The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973, USA)

While Friedkin’s The Exorcist is perhaps most recognized today for its scene of projectile vomiting, it is hard to overstate the influence of this film. While horror films had certainly crossed over into the mainstream before, they had never done so quite on the level of Friedkin’s masterpiece. The film was able to give box office and mainstream critical credibility to a genre that had previously been dismissed. Even today, there are scenes and moments in The Exorcist which are shocking. But what struck me most upon revisiting the film were the least shocking moments. Like The Shining, The Exorcist succeeds precisely because of the ambiguity surrounding its horrifying elements. 
There is a certain tension in The Exorcist between William Peter Blatty’s script, and Friedkin’s direction. Blatty was a true believer and practicing Roman Catholic, who believed fully in the religious aspect of his story. Friedkin however was a non-believer, and his adaptation lends some skepticism to the religious claims of Blatty’s script. Upon rewatching the film, I was struck by the figure of Burke Dennings, friend of Regan’s mother Chris MacNeil. The implication that Dennings has abused Regan is clearly in the film. Rob Ager has done a great analysis of this subtext within the film.
Ager has also provided a great analysis of the film’s extended opening prologue, featuring Father Lankester Merrin’s first encounter with the demon Pazuzu in Iraq. As Ager notes, this sequence is noteworthy for its hypnotic effect. Rather than starting the film off with a bang, Friedkin instead chooses to settle us into a mood. It is a remarkable opening and deeply unconventional by todays’ standards. There are also many significant details in this opening sequence that are easy to miss if one isn’t paying attention. I had a new appreciation for this sequence during this latest viewing.



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