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The Exorcist (1973)

I have spent so many years believing that I had seen The Exorcist. It wasn't until I sat down to watch this film recently that I realised I have only watched a mere 10 - 15% of this film, mostly consisting of the closing act. Over the years, I must have only come across enough snippets of the pivotal moments, leading me to believe I'd actually seen the film in its entirety. Now I have seen it, I can say it has definitely earnt its place amongst the greatest horror films in cinema. This is more than most of your modern day possession horrors and one that isn't reliant on jump scares and shock value. The story narrative is much more significant than I expected. The writing is suspenseful and creative, provoking questions and making the audience doubt if the authenticity of the girls experience. It is clear from the start that Regan is suffering from mental health issues and on medication for her erratic behaviour. With the added implications that Father Karras no longer believes, not only in the validity of Regan's possession but his faith in general, only enhances the plausibility of what we are seeing as an audience. Nothing is laid out in black and white, an art I find to be harder to find in modern day cinema, making it one of the strongest elements for me. There is no denying that this film is held up by the performance of the incredibly talented Linda Blair. What she does with this role (given that she was only 14 years old at the time of filming) is phenomenal. Seeing her character change from the sweet and innocent girl at the start of the film, into the demonically possessed monster towards the closing act makes it difficult to comprehend that this is one character with two personas, played by a single actress. The maturity this role demanded of her makes her performance all the more remarkable. For better or worse, this is a character that would forever go on to define her acting career and grant her the the best supporting actress nomination at the Oscars the following year. Although the spotlight has always been cast upon Blair's performance (and rightly so) the supporting cast deliver equally as compelling performances of their own. Most noticeably, Ellen Burstyn as Regan's Mother, Mrs MacNeil. Seeing the effects this ordeal has on her and the changes as a character she also undergoes is just as engaging as the arc of Regan herself. You can see how broken and desperate she becomes in the wake of these events and I think that is all down to the incredible performance by Burstyn. Another notable performance is from Jason Miller as Father Karras. He is broken and lost without purpose or direction and one of the more captivating subplots of the film for me. His failing faith is something I found as an atheist to be very intriguing. Featuring some of the most impactful special effects from the time of release, it is difficult not to appreciate the level of craftsmanship and artistry gone into bringing them to life. It's packed with effects work that I strongly believe holds up better than quite a lot of the CGI we see in some of the more modern horror films of today. From the simplicity of the heavily rocking and floating bed or green projectile vomiting, to the complete 180° turn of Regan's head - all of which I can imagine were terrifying to see on the big screen in 1973. Of all of these though, nothing was more impressive to me than the scene where we see the words "help me" appear on Regan's stomach as though she is trapped inside her own body, begging for release. This was all done with a latex body double and a chemical reaction, filmed, and then played in reverse (an art that is ever increasingly being replaced by CGI today to a much less impactful standard). For all the fear inducing elements of this films story and images of horror, nothing disturbed me more than the infamous scene involving Regan and a crucifix. This scene is so explicitly over the top and boundary pushing that it is not difficult to understand why this film was banned in so many countries for so many years. Not only is the subject matter so vulgar but the language used as this scene that plays out is genuinely shocking to listen to, even in the wake of today's standards. To think that this was performed by a 14 year old girl only enhances my discomfort when watching it unfold on screen. I genuinely believe a scene like this would struggle to make it into the final cut for a cinematic release today. I was pleased with how under played the final exorcism felt within the closing act of of this film. Having spent so much time questioning the authenticity of the possession itself, I personally feel that anything overly dimension breaking in these moments would have only undermined everything that had been so careful crafted narratively up until this point. The much more subtle approach that was taken still manages to leave room for that doubt to keep lingering in your mind as these events unfold. For as incredible as the make-up effects are in this film throughout, nothing puts the creative talent on show like the transition scene from Regan to Father Karras in this last act. I was amazed at how convincingly well this was done. There is so much more that I could discuss and give praise to this film for, from the outstanding cinematography, the inclusion of flash shots of pazuzu throughout, the incredible score and how minimal the use of the iconic Tubular Bells theme is played. The Exorcist is without question a masterpiece of cinema history, one that deserves every ounce of the love and the respect it receives. I say this as someone who firmly states that possession and haunting films are not for me. Considering this is an exorcism film, it felt more like a character study first and an exorcism film second. This not only still holds up today but proceeded to exceeded all of my expectations as a first time viewer.



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