it really impressed me as some horror movies don't. The slow build up was evocatively done too.

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-Thank you. Character development and a reason to care for them is key to what makes a horror film successful as well as the need to take its time. This is why it's one of the definitive films of the genre.