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  • Gareth Crook

The Exorcist (1973) - 9/10

It’s Boxing Day and The Exorcist is 50 years old. It’s not a Christmas movie, but that’s the point, I need a break from all the festive cheer and what better way than to revisit a classic. We meet Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) looking a bit peaky on an archeological dig in Iraq. We’re kept guessing, but it’s clear he’s found some things amongst all the dust and stone that make him uneasy. Cut to America, where actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) are about to have their world turned upside down, whilst Tubular Bells plays in the background. Father Karras (Jason Miller) is also a bit lost. Working as a psychiatrist for the church, keeping an eye on his elderly mother. He tells her he’s fine, but he’s clearly not. These are the cornerstones in a slow opening act. Horrors often like to set the pulse racing early on, but The Exorcist will ask for your patience. Chris is hearing noises in the loft though and Regan isn’t sleeping well. That’s just the start of it. As things get more extreme with Regan, regular psychiatry and modern medicine is ditched and Karras is called in. Only after Lieutenant Kinderman (Lee Cobb) has been snooping around though. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to divulge that Regan is possessed. The scenes in which she’s flailing around on the bed, screaming and swearing are genuinely terrifying. Still 50 years on, but what makes The Exorcist great is not the effects with levitating children, it’s the slow eerie building narrative weaved through the supporting cast. This is what drives it and makes you believe. For if you don’t, well you’ve just got some freaky scenes with no substance. Karras isn’t an exorcist, but he’s convinced enough to go down the rabbit hole and call in Father Merrin. It’s showtime and Max von Sydow is the guy you want in your corner. He not only looks every bit the demon slayer, but he nails the performance too. Make no mistake though, for all the great performances, Burstyn, Miller, this is Linda Blair’s film. She might be caked in make up and if you’re so inclined you could laugh at the absurdity of her role, but she’s still brilliant. The sheer physicality of what’s asked of her is pretty full on and although Friedkin is inventive with the camera, you still need the raw footage and Blair has it covered. Some people adore this film and I can see why, in many ways it’s flawless, but it’s foolish to say watching it 50 years on its not weakened a little. Only a little though. For the genre and the era it’s a powerhouse production.



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