Posted October 5, 2010 by Alex Moss Editor in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

The Exorcist BR


Still the most terrifying horror film of all time spews itself onto Blu-Ray to nightmare inducing effect.

Still the most terrifying horror film of all time spews itself onto Blu-Ray to nightmare inducing effect.

When it was released in 1973, The Exorcist was shocking, in almost
every way. Here was a film that horrified with its content, a young girl
spouting language that would make your grandmother turn in her grave,
in such a way that paramedics were often on location at screenings to
help those through the trauma. Telling people this was only a movie was undermined by the ‘based on actual events’ tagline. Where
it truly stunned was in its ability to take a genre, horror, and
elevate it above what it was known for. This was no exploitation
scandal-fest. Here was a film that was so well executed it found a way
to transcend the horror label and went onto be nominated for a
staggering 10 Oscars.

Chris McNeil (Burstyn) is a famous actress currently working on a film in Georgetown. Having set up home with her 12-year-old daughter Regan (Blair),
she begins to notice unusual events happening in her house. Soon her
daughter is displaying signs of psychosis while the police investigate
the strange death of McNeil’s director. When both psychologists and
doctors fail to determine what is wrong with Regan, McNeil turns to her
last hope, Father Damien Karras (Miller) to perform an exorcism. Karras though is having a crisis of faith and so calls upon a specialist in the ritual Father Merrin (von Sydow) to help.

The Exorcist is a film that lives long in the memory for many
reasons. The images of Regan gradually descending into the realms of
demonhood, father Karras desperately trying to vanquish the image of his
dying mother from his mind, McNeil’s helpless frustration at not being
able to help her daughter and all this before the themes of religion
versus science have been addressed. It is a film whose tapestry is so rich in ideas it is amazing it all fits into one film. And yet it does, without ever pandering or hanging about.

Adapted from his own book, William Peter Blatty’s script has
the brilliance to use simple ideas to convey shear terror. It is crucial
that all of the horrors take place in the home. What is seen as a
sanctuary for us becomes the location for the most nightmare inducing
events fathomable. That the demon possessing Regan uses her bedroom
window as a gateway in and out of the McNeil’s world is like having a
well-lubricated eel wriggle its way into your very ideals of security
.
Friedkin knew this all too well and it is no coincidence that the most
iconic image of the film, possibly one of cinema’s as well, is that
eerie shot of fog, flood lit spilling from the window onto the
silhouetted image of Father Merrin.

What sets it apart from all other horrors though is its ability to
combine all these concepts while never losing sight of the need to
unsettle. William Friedkin, who had subverted the cop genre so superbly in The French Connection
(1971), instinctively knew how to niggle at the audience. His use of
sound is a perfect example of how to keep the viewer in a state of
apprehension. Almost every scene opens or closes with a crescendo of
noise. A silence is always followed by a crashing of sound, what makes
it so effective is that it goes almost unnoticed but retains the fear of
the unknown. It is no surprise that Knudson and Newman won the Oscar for Best Sound.
Like the malevolent force within Regan, Friedkin’s noise is always on
hand to aggravate our worst fears. What is imperative though is that his
direction is subtle, often understated but slowly drawing you into
something sinister and horrendous. A slow steady shot following Chris
around the attic is all the more powerful for its ‘less is more
approach’.

Much of the unease is effective through the performances on display
convincing us of the horrors they witness. Linda Blair is agonisingly
cute as Regan, all apple pie smile and dimples. This is what makes her
transformation all the more disturbing, that she can go from such a
sweet child to a creature so hell-bent (sorry) on violence and death is
terrifying to witness. To achieve this at such a young age, she was 13 years old when filming, is remarkable, that she was never scarred by the event is even more so.

The same cannot be said of Ellen Burstyn, who claims she suffered
spinal injuries at the hands of Friedkin’s unorthodox direction.
However, the results are mesmerising for Burstyn is stunning as Chris.
Her confidence at the beginning to the utterly broken woman she becomes
is heartbreaking to behold. As Merrin, von Sydow, who was actually only
ten years older than his apprentice in the film, brings a frail delicacy
to the part. From the opening moments of his dig in Iraq you always
suspect this man has an inner strength and a powerful insight into a
greater knowledge, he is as close to a Jedi, without a light sabre, as
is possible to be.

The film though lives and dies by the performance of Jason Miller. It
is Farther Karras who is the lynchpin of the film, he who must overcome
his loss of faith and cast the devil out. Miller is powerful in his
restraint. Despite everything his character goes through he maintains a
tough exterior but one that has an ever present warmth. Witness the way
in which he coaxes the demon upon his first meeting, it is done with a
smile, one that projects humour and malice all at one. That he, Blair
and Burstyn were all nominated in actor categories that year shows how
important their performances are to the film.

The opening of The Exorcist, before a single image has been seen, is
the Muslim call to prayer, perhaps the film is intended to do the same.
While on the surface it may look bleak, the end suggests the importance
of faith in an otherwise dark existence. Based on this alone the power
of Friedkin compels you to witness The Exorcist in stunning Blu-Ray to
appreciate the best horror film ever made in all its glory. Just remember that like the devil Friedkin “will mix lies with the truth”.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com