The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is a cultural behemoth. It’s my twenty-ninth film in this year’s #31DaysOfHorror, and I’m feeling horror fatigue. The film has a weighty reputation — I’d seen clips on television, of Regan vomiting on Father Karras, and turning her head fully around, and I remembered the opening sequence in Iraq, probably from the DVD I bought but never watched to the end. I can’t remember why I didn’t watch it to the end.

It’s an astonishing film and deserves the plaudits. As I watched, the question that kept coming up in my mind was, why Regan? Father Karras asks Father Merrin that question directly, in a scene that is cut from the theatrical release. Merrin replies the point is to make humans despair and believe they are not worthy of God’s love. This is a little disingenuous. At the start of the film, Merrin uncovers relics and objects from an archaeological dig, including an image of the demon, and a catholic medal. He heads back to America, saying there is something he has to do. Later, when Karras plays the recording of Regan’s voices backwards, the demon says, ’Fear the priest. Merrin!’. This is before Father Merrin knows anything about Regan. It implies the demon has been exorcised by Merrin before, and we wonder if Merrin’s digging for relics somehow caused Regan’s possession.

These rabbit holes aside, for me this is Regan’s mother’s film. Ellen Burstyn is magnificent as Chris MacNeil. Some of the most affecting scenes are when we see her rage and fight for her daughter’s life, as well as despair and grieve for what her daughter has become. On a lighter note, when Kinderman, the detective, is trying to get Father Karras to help with his investigation (mainly by being creepy, threatening and odd), there is some high quality tennis happening on the courts behind them. I enjoyed that. That’s the power of a 4K restoration for you.

Letterboxd: The Exorcist (1973), dir. William Friedkin.

Wikipedia: The Exorcist