People may forget that The Exorcist, recently screened at the Boston Film Festival and now hitting wide re-release, was a wildly independent movie when that particular movement was really getting in gear. Shocking and blasphemous-beyond-words in 1973, the story of a sweet little girl's demonic possession still has a renegade feel today -- the introductory exposition takes nearly forty minutes, the use of profane language is disgusting and thrilling, even by today's standards, and the long battle at the film's end is relentless.
For the most part, Friedkin's eleven minutes worth of added sequences work, and Exorcist fans (me included) are already familiar with most of them via its laserdisc release. First, there's more time spent with young Regan in the medical offices, giving a broader evolution to her "sickness," though this isn't really needed, especially when young Linda Blair's acting is below par. (Some of the doctor talk gets some healthy chuckles when he discusses an unknown drug called Ritalin.) There's also a fresh ending that gives a little more credence to William Peter Blatty's outstanding screenplay, a signature Friedkin once publicly wished he had initially included.
Then, there's the infamous "crabwalk." Known to most fans, and only previously seen in a rough cut, it is a physical stunt that Friedkin and Blatty originally planned to use to further illustrate Regan's mind-jarring body sacrifice. In short, Regan "crabwalks," speeding backwards on just hands and feet, to the horror of a few witnesses. In the director's "new" version, it's used to punctuate an already gripping scene with a huge, eye-popping exclamation point. If you think you've seen it, you haven't really until this.
One of the biggest factors that really sets this movie apart from what we've come to know as "horror" is the acting. Ellen Burstyn, who would go on to win an Oscar a year later for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, is nearly perfect, setting the stage as the doting, atheist mother, having us shriek along with her at the terror that takes over her life. Lee J. Cobb is steady as the unknowing Detective Kinderman, and God only knows what little Linda Blair had to endure.
But if you asked me in 1973 (though I was only 5), I would've guessed that Jason Miller, in his film debut as the tortured Father Karras, would come away with the most successful career. With a movie star countenance and a gruff voice, he plays Karras as intense, eternally conflicted, and totally believable. He is the true center and morality of the movie. I wonder why his other notable roles have been so few, including the cult classic The Ninth Configuration and a reprisal of Father Karras in The Exorcist III.
The powerful acting stands up after all these years, and Friedkin has even supervised a new surround sound mix (as if the sound effects aren't scary enough). I could do without some of the added music, and those new scenes can be hit and miss, but you find me another director that handles a movie with such gravity, suspense, and style, and I'll see his pictures every time.
To Hell and back.
Run time: 122 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 26th December 1973
Box Office Worldwide: $441.1M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 58 Rotten: 9
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: William Peter Blatty
Screenwriter: William Peter Blatty
Starring: Linda Blair as Regan, Max von Sydow as Father Merrin, Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, Jason Miller as Father Karras, Lee J. Cobb as Lt. Kinderman, Kitty Winn as Sharon, William O'Malley as Father Dyer, Jack MacGowran as Burke Dennings, Barton Heyman as Dr. Klein, Peter Masterson as Dr. Barringer - Clinic Director (as Pete Masterson), Rudolf Schündler as Karl, Robert Symonds as Dr. Taney, Titos Vandis as Karras' Uncle, Donna Mitchell as Mary Jo Perrin, Robert Gerringer as Senator at Party, Mercedes McCambridge as Demon (voice), Eileen Dietz as Captain Howdy / Regan Double
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