I was too young to see this film when it first came out and even after I was old enough to see it, I still couldn’t see it because it always came on TV as a late night broadcast and I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late. Even after both of those restrictions ceased, I still couldn’t see it because we’re talking about the days before the internet and DVDs. This was the time of the video store rental and even though it was probably in stock, we didn’t have a VCR (I don’t the think the town I lived in (read: village) even had a video store and if it did, it only has the latest Hollywood hits).
I saw bits and pieces of The Exorcist on TV, but never really saw the whole thing through to the end until I became thoroughly interested in film many years later. Most of the film for me was lore: ‘it’s horrifying!’ or ‘that scene where she spits out pea soup’ or ‘the scene where her head spins around’. That was my level of seeing the actual film.
After I saw the film, I saw it as it was supposed to be seen – not as a horror film, but as a piece of cinematic greatness. This is one of the most intelligent screenplays ever written. Screenwriter/novelist/producer William Peter Blatty has created a perfect adaptation of his book. Often, a novelist is thoroughly untrained as a screenwriter and upon attempting to adapt their novel into a film, it gets bogged down in detail. This is not one of those cases. Director William Friedkin crafts a close-to-perfect film. You get a real sense of the art he wants to make when listening to his commentary. He gives a very convincing argument that the film is art and not horror.
The editing is so crisp and even that the film is perfectly seamless. In fact, the editing is so perfect that it takes the place of music in the film. There is such a lack of music in this film that it’s absence heightens the chill factor. The only real place where you hear it is when Ellen Burstyn’s character is walking down the street and the Tubular Bells theme accompanies her. Brilliant. I have always been a fan of the ‘less is more’ style of film making. You can say so much with silence. Here, the lack of music, the swift editing and the camera movements say so much more than pea soup.
The Exorcist has that incredible 1970s vibe/feeling that I love. It’s hard to explain. Taxi Driver has it. Dog Day Afternoon has it, as do The Godfather, Carrie, The Rose and A Clockwork Orange. I know a lot of people watch The Exorcist only because of the horror factor, but this film is so much more than a terror film. The deep personal anguish of all the characters in the film is felt, and when a director and writer cause this to happen, you have a very special film. If you look beyond the horror and the supernatural, you’ll find a horror film that stands high above all the rest.
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