It’s now 49 years ago that William Friedkin’s supernatural horror classic The Exorcist was first released (actually at Xmas in 1973).
The film is based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, which it follows very closely in depicting the demonic possession of a young girl and her mother’s attempt to rescue her through an exorcism conducted by a pair of Catholic priests.
The cultural impact of the film, which also encompassed its treatment of Catholicism helped it become the first horror film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture whilst it also became the biggest grossing box-office film of all-time (until the release of Jaws in 1975).
This is an unusual horror film in the way it is structured in that it doesn’t really have a main lead as it is largely an ensemble piece. Plus its main driving force, for me, is the crisis of faith in the character of Father Karras. The film was directed by William Friedkin who was the hot director at the time after the phenomenal success of The French Connection,
The film starts, eerily in Northern Iraq, where Father Merrin encounters a large statue of the demon Pazuzu.
The film then locates to Georgetown where an actress’s daughter gradually becomes possessed and is confined to her bedroom. After trying numerous medical tests, her mother, in an act of desperation, turns to Father Karrras, and, despite his ambivalence concludes that an exorcism is warranted where Father Merrin is summoned.
Ultimately both Father Merrin and Father Karras die during the exorcism but Karras sacrifices himself in tricking the demon to possess him as he hurled himself out of the window to his death.
The film is an exhausting experience with the viewer continually assaulted with images and sounds that still horrify today. For many the impact it had was visceral in that some viewers suffered adverse physical reactions, fainting or vomiting towards scenes in the movie.
Over the years it was followed by numerous sequels and prequels, none of which came remotely close to repeating the original’s success and impact.