Before we get too far into this, let’s review the impetus for my watching The Exorcist for the first time ever (YES, I know, right!? More on that in a minute):
This fantastic piece of work was made by the same man who gave SWO Productions all of our banners and icons, the incomparable Manster of Pint O’ Comics! Check him out on Twitter and Instagram for more great stuff!
But yes, of all things, it was The Manster’s creation there that inspired me to finally–FINALLY–watch the 1973 classic, The Exorcist.
How have I never seen The Exorcist before? It’s hard to say; it honestly just never came up in my life. I will cop to a certain amount of bias against pop culture that existed before I was born. There is SO MUCH stuff that has come out since the mid-80’s; who has time to go back to the 1970’s and see what they were up to? Plus, old people tend to be all “The Beatles! Pink Floyd! The Rolling Stones!”, so I don’t trust their taste in anything a great deal. It’s easy to think that generation was the best generation ever when there were a billion people coming of age at the same time, there were, like, 3 TV channels and ten bands on Earth, and everyone was high the whole time. COME AT ME, 60’s AND 70’s CULTURE! You’re super overrated, and I kind of hate you.
All that said… man, 1978’s Halloween REALLY holds up, and while some of that might be my childhood appreciation of it and other slashers, it is a legitimately great movie. So I figured maybe The Exorcist could be the same.
For transparency’s sake, I watched the 132 minute Extended Director’s Cut of the film. I have no idea if that is the “best” version, or how many versions there might even be, but that’s the one I had access to.
Do I need to plot summary out The Exorcist? Everyone knows The Exorcist. Well, you would think that, but I spent the first solid HOUR of this movie saying “This is definitely not what I thought was going to be happening”. But the relevant bits: twelve year old Regan McNeil slowly descends into madness and mutilation as a demon comes into possession of her body, and her mother–a famous actress–is seemingly helpless to save her. She eventually gets Father Carras, both a priest and a psychiatrist, involved to perform one of the few exorcisms of the modern world.
On the whole, I have mostly glowing things to say about The Exorcist, so good job, 1970’s! Not everything you did was terrible. But there were a few points of contention I had, so let’s start there.
The movie opens–and I don’t know if this is a Director’s Cut thing or what–with a very long sequence of Father Merrin in Iraq, digging shit up. It goes on far longer than it should, and none of it matters in the long haul. It’s just an intro to Merrin, who doesn’t show back up for about another hundred minutes, but even then… the characterization doesn’t seem particularly needed. I feel that you could cut that entire intro out and miss nothing. It just tricked me into thinking whatever he dug up in the desert was going to be the cause of Regan’s malady, but… nope!
Speaking of which, we never get a reason for that, either. There’s a noise in the attic. Regan’s mom goes up there to see what it is, and… Regan is then possessed. If this is a commentary on the randomness of nature and disease, then I guess that’s a thing. Not that this movie needed backstory since it was long enough, but it feels like the screenwriters just went “noise in the attic… and then possession! The viewers will put it together, who cares?”.
There are a few other instances of plot points that go nowhere. Lt. Kinderman’s investigation into Regan’s off-screen murder of her mom’s friend… it feels like it has legs, but just dissolves away while Kinderman keeps offering people tickets to the movies with him. A scene where Father Karras is investigating Regan’s situation and throws fake Holy Water on her is equally befuddling. Why are we putting red herrings in at that stage in the game? And why is her reaction to tap water so dire? It’s a nothing point as he still believes she is possessed and easily gets permission to exorcise her. Regan’s deadbeat dad, who the movie spends time establishing, is mentioned and featured in a scene and some dialogue, but then just gets dropped entirely. These are each a bit smaller than the Iraq scene to start us off, but just as weirdly unnecessary in their own rights.
And the end? I had no idea how The Exorcist ended, so I was expecting they’d have a wild and crazy exorcism and eventually pull the demon out in an ambiguous ending of “is she ACTUALLY saved?”. So I was NOT expecting Father Karras to not come back to his faith, just start laying roundhouse rights into Regan, tricking the demon into coming into him, and then hurling himself out a window. That didn’t feel… right? In my head as it happened, I thought “Wait, THIS is how The Exorcist ends?”. In a lesser movie, I’d have actually laughed out loud at Karras just giving up and wailing on this girl.
Strange, directionless writing and editing aside, I came out of The Exorcist really impressed. Is the story fulfilling or particularly well-told? No. But the atmosphere is spot-on. I will say that I didn’t think the movie was scary–I was advised to watch it in the dark and to be ready to pee myself, but that was not a problem–but it was very tense. I was hanging onto everything that happened the whole time, and I was engaged from pretty much the time the possession started. The combination of the fantastic performances, the unsettling direction and cinematography, and just the overall feel of it all really pulled me in.
It was a lot more vulgar than I was expecting, which took me completely by surprise. I knew about Regan puking pea soup and crab walking and turning her head around, but I was not prepared for scenes of her shoving a crucifix up her vagina or telling visitors to fuck her in the ass. I just missed the memo on that. Again, like everything else in the mood, it adds to the uncomfortable aura of the film.
I’m having a hard time with this because the points I disliked, it was easy to point to them and say “they should have cut all these scenes that didn’t matter and made a more cohesive story and an ending that felt more earned”. But when it comes to what I liked, it’s little more than… despite its scars, I was totally engrossed the whole time. Why? I don’t know. Because it was just… good? Because, and I’ll never admit I ever said this, sometimes story really doesn’t matter and it’s all of the other pieces that can come together and create what the talent behind a project had in mind.
I should take a film-making class so I can look harder and say smarter things like “Ah, you see, it was the angle at which the director shot the Ford car in the background that added to the ambiance of the 6:12pm sun, and those are the things that trigger the right cerebral cortex and make you more vulnerable to green puke”.
As it is… derp de derp. I liked it. I don’t know. Leave me be.