The Exorcist. 1973. Dir. William Friedkin. Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.
Rated 18A. 132 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it. Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realises what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism. This is the plot of the film. From there, the wild bits begin.What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features. The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist.” This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound – explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed – and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew. It’s amazing.
One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things. First, is a moment where Reagan (Blair) attacks a man. Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s POV. This is brilliance right here. Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit. We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot— it’s the best thing ever. Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film. I should’ve known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways. Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting. At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom— for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots. It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman (D.P.) talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it’s an absolute treat! These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.
Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes. Wild. I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, to actually see it and watch the process is something special. Roizman has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set, which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time, are great to hear. These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it. Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies. William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative. Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film. He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it, I understood anyways, though it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason,” and having it match up with what you thought. Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of the U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality. Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home. The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point. Burstyn’s one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests. Not many could pull of such a horror role. Burstyn’s so wonderfully natural here.
Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl. Incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did. On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her. Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing. You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role. Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect. So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that. You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist. I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 (the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!). It is really worth it if you enjoy the film. You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade. Those alone are worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.
Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now. If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this. When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old. It didn’t really affect me at the time. However, I still enjoyed it a lot. Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it. For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke. I couldn’t shake it. Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world. The performances and the effects, it all got to me. It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.
And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?” then you know what? Check your pulse. Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.