“The Power of Christ compels you!”
After the 12-year old daughter of a famous actress, Chris MacNeil, begins displaying signs of demonic possession, Chris turns to a Catholic priest in hopes that an exorcism will restore her daughter’s health.
Starring Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, Jason Miller as Father Karras, Max von Sydow as Father Merrin, Linda Blair as Regan, and Mercedes McCambridge as the voice of Pazuzu, The Exorcist is directed by William Friedkin based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty.
The Exorcist is a once in a generation film. It’s the kind of film whose far reaching influence continues to touch and inspire creative endeavors all around the world. It has been referenced in countless other films, television series, cartoons, and comedic stand-up routines. This year, December 26th, will mark the 40th anniversary of The Exorcist‘s release.
The version of The Exorcist I screened for this review is the 2000 theatrical re-release entitled The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the film on DVD years earlier and am happy to use it now because it includes the restored “spider-walk” scene originally cut from the film by director Friedkin. It is a scene so chilling, despite it’s short length (from start to finish, I believe it’s less than 30 seconds of screentime), it renewed the fear I felt upon watching The Exorcist for the first time decades earlier.
Friedkin believed the spider-walk effect didn’t work technically in 1973 because the wires used to aid the contortionist (Linda R. Hager) in the scene could not be fully removed in post-production. It’s unfortunate because of its importance to the plot. This scene is arguably the moment when Regan’s mother, Chris (Burstyn), no longer believes her daughter (Blair) is just ill, but, instead, truly possessed by a demonic force.
The spider-walk scene is that “aha!” moment in the storyline that drives the character of Chris , who is an atheist, to seek the help of the Catholic church; specifically Father Karras (Miller). And while it is a little bit more dramatic than the spider-walking in Blatty’s novel, it remains unnerving and powerful nonetheless. 
Much has been said and analyzed and theorized about the use of a young child in a story about demonic possession, particularly a young girl. I think the crux of the arguments for and against ignore the truth; that Regan is a child or a girl has nothing to do with the demon Pazuzu’s true intent. Pazuzu’s intent is to chip away at and eventually destroy those around Regan; her atheist mother, Father Karras’ faith, and Father Merrin’s health. It is the sowing of the grief and despair that interests Pazuzu.
That Regan is a girl is irrelevant. But not for the audience.
One of the key elements to The Exorcist‘s shock value is Regan. A fresh-faced, otherwise relatively unknown Linda Blair, embodied a youthful innocence and curiosity. She is shown as a sweet, horse-obsessed child who, in the wake of her parent’s separation, is just a little unsure of her surroundings. Her one mistake, finding and playing with a Ouija board she finds in a downstairs closet, like Eve and the Apple, is also her downfall. Regan unwittingly opens a doorway to another realm, inviting in Captain Howdy (Pazuzu).
As Regan is forced to endure the litany of defilements, violence, and abuse of Pazuzu’s possession, the audience is trapped as a passive observer; powerless to help, unable to look away. It’s a brilliant mechanism employed by screenwriter/author Blatty, who,in doing so, extends the reach of Pazuzu’s torments beyond the 4th wall, into the real world.
It is this extension of fiction into the realm of reality that aids the overall feeling of terror The Exorcist exudes. For those particularly sensitive to religious or supernatural horror, there is possibly no greater film in the horror genre than The Exorcist. For those of us who could take or leave religiously based horror, there is the psychological element behind Regan’s illness to consider.
That her mother had consulted 88 doctors in a relentless effort to discover what is ailing her, and that search yields nothing more than a final scene in which a doctor, in a room full of doctors, tells her to consider exorcism, is as powerful today as it was in the 1970s. Potentially moreso, as we begin to see cultural shifts in the way we view the dealings of the Catholic church in general.
It’s this opening of loopholes, of possibilities, of causality, that makes the premise behind The Exorcist so horrifying for any viewer, not just those with religious inclinations. For me, there is a serious body horror element to The Exorcist that will plague my thoughts as long as I live.
Most things are done right in the film adaptation of The Exorcist, despite the lengths to which the audience is required to go in order to see it through. The pacing is deliberately slow allowing for a more complete development of the central characters (namely Chris and daughter Regan, and Father Karras). In fact, this development is implicitly necessary in order for the events of the film to have any meaning and impact. After all, it’s the connection between mother and daughter that ultimately creates the driving fear behind the girl’s losing battle with Pazuzu.
Although it goes without saying, I’ll say it. The Exorcist is a horror film classic, suitable for fans of religious and secular horror alike.
The cast of The Exorcist reunite on Good Morning America:
How’d they do it?: The Head-Spinning Dummy
How’d they do it?: The Spider Walk
Go behind the scenes:
Wiki facts: The Exorcist
Is The Exorcist rotten or fresh?
How did The Exorcist do at the box office?
Watch or buy The Exorcist on Amazon
Buy and read the book by William Peter Blatty: The Exorcist
Related: Mystery Man discusses The Exorcist
 ”The Exorcist (film)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exorcist_(film)>