Originally Published Sunday 26th October 2008
For some reason Catholicism lends itself to horror very well. The religion has a lot of references to the devil and demons and angels and all sorts of supernatural goings on. The last book of the Bible, Revelations, is practically a handbook on how to write horror. There are loads of horror films that use religion as a core theme but the granddaddy of them all is The Exorcist.
In the early 1970’s the film introduces four different people on different paths in life. Father Merrin is an older Priest on an archaeological dig in northern Iraq, he is not in the best of health and seems to be surrounded by a dark presence. Father Karras is a younger Priest working in Washington DC as a psychiatrist, helping Priests with their problems, despite developing a crisis of faith himself due to his mother’s poor health and eventual death.
Also living in Washington are Chris MacNeil and her daughter Regan. Chris is an actress in town to make a film that she doesn’t seem to think much of. She’s separated from her husband who’s off living the good life in Europe so her daughter lives with her. Life is pretty good in the MacNeil household but things turn a little sour as Regan become ill, suffering from severe nightmares, convulsions, and altered behaviour. Chris gets medical help for Regan but nothing seems to work. Despite a raft of often painful medical tests none of the doctors are able to help and suggest psychiatric treatment. This seems to be a blind alley as well and Regan gets worse, her behaviour and physical appearance deteriorate to the point where Chris will do anything to help her, even extreme treatments. The doctors suggest playing to Regan’s delusions by having an exorcism performed.
Chris seeks out Fr. Karras, suggested to her through a mutual Priest friend. He is sceptical but investigates Regan’s case an after witnessing some phenomena first hand. Deciding that an exorcism is warranted he is assigned Fr. Merrin, back from Iraq, to help due to his past experiences with exorcisms. The two Priests perform the exorcism and are confronted with their own weaknesses and guilt as they battle the demons possessing Regan.
Look what she did…
The Exorcist is one of the accepted benchmarks for making good horror. The use of religious themes is the cornerstone of the film and if I were to suggest an overarching theme it’s probably the clash of religion and science. For all their expertise and technology the medical guys are powerless to help. Karras is a Priest and a Psychiatrist, but his advanced medical training at some of the country’s best medical schools still left him without the means to help his dying mother. It’s only when the church take the case seriously is anything done to aid Regan and only the Priests involved are prepared to do what’s necessary, despite the high personal cost to themselves.
The Exorcist is by no means perfect. The first half of the film is used to set the scene and build tension which in retrospect it does, but as you’re watching it feels slow. The cop investigating the death of the director working with Chris seems like a buffoon of a character and has a little too much screen time for someone who doesn’t push the story along. Merrin’s character is underdeveloped compared to the others and it’s really Karras we relate to. It would have been nice to know more about Merrin, especially as he seemed to have a greater understanding of the whole situation.
The Exorcist is a good scarefest of a film and one of the most quotable flicks around. 35 years since it’s release it remains controversial, the scenes with the crucifix are extreme and the filth that comes out of Regan’s mouth makes this a film you wouldn’t watch with your mum.
Two Thumbs Up for The Exorcist.