THE EXORCIST, Dir. William Friedkin, USA, 128 min. 1973
"Have you ever heard of exorcism?" THE EXORCIST became the "Must See" film of 1973, leading to its nomination for an Academy Award for Best Picture, the first horror film ever to be honored in the category. Needless to say, the story of a teenage girl violently possessed by evil spirits with a demon vs. priest showdown was quite different than its competition (THE STING, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, A TOUCH OF CLASS).
Crowds first came to see William Peter Blatty's adaptation of his best-selling novel; as word spread, a cultural phenomenon began as the masses waited in long lines all across America to not only be horrified and deeply disturbed, but also to be wildly scandalized by spinning heads and projectile vomiting, masturbation with crucifixes, and a child spouting obscenities the likes of which no one had heard on screen before.
Following his game-changing THE FRENCH CONNECTION, William Friedkin brought the same raw energy to the horror genre with the tachycardia-inducing suspense he would later inflict on audiences with SORCERER.
Friedkin's masterful attention to detail brings a documentary-like reality to the filmthis is not a haunted house at the carnival but any house in America. The horrors are made all the more real by foregoing credits following the film's title card; unheard of at the time.
Featuring two of the screens' finest actors, Bergman vet Max Von Sydow (HOUR OF THE WOLF, THE SEVENTH SEAL) as the unforgettable Father Merrin and Lee J. Cobb (ON THE WATERFRONT, 12 ANGRY MEN) as Lt. William Kinderman, the cast includes powerhouse performances from Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn (ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) and on-screen daughter Linda Blair, who were all nominated for Best Supporting actors, the latter delivering one of the greatest child actor performances in film history.
See it for its brilliant storytelling, beautiful photography by Owen Roizman, fabulous performances, and chilling allegory of man's battle between good and evil, or for the wonderful repulsion that caused it to be banned on home video in the UK until 1999 and forced the MPAA to alter its rating system. ("That it received an R-rating and not the X is stupefying." - Roger Ebert). Whatever you do, see it at Beyond Fest for the extended director's cut, William Friedkin and spider-walk both included. - Grant Moninger
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