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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

After missing its 25th anniversary a couple of Christmases ago, THE EXORCIST, the gold standard of horror movies, is being re-released to theaters. In an expanded "writers-cut" -- Director William Friedkin was happy with its original edit -- the new version is being marketed as THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU'VE NEVER SEEN. Eleven minutes of William Peter Blatty's script, based on his novel, which were left on the cutting room floor, have been restored. The ending has been altered and, so that Regan's screams can really stir up the heavens, the original mono soundtrack has been replaced by one in six-track digital stereo.

First, let me get this off my chest. I don't enjoy reviewing a film considered "a classic" for whatever reason, since everyone, including those who haven't seen it, typically has already formed strong opinions about it. Covering the plot feels redundant and a bit ridiculous. (In THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, there is this guy named Moses ...) And commenting on it is likely to inflame the prejudices of people who disagree with you.

As THE EXORCIST begins, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has got problems: rats. She's got rats in her attic, or so she thinks. These noises prove to be the least of her problems when her angelic daughter Regan, played with an incredible intensity by Linda Blair, begins to cuss like a sailor. Nominated for a supporting Oscar, Blair was beaten by Tatum O'Neal, whose performance in PAPER MOON pales in comparison to Blair's.

As Regan plunges into what looks like the depths of madness, her mother turns to a team of doctors, who put her through the modern medical equivalent of medieval torture in order to diagnose her aliment. The problem, of course, lies not in Regan's body but in her soul. After insisting that Regan has a "disorder of her nerves," the doctors finally throw up their hands and recommend that Chris look to the church for salvation in the form of an exorcism. Their rationale, however, is that it's all in Regan's mind, but, if her mind believes that the devil has left her body, she will be cured.

With all of the fury of a rabid pit bull, Regan torments anyone brave or foolish enough to come into her room. The film releases its terror in carefully controlled doses, which heightens its effective. Venturing into Regan's room devastates the viewers as much as the priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) who conduct the rarely used -- so we're told -- Catholic rite of exorcism. For these reasons, most scenes occur outside the terror chamber, which helps fortify us for the descent into hell as we vicariously battle along with the agents of God against the Devil.

The movie's most famous scenes -- Regan's head doing a 360, her masturbating with a crucifix and her using projectile vomit like a venom spitting dinosaur -- are scary, gross and shocking. Just imagine how audiences must have felt in the much more cinematically sheltered times of the early 1970s.

So does this film deserve its normally associated sobriquet of "the scariest movie ever made?" Perhaps. As one who found THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT lame and tame, I have a high tolerance for shock. I don't know if THE EXORCIST is the most frightening ever, but it would certainly rank high on most people's fear scale. And, maybe most shocking of all, I've never seen the film before other than a few excerpts. When it was originally released, I believed its detractors and avoided the film entirely. A bad move, which I have now corrected.

THE EXORCIST runs 2:12. It is rated R for strong language and disturbing images and would be acceptable for those 17 and over.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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