The Exorcist (1973)
Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house. A man has been called for as a last resort to try and save her. That man is The Exorcist
If you happen to be like me, you've probably heard of The Exorcist for years as it's landed on top 10 lists and genre-definer lists and the likes. Well, if you are also like me, you won't ever get around seeing it until 20 some-odd years after you start hearing about it - but never mind that, it's here now and it was watched. Not just any version though, we went nuts with the Extended Directors cut version, clocking in at roughly two hours. Seems short by today's standards, but let's get into seeing if this movie could live up to the enormous amount of hype built up by the years of time taken to watch it. Will we exercise by running in fear, or will we instead try to banish the ghost of the film from our mind?
For plot related purposes, remember the version I watched is the EDC, which means some content will be different than the normal Theatrical version (which I haven't seen, but did do a bit of research into the differences). We start our movie off in the hot ruins of Iraq, where a massive dig seems to be going on looking for relics and other archaeological bits. An elderly priest is on site helping with the dig, and is alerted to a new find at the base of the ruins where they discover some conflicting things. You see, it would appear that these objects are from differing times - one of which being a necklace charm that still seems relatively new and shiney. The priest returns to town, taking a break to get some water and take his medicine before heading off to the church. It is here we figure out that he has a task to do, and whatever this task is he must leave Iraq to do it.
Back westward, an actress and her family are enjoying life, albeit with a missing father figure that brings up slight sadness and anger at times. Well, mother and daughter are a happy family at any rate, complete with a plethora of helpers around the house keeping them company. That is, at any rate, until suddenly the daughter takes a strange twist, starting to lie about things like the bed shaking and keeping her awake and being extra hyper - so like any caring mom they take a trip to the doctor. The doctors believe a little ritalin will do the trick, but the daughter's condition doesn't appear to be getting any better. After another episode, a return trip to the doctor happens, and they take some xrays and brain scans to get a better picture of what might be causing the problem - yet nothing turns up. The doctors get an emergency call, provoking them to take more scans, which again turn up nothing, and in turn pass the case off to psychiatrists. The shrink doesn't work out either, and after an episode at home with self-moving furniture and super-human strength backhanding, the mother ends up deciding that maybe a spiritual route is the better one to take.
While all that is going on, we get to follow a priest whose the church's resident psychiatrist. His mother is getting elderly, and he wishes more than anything to be re-assigned out closer to her so he can be with her. Things get worse for him when she has an accident and her brother puts her in a ward, where she dies. This causes much grief in the priest, who feels it is his fault it happened for not being there, and doesn't help his current crisis of faith any. It is at about this time he gets contacted to meet with the mother about the possible possession, and after investigating he realizes just how serious the case might be. He comes back again to try and gather proof, and although he isn't entirely positive of the truth of possession, goes back to the church to request an exorcism. It's at this point that we get to come a bit full circle and realize that the opening scenes in Iraq were introducing us to the actual exorcist of the movie, and our new priestly friend will be his assistant. Can the two manage to beat that which has claimed to be satan itself without destroying the girl?
The EDC carries with it some certain benefits that I feel make it worth watching. You see, it likes to do this thing where it adds in tiny little demon faces for brief flashes, and sometimes you can even make out the shapes of things much larger and foreboding than simple faces in the darkness. Something about it is particularly unnerving during the otherwise uneventful beginning sections of the film, and even though some of the instances of this happening (such as when slathered over the daughters face transparently) aren't quite as enjoyable, it adds that little nibbling sense of wrongness. It's a bit like freeze framing Fight Club at the right moment really, except instead being demon-related.
The actors do a great job here, successfully conveying what they set out to convey. Each character gets enough screentime to get an introduction to them as a person, without having to spell out every single detail necessary and feeling like a total bore - and the fact that the movie didn't feel like it was long and boring, despite some of the rather uneventful moments is testament to that. That being said, some acting jobs feel as though they are done better than others, and it's pretty noticeable when watching whom I'm referring to, but I can't help but feel that everytime I see the exorcist on screen he's an actual ancient person who's just waiting like a landmine to have a heart attack and kick the bucket. Possessed girl scenes are also done magnificently, and I'm sure the language alone in some of those scenes caused parents to balk in fear.
Effects work doesn't feel the need to take second stage to the acting either - although as mentioned above, the addition of the demon-face composite scene where it overlays the girls face is a bit... less than stellar. It's not bad, but it feels rather unnecessary. Having already talked about that effect's other instances, lets move on to the general makeup - which is beautifully (gruesomely?) done. As time progresses, the girl indeed looks much more unnatural, and everyone has heard tales of the pea-soup projectile green vomit (which lives up to the expectations of being just as gross as you'd hoped). Blood is a mixed bag, sometimes being a believable squirt (cringe-inducing medical scenes), and other times looking like it came from a cheap kung-fu movie. Overall, it's some pretty killer practical effects, and when you take the time to think about the fact this came out back in 1973 (at least, the theatrical version parts) it's no wonder why this had such a potent effect on so many people.
Is it worth watching? I'd say yes. If you can find the EDC version, I would say its more than worth a watch, as something about those out of place faces really just left a lingering terror with me. I do have to say though, as soon as we get to the exorcism proper part (when the exorcist shows up), that feeling of dread up and vanishes - which if the composites alone were what caused such unease, then the theatrical version may actually be something I would find to be more boring (I can't say for sure without seeing it). I can't say that a modern audience would go in and find this movie as terrifying and leaving as large an impression as they once did, but at the same time the modern audience was also so terrified of Paranormal Activity that they are still making sequels of it. It's a classic, and any movie that's achieved that kind of name is worth at least one watch, but picking up the EDC version if you found it for a decent price probably shouldn't seem that far fetched either.