Top Horror Films – #1 – The Exorcist

The Exorcist
1973; directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by William Peter Blatty, from his novel

Allen: What is it about The Exorcist that has left such an impression on audiences? Some have labeled it “the scariest movie of all time,” and that title can clearly be debated. The special effects, seen today, seem to have become somewhat dated. A recent re-edit includes the “spider walk” scene which appears to be more humorous than terrifying. So why, whenever a list of great horror movies comes out, does this film routinely get placed in the upper ranks?

Perhaps the horror of the film is not so much in the visceral, but in the psychological aspects of it. Dealing with religion is a highly sensitive task; there are those out there that believe so strongly in their faith that when a film like this is released, it forces them to look at their religion in a way that they might not be willing to do. What’s done to some of the religious symbols in this movie is very disturbing, because we place those symbols in such high regard. To believe that there is pure good in the world is to believe that there is pure evil, and this film examines that.

And even on a more basic level, the film is also horrific in the helplessness of Ellen Burstyn’s character, Chris, with her daughter Regan (Linda Blair). Nothing is more scary for a parent than to see their child being tortured, brutalized, and violated, with absolutely nothing that they can do about it. We don’t even need the religious aspect to know how terrible this kind of ordeal would be, and so our sympathies attach strongly to that of Chris MacNeil, and her willingness to try just about anything to save her daughter.

The Exorcist is a film that will remain in the public consciousness not for its special effects, but for the fact that it attempted to go to a place that not many people are willing to follow. It examines and challenges beliefs that are very much real, regardless of whether or not one believes in the supernatural. It is because of that element that this film is one of the best horror movies all time.

Mark: I came to this film late. Weighed down by expectation and reputation, it did not disappoint. The opening few scenes are not what we expect, hinting at a back-story that is incomprehensible if you’ve not read the book. An investigation into certain aspects of Catholicism, the means of expression unique to film are used to their best. And, quite simply, it’s scary. I think straight away of the bed rocking, the dank atmosphere created and the unflinching ability of the camera not to turn away.

John: Puts old world fears in modern times and reminds us that not everything can be easily understood in this advanced society. The exorcism scenes themselves are some of the scariest in the history of horror. But there’s more to the film than that, such as the search through the attic and Father Karras struggling with his Mother’s death. The sequels/prequels that followed couldn’t measure up even if they really tried.

Ed: So, I’ve always had this kind of hilarious image in my mind. You’re Linda Blair’s parents, and your daughter was cast as the main character in one of the biggest movies of the decade. You’re so proud, you invite all of your friends and family. Linda’s grandparents are there, the boy she has a crush on from down the street is there, some people have even brought younger siblings that they probably shouldn’t have because it’s a big deal around the neighborhood. Everyone’s excited and rooting for their hometown girl. Then the movie starts, and everyone she knows gets to watch while she swears at priests, does obscene things with a cross, and vomits pea soup in her Ellen Burstyn’s face. As a parent, you get to sit there and tell everyone “That’s my little girl, I’m so proud!”

Team Rankings:
Allen – #1
Mark – #1
Ed – #3
Spencer – #6
Brandi – #7
Jeremy – #12
John – #18
Ben – #31


Brandi is one of those people who worries about kids these days not appreciating black and white films. She also admires great moments of subtlety, since she has no idea how to be subtle herself.

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