Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #200
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: June 19, 1973
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $441,071,011
Running Time: 132 minutes
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: William Peter Blatty
Screenplay: William Peter Blatty
Special Effects: Dick Smith
Cinematography: Owen Roizman
Score: Jack Nitzsche
Editing: Norman Gay, Jordan Leondopoulos, Evan A. Lottman, Bud S. Smith
Studios: Warner Bros, Hoya Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros
Stars: Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, William O’Malley, Barton Heyman, Masterson, Rudolf Schündler, Gina Petrushka, Robert Symonds, Arthur Storch, Thomas Bermingham
Suggested Audio Candy
Mike Oldfield “Tubular Bells”
It needed to be something epic. Firstly, it is a year since Rivers of Grue spread its bloody wings on WordPress in May 2013, and secondly, this marks the crimson quill’s two hundredth appraisal milestone. Anything less than iconic just wouldn’t cut the mustard and thus I have opted for possibly the most cherished horror film in cinema history, in an attempt at marking the occasion. Few movies have sparked such controversy and heated debate and even fewer have scared the living shit right out of us than William Friedkin’s magnum opus so it seems like a no-brainer. Even the original teaser trailer was deemed too terrifying for audiences and its theatrical unveiling was responsible widespread panic with paramedics needing to be called to cope with the mass hysteria and folk passing out through the horror of what they were witnessing.
Astonishingly Warner Bros. had considered shelving the project months before it was made and I bet they’re relieved that they didn’t as The Exorcist made a return on its investment to the tune of over $400m. In New York queues went on for blocks as the public clamored to find out what all the fuss was about. When they reemerged from auditoriums disheveled and positively seasick, word spread like herpes and the whole free world started to indulge. To this very day, no other film in its genre has shocked or appalled quite so effortlessly. Yet at its heart lays a tale about the weather of the soul.
Should you have a teenage daughter then you will be more than mindful of the menstrual roller-coaster and its delirious effects. Ovulation often provokes all manner of neurological transmogrification and can be exasperating in the extreme for any unequipped parent. One thing far less common is the youngster beginning to levitate from her bed or stab herself repeatedly in the vagina with a crucifix whilst requesting that Jesus fucks her. This is something far more vexatious than a simple case of PMT however and all signs lead back to the impertinent Beelzebub. How else would she gain the ability to spider walk downstairs for her dinner or revolve her head 180 and regurgitate a chunder cascade before completing its revolution?
Young Linda Blair had a real baptism of fire, taking on what was destined to become one of the most iconic characters in cinema history. As Regan she gave a particularly tenacious turn and it incited fury from many quarters, with zealots incensed by the film’s glorification of Satan and numerous anti-religious undertones. For six months after release she had her own entourage to protect her against a multitude of death threats, particularly from outraged Catholics. In the true spirit of there being no such thing as bad press, it elevated her to cult status although eventually her career nose dived into exploitation and grimy women’s reform movies.
As Regan wrestled against the cantankerous beast inside of her, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) had his own confrontation with personal demons and engaged in a metaphysical tussle against this force of sheer evil alongside fellow clergyman Father Karras (Jason Miller). Director Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty held true to the ethos of Catholicism and not once did they mock the religion or its patrons. They employed several priests both in advisory roles as well as acting. Indeed Father Dyer was played by William O’Malley who still practices to this very day.
Friedkin also resorted to some less than ethical tricks in getting the desire reactions from his cast members; firing guns off-screen, attaching harnesses to Blair and Ellen Burstyn who played her befuddled mother and even going as far as slapping O’Malley round the face to assist in making his mournful last rites more believable. Hilariously, Miller’s horrified reaction to being doused in projectile vomit was entirely authentic as the furious actor was victim of an unforeseen discrepancy with the misfiring effect. This was shot in one take and I still ponder even now whether this was just another of the director’s impish tactics to maximize impact.
Less amusingly, both Blair and Burstyn paid for their art and Burstyn ended up with permanent spinal injury on account of a yanked harness damaging the actor’s coccyx. In addition, The Exorcist suffered a number of fatalities, nine in total, when a number of those associated with the project perished and an ominous blaze also destroyed the set at one point. It has even been commented on that a supernatural entity exists in the celluloid which was unleashed as the movie unspooled. Whilst these unhinged individuals hardly had a leg to stand on it all assisted in gaining the film its notoriety.
One factor which helped The Exorcist gain the level of critical success it eventually did was its characterization. It steadily unfurled like a Triffid preparing to launch its noxious phlegm and not before highlighting relationships and giving each character ample introduction. At 132 minutes in its restored entirety it was often regarded as being overlong but I strongly disapprove with this viewpoint. Sure, Von Sydow’s footage at the archaeological dig site could be regarded as superfluous but it all helped in settling you in for the pre-ordained pummeling which ensued. All of this led to the film being nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, as well as a Best Supporting Actress nod for the adolescent Blair.
From a technical standpoint what Friedkin achieved here was beyond startling. Stark subliminal imagery and demonic cutaways were implemented to marvelous effect and the choice of Mike Oldfield’s titular Tubular Bells was utterly inspired. Grue was never focal although the monstrous effects fashioned by Dick Smith still hold up now. The latex work was exemplary and you could almost smell the broth as the pea-green soup jettisoned before us. As for the spider walk, the mind simply boggled and all of this was accompanied by some masterful visuals, in particular the scene where Merrin stood outside the MacNeil residence bathed in a spectral glow and the refrigerated bedroom set where many of the atrocities ultimately played out.
So it comes to scoring and, despite the fact that The Exorcist would never make my desert island list, it is perfection incarnate. Consider this Grueheads: it is over forty years since the film first hit our screens and yet it still warrants mention anytime we so much as contemplate the celestial. It has long provided the benchmark for supernatural horror and continues to petrify all these years later. In an industry where we have been anesthetized by gushing grue, this wonderful movie stands as the epitome of intensity and such effects do not lessen with age. Indeed they merely ripen.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: There is so much here which is prototypical. This may not be excessively violent but its the psychological impairment felt by watching Regan repeatedly plundering her lady garden with that crucifix and that arachnid shuffle which leave such interminable stains even now. The latex applied to Blair efficaciously transformed her cherub-like features into a veil of torment and ferocity.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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