The Exorcist has its origins in real life events which happened almost a quarter of a century before writer William Blatty used it as inspiration for his novel. Director William Friedkin’s 1973 adaption of it has turned its story into one of the scariest of all time, even earning him an Oscar nomination. Friedkin blends feelings of disgust, horror and concern into one frightful mix which made watching The Exorcist an entire generation’s most intimidating experience. Avant-garde in its use of special effects, from gruesome sound edits to crafty makeup, it is a horror movie which openly celebrates the supernatural.
Travelling to Washington DC for a movie role, actress Chris MacNeil moves into a temporary home with her daughter Regan. From the spacious house and finely decorated bedroom, to the personal staff at the ready, it is hard to imagine a more nurturing environment for a young teenager to grow up in. And yet, just one Ouija board will be enough to disrupt all this peace when it is innocently used by Regan to contact her imaginary friend. Soon, her behaviour grows increasingly abnormal and her remarks obscener by the minute. Her mother initially dismisses them as the onset of some teenage rebellion but gradually finds more and more reasons to worry about her daughter’s well-being.
This unrest reaches a turning point at a party hosted by Chris. Believed to be fast asleep, Regan suddenly appears downstairs claiming the nearing death of one of the guests before urinating on the floor in front of the whole company. This freakish act continues when she returns to her bed which starts to shake uncontrollably by some invisible force. Now frightfully alarmed, her mother calls for a doctor to examine her child, but the more tests and examinations she undergoes, the more her condition seems to worsen.
Following a brutal crime dismissed as a drunken accident, Regan’s mother starts to suspect something supernatural. As doctors and psychiatrist despair over this exceptional case, Chris is forced to accept that her only hope lies with an exorcist. A young priest, Father Karras, is summoned to settle the fact that her daughter is possessed, a conclusion which is graphically matched by Regan’s demonic appearance and scarred body. Whilst Karras’ religious dedication and beliefs are increasingly put to the test, he enlists the help of a veteran priest, Father Merrin, to assist him in the exorcism of the young girl.
As the ceremony begins, the teenager’s bedroom fills with religious chants and vulgar screams answering each other back and forth. Orchestrated by the 12-year old, this cacophony straight from hell becomes the soundtrack to the ultimate showdown between faith and evil forces. For those not squeamish, such old-school visual effects hold a certain irresistible charm and never cease to shock. Punctuating the film’s hellish hysteria is a tense silence which triggered multiple cases of cinematic neurosis when it was first released. From plot twists to twisting necks, it is no surprise that so many scenes from The Exorcist have acquired a famed status on their own as their vivid memory persists almost 50 years onwards.