Play It Again – The Exorcist

Play It Again – The Exorcist. Starring Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Max von Sydow. Directed by William Friedkin. Rated R. By Jess Lomas.

A weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history to see if it holds up or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

“What an excellent day for an exorcism,” says the demon possessing twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in 1973’s The Exorcist. Widely considered by horror enthusiasts to be a close-to-perfect film, it was the recipient of two Academy Awards (Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay) from eleven nominations, and has been parodied countless times. The Exorcist exists in an untouchable pop culture vacuum for many.

Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), a single mother and famous actress, lives with her daughter Regan in an impressive home complete with personal assistant, maid, and butler. Based on the true story of the 1949 exorcism of Roland Doe, Reagan becomes possessed by a demon, leading to levitation, convulsions, projectile vomit, fits of violence, and that famous head-turning scene. Desperate to save her girl, Chris calls in two priests, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Father Damien (Jason Miller), to expel the unwanted house-guest.

Directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection) and with a screenplay by William Peter Blatty (based on his own novel), the horror on show in The Exorcist perhaps hasn’t aged as well as the drama. The special effects are decidedly underwhelming by today’s standards and elicit laughs where shocks would have originally been felt. What does stand the test of time is the impeccable filmmaking at the hand of skilled director Friedkin and the cinematography by Owen Roizman (Network), which, combined, give us the iconic image of Father Merrin approaching the MacNeil residence shrouded in fog, among others.

Mike Oldfield’s haunting theme song Tubular Bells is instantly recognisable and inseparable from the picture while adding a much-needed creepy element. Despite being widely considered the “Scariest Movie of All-Time,” The Exorcist works much better as a measured character study and drama than it does as a thrills-and-chills horror.

Father Damien spends more time exercising than he does exorcising, and it is his emotional guilt and turmoil that captures your attention and imagination more than the lesioned child of Satan who is spewing pea soup and profanities. Come for the possession stay for the powerful storytelling.


The Exorcist is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

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