The Exorcist: A look back at the Halloween classic

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Rob Carraher 
CONTRIBUTOR

Over the course of the past few weeks, Fox has been airing their take on William Blatty’s1971 novel, “The Exorcist.” Though this version isn’t the first visual depiction of Blatty’s novel. The updated series brings the terror of Blatty’s source material to a 2016 audience, who otherwise may not be as familiar with the 1973 film classic by the same titled and directed by William Friedkin. The 1973 film has been considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time.

In keeping with the spirit of this Halloween season, it seems only appropriate to revisit the classic cinematic work. Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” is set in Georgetown, where Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is filming her latest movie in nearby Washington D.C. She begins to notice her 12-year-old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair) is beginning to act strange. A psychiatrist-priest, Father Karras (Jason Miller), is questioning his faith as he watches his mother die of illness. When it becomes apparent to Chris that Reagan’s strange behavior is more than simply a psychiatric disorder, she enlists Father Karras to investigate.

What makes “The Exorcist” so effective is many of the things that make up all great horror films. It plays brilliantly with light, creating an unnerving visual experience for its audience. The music and sound effects berate eardrums and fill living rooms and theaters alike with a common uncomfortability. The subject matter deals entirely with the supernatural, trapping its viewership in an unpredictability of infinite possibilities. “The Exorcist” does all these things well. But those things alone don’t make it one of the greatest horror films to ever be made.

Unlike many films made during the 1970s, “The Exorcist” has managed to withstand the test of time. That is especially hard in a genre that often depends on special effects to terrorize its audience. Although, the use of special effects is apparent in this film, and they may be slightly outdated, they still send chills down the spine of its viewers. There tends to be few things scarier than contorted human beings, and “The Exorcist” certainly uses that to its advantage.

The idea that the film uses a child as its central subject also makes for a disturbing watch. Something about the innocence of a child being stripped away to unveil a ruthless demon without any limits is absolutely terrifying. Not that an adult in the same role wouldn’t carry on a similar effect, but there is something far more unsettling hearing a child use extreme obscenities and perform vulgar acts. Blair, in her performance as Regan, captures the stark contrast of innocence and terror beautifully.

Friedkin has enjoyed a successful career, but nothing has found fame in the same way that “The Exorcist” has done so over the years. From the cast to the camera work, Friedkin created a vision that was both disturbing and genius. Few horror films have taken on such unappealing material and still managed to receive the critical acclaim that this film has acquired. In dealing with something as supernatural as demonic possession, it takes a creative mind to bring these occurrences to life on the screen. And to think he didn’t have the use of computers like filmmakers have today.

Horror films come out in droves on an annual basis. But only a handful are ever worth being discussed as great works. And of those few great ones, it is truly rare to find a classic. “The Exorcist,” even in the face of a genre not treated well by time, has managed to scare audiences over the years. It doesn’t matter how many times one watches the film, it always terrifies. As Halloween approaches, it is one of a few films worth revisiting, and here in 2016, it continues to dare current filmmakers to chase its legendary prowess.

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