Exorcist, The (1973)

Exorcist, The (1973)

“I’m telling you that thing upstairs isn’t my daughter.”

An actress (Ellen Burstyn) seeks help from a priest (Jason Miller) and his exorcist-colleague (Max von Sydow) in saving her preteen daughter Regan (Linda Blair) from demonic possession.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ellen Burstyn Films
  • Horror
  • Lee J. Cobb Films
  • Max von Sydow Films
  • Mercedes McCambridge Films
  • Possession
  • Priests and Ministers
  • Single Mothers
  • William Friedkin Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “powerful, controversial, influential adult horror film — a one-time cult phenomenon” presents a world “breaking apart,” in which “the Devil can make a dramatic entrance”, taking “possession of Regan [by] inhabiting her body and eating away at it.” He points out that the “film is at times almost unbearably intense” and “not for the squeamish, because some of the language and imagery is quite shocking: Regan’s face becomes monstrous, her speech is vulgar, she vomits green slime, she violently attacks all who come close, she masturbates with crosses, she levitates”.

Peary notes that the “special effects make-up by Dick Smith and Rick Baker revolutionized the horror genre”, leading one to “feel sorry for Blair.” (She has since acknowledged it was “grueling” to go through being made-up for two hours each day — and we’ve also learned she fractured her back during the scene in which she’s bounced violently up and down off her bed.)

Peary refers to Friedkin’s direction simply as “solid”, noting he likes “the way he refrigerated Blair’s room so that steam pours out of everyone’s mouth”, and he asserts that the “most interesting aspect of the picture is that it conveys a fear that is rarely dealt with: Regan doesn’t have those around her turn into monsters (a basic primal fear) but becomes a monster herself. Not since Pinocchio grew donkey ears and a tail has a child become so bestial.”

Peary argues that the “caliber of acting and production gave the film needed class to attract a mass audience” — but this understates the fact that The Exorcist had a tremendous cultural impact. Documentary footage reveals that audience members waited in line for hours to see the film, and would routinely leave and/or faint mid-way, unable to continue their viewing. Despite costing twice as much as its initial budget (and taking twice as long to film as projected), it remains the ninth highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation).

Viewed on its own terms today (almost 50 years later), The Exorcist has held up remarkably well: for better or for worse, Friedkin’s draconian directorial style (doing whatever he deemed necessary to get the responses he wanted from his actors and set) resulted in a film which authentically represents humanity at its most vulnerable and terrorized. This is not a film to watch or take lightly — and while modern-day audiences may be less astonished by the impressive special effects (all achieved on-set, rather than altered during post-production), they remain truly noteworthy and frightening.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Linda Blair as Regan

  • Fine performances by the adult cast

  • Highly atmospheric cinematography and direction

  • Creepy make-up

  • Impressive special effects

Must See?
Yes, for its historical notoriety and enduring cultural impact. Selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 2010 as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Exorcist, The (1973)

  1. Agreed; must-see “for its historical notoriety and enduring cultural impact”.

    I will never forget where I was when I read the book. I had the flu at the time so I was in bed. I really couldn’t go anywhere – so literally being ‘a captive audience’ made the reading experience that much more frightening.

    I will also never forget seeing the film for the first time – in a jam-packed theater – because of who I was with. I went with a friend (at the time) named Monica; someone who more or less took *nothing* seriously. Even though ‘The Exorcist’ is not a film that one might see as camp, Monica found it hilariously funny. (I didn’t.) The more outrageous the film became, the more it tickled her funny-bone. At one point, Monica nudged me to point out that someone down the row from us was becoming physically sick. I suppose in spite of herself she also found that reaction amusing.

    For me, what gives the film significant power – notwithstanding its special effects – is the satanic voice of Pazuzu supplied by Mercedes McCambridge. (Wikipedia tells us that, in order to perform, MM swallowed raw eggs, chain-smoked and drank whiskey.. and that Friedkin restrained her in a chair.) As Pazuzu, the only thing MM took (very) seriously was her ability to terrify – otherwise, MM could be just as ‘whimsical’ as Monica (i.e., when responding re: speaking in an unstudied language: “La plume de ma tante!”).

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