Film of the Day – The Exorcist

The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s critically acclaimed horror classic The Exorcist – the version you’ve never seen, apparently. Don’t you just hate marketing people adding valueless statements onto the end of titles? The Exorcist stands as one of the most controversial and highly regarded films in the horror genre and even now some 40 years on, it has lost none of its effectiveness or ability to shock.

Nothing like this had been seen before and you have to wonder whether a film featuring a 12-year-old girl mutilating her genitals with a crucifix would make it past censors or increasingly conservative religious groups. The film is adapted from the novel by William Peter Blatty’s (who died earlier this month), which was based on the last Catholic exorcism performed in the United States, stars Max Von Sydow as the remorselessly stone-faced priest who must overcome his wavering faith to save the soul of the possessed girl (played by Linda Blair).

Blood and gore horror fans maybe won’t get as much from this as most – there are no frenetic hand-held camera chases with a cloaked and blood-soaked slasher. Friedkin invites you to engage your brain to fully understand some of the film’s more nuanced passages; the effort, though, is well worthwhile and helps to cement in the mind the flawed characters of the two priests, the divorcee mother and the adolescent girl.

Critics of the film often point to its slow pace as a weakness, but Friedkin’s direction has purpose and provides an immersive build-up to the story’s climax. Brilliant, thought-provoking and retains the quality to shock.

The Exorcist – Tuesday 10.55pm on TCM