Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre! [Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published on October 8, 2014] The Exorcist isn’t a perfect film. But for a few flaws, the power of The Exorcist is no less today than it was in 1973 when it first hit the theaters. There are numerous apocryphal stories about people having heart attacks, others fainting in the aisles and ambulances standing by for opening weekends. I’m inclined to believe in the kernel of truth that lies at the heart of those legends because The Exorcist is a damn scary movie. Yes, the effects are mesmerizing, the subject matter is terrifying, but the success of The Exorcist lies with young Linda Blair playing innocent pre-teen, Regan MacNeil. Without Blair as a believable twelve-year-old, we would have no sympathy for her character. During her opening scenes, she’s bright, cheerful, every bit the typical American kid who wants a horse. What sold Regan MacNeil to me was the scene in her bedroom when she’s lying in bed, talking to her mother. Linda is having a true conversation, as actors would say “in the moment”, the camera was close over Ellen Burstyn’s shoulder, Regan’s eyes search her mother’s face in an intimate way that can’t be taught. The scene was real. She was a real girl. When her bed begins shaking a few scenes later, the horror is happening to a true person. We believe in Regan MacNeil. The Academy agreed with us and Linda Blair was nominated for an Oscar in 1974. Throughout her possession, Linda was made to perform some truly heinous things. At the top of the list is the scene mistakenly referred to as “crucifix masturbation” though it was actually a violent rape. I can’t imagine what 1973 audiences felt watching that scene. Personally, I marveled at less obvious statements of horror. Linda’s ability to visually mimic the numerous voice-overs while possessed left me enthralled. No amount of make-up or special effects could have added to the nuance Linda gave us at the climax of the movie. Max von Sydow’s character, Father Merrin, lies dead from a heart attack while Regan, curled up against the bedpost, giggles at his ridiculous mortality. It was sublime. Overall, the movie lived up to the standard set by Linda Blair’s performance. Jason Miller as Father Karras, the priest whose faith has fallen, was believable and sympathetic. His hangdog look throughout the film conveyed a man who barely kept his own demons at bay. Karras’ explosion at Regan when she begins channeling his dead mother helped bring the character to full flower. Max Von Sydow played a much older character and his make-up, while decent, did have a bit of a doughy look. Von Sydow was excellent as a frail man whose faith was his only strength. Ellen Burstyn left me wanting during this film. I wish I could put my finger on examples that support my feelings but, to me, her performance felt forced at times. Perhaps the character of a distressed mother was doomed to suffer behind dichotomous priests and a possessed kid. Owen Roizman was the cinematographer and he never let the camera overshadow the performance onscreen. (Well, once. But I’ll get into that in a moment.) The exterior shots felt natural. Toward the beginning of the film, Chris MacNeil is walking home from a day of filming a movie. The sequence is a mixture of handheld and still cameras following Ellen Burstyn as the breeze carries fallen leaves past her. It’s a quiet sequence but lovely nonetheless. When Father Merrin steps up to the front gate of the MacNeil home, the intense light shines down through an upper window leaving Max Von Sydow in silhouette during the middle of the night. During a documentary called “Visions of Light,” director William Friedkin tells us that shot was inspired by Magritte’s 1954 painting Empire of Light. Without Roizman behind the camera, I don’t believe the effect could have been achieved with such power. As I mentioned above, there was one moment in the film that felt completely out of place and, sadly, it’s during the climax. At the height of the exorcism, after Regan floats above the bed and Fathers Karras and Merrin talk her down with the cadence “the power of Christ compels you” there is a jarring jump cut of Regan lit from behind, reaching toward the heavens as an overlay of a demonic statue seen at the beginning of the film look on. In an otherwise brilliant movie, the scene looks amateurish. It’s meant to bring us full circle to the introduction of Von Sydow’s character at an excavation site in Iraq where he first encounters the statue but, at that point in the movie, Father Merrin’s introduction is largely forgotten (dismissed actually) and the point pulls us right out of the moment. Not to mention a glaring continuity error that shows Regan’s bound hands, then mysteriously loose for her interpretive dance, then bound again right after. Going to chalk that up to a bad, last minute decision. This movie still scares me today. I know what’s going to happen and when but it creeps me out anyway. The “realness” of possession in The Exorcist shakes us. Linda Blair’s performance will stand among the greats of horror. Any movie that has attempted or will attempt another story about possession will stand in her shadow. Such is The Exorcist’s legacy. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Susan Leighton February 6, 2017 Excellent work, Dave! Linda truly deserved an Oscar nomination for her portrayal. I don’t know if this has anything to do with Burstyn’s performance (or lack thereof) but according to an interview I read years ago, she stated that she was injured pretty badly during the scene where she goes flying into the chest of drawers. Apparently, this was achieved with a wire. Of course, the writing is critical to why the Exorcist was so believable. Blatty wrote an incredible book and screenplay. At the time, Friedkin was one of the hottest directors around so it was a series of very fortunate events. 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