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The Exorcist

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Exorcist

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair
Director: William Friedkin
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: February 1993
Genres: Classic, Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When "The Exorcist" first opened in 1973, lines formed around the block at the only New York theater screening the mother of all Satanist films. I recall waiting in twenty-degree weather on a Saturday morning for two hours, the longest period of time that I ever tarried to see a film. The crowd was mixed. All ages were represented. Perhaps the marketing campaign was supremely successful, or more likely the congregation assembled because "The Exorcist" was viewed as the first major film on an individual's possession by the Devil. Though the film was critic-proof--as is probably as true today as then--reviews were on the whole positive anyway, with Leonard Maltin awarding three stars for an "intense, well-mounted adaptation of William Peter Blatty's best-seller, calculated to keep your stomach in knots from start to finish."

Given the voluminous number of horror movies since that time, and the strong representation of Satanist melodramas, are we now so habituated to the thrills and scares of "The Exorcist" that we find the film either laughable or bland? Quite possibly. The reason William Friedkin's work will continue to involve us and make us think about the nature of faith is that the director had mastered all aspects of film-making to such an extent that John Boorman's and William Peter Blatty's attempts to mount sequels in 1977 and 1990 failed miserably from confusion and a greater weight of absurdity than the genre could bear.

One of the virtues of "The Exorcist" is its leisurely pace-- slow, but not sluggish. By keeping the tempo leisurely, Friedkin gets to develop all of his principal characters so that we care about them. Even more important we believe that the mayhem caused by the possessed 12-year-old is real and an event as ghastly as the dominion by Satan within a lovely, innocent child is possible. We don't see aliens with eels crawling out of their bellies for half the movie and in fact we see only a single diabolical spirit throughout the film's substantial time of 132 minutes. We learn, as well, that with the exception of an exorcism that Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) performed in Africa--just a single such event and one which lasted for an entire month--was the only known case of such an incident since the Sixteenth Century. We might not find difficulty believing that such a cataclysm could indeed occur once or twice every four hundred years. The discovery of a small, ghoulish statue by Father Merrin was not a contrived, chance event. We believe in the power of the relic because Friedkin spends considerable time in the opening quarter hour or so to situate his action in Northern Iraq, the scene of the biblical treasures of Nineveh where a large number of local people are digging under the supervision of the American churchman. And the people speak Arabic!

The Georgetown (D.C.) home of Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is lavish, equipped with a butler, a cook and a nanny. This too is made painstakingly credible when Friedkin does not simply have someone state that Chris makes her living as an actress in major studio movies but actually shows us a substantial scene involving a student demonstration taking place presumably between 1968 and 1973. No expense is spared to make us accept the details of the narrative, which this time around includes eleven minutes never seen before including the best single shot--a few seconds that will startle arachnophobics and others alike.

While a majority of the audience for this digitized re-release of "The Exorcist" will have never before seen the movie on the big screen but only on the absurdly inadequate technology of videotapes, the re-release is a godsend (no pun intended). Folks in high school and college and some perhaps on their first job will get to see what a real horror movie is like before the fast pace of video games made pure sensation a requirement for big box office among the prime movie goers. Some viewers in their teens and twenties might even try to figure out a line by a detective in the homicide bureau (Lee J. Cobb) who asks a potential companion to accompny him to a movie, "Othello," with Groucho Marx in the title role and Debbie Reynolds as Desdemona.

While we credit the movie for avoiding the usual cheap frights of the Friday the 13th series and the like, we lament that this film, for all its artistic attributes, may not invoke screams from a benumbed audience. But what a pleasure to see that a horror film can be exquisitely and lovingly made in an age of cheap shots and shoddy thrills. Ian Waldron- Mantgani, a major online critic in a Liverpool suburb, notes that the film is still banned on video in the UK because of fears that children, who would then be able to see the movie at home, could be affected for the worse. The jury is still out on the influence of violent movies on the impressionable young, particularly one that features a 12-year-old sporadically cursing, urinating in public, vomiting green stuff, twisting her around completely around, and generally making a case that Ritalin is not all it's cracked up to be.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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