The Exorcist (1973)- Why It Worked Back Then? (An analysis)

In my last post (Here) I talked about, a mass hysteria which was caused in 1973 due to a simple two hour long motion picture. It is amazing how a mere movie can drive people mad can lead to people running away from theaters with tears in their eyes. I also read on the net that many people were institutionalized after watching it and was also a cause of one miscarriage. Also many believed at the time of filming that the movie was cursed as many people involved with the movie production died and while shooting in Iraq, the actors and production team had hard time to face the hard 50 degrees climate.

I re watched the movie today in the early hours of the day in a room with closed light(I am not making this up), this was my third or fourth viewing of the movie, yet some of the scenes hastened my heart and had me terrified to the wit’s ends. I remember my father told me about the movie’s India release and i had a conversation with him again. He Told me that the movie was released in a single Theater in Priya Cinemas, which is now PVR priya, the cinema is situated in Vasant Vihar and back then, It was very far from the main town and people had to drive to the outskirts to reach there. The nights shows caused many people problems in driving back home as the experience would leave them in shock and lead to delusions.

Regan(left) and her mother Chris

Anyway as i was watching the movie today, almost half way, i was consumed deep inside the Movie, and suddenly the lights were turned on, i almost jumped on my seat on shock, it was my mother and she scolded me for sitting with lights closed and returned. So i watched the latter half of the movie in an illuminated room, with my mom sitting across, not like the way i wanted to watch it. As I promised in my last article , here is my Review cum analysis of The Exorcist(Spoiler Alert):

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist released in 1973  and directed by William Friedkin stars Ellen Burstyn as Chris Macniel, Linda Blair as a 12 year old Regan, Jason Miller as Father Karras and Max Von Sydow as Father Merrin.

A Little bit of plot:

Chris Macniel is a visiting actress in Georgetown, Washington. She is shooting for a movie there and living with her 12 year old daughter Regan, her personal assistant Sharon(Kitty Wynn) and two housekeepers.  They starts hearing strange scuffling and scratching noises from their attic which Chris thinks is due to rats. Regan gradually starts behaving strangely, she undergoes strange behavioral changes like anxiety and depression.

Meanwhile earlier in the movie we are introduced to Father Merrin, a priest who is working in an archaeological dig in Iraq, he encounters a strange article from the dig, a small head of a statue, he starts searching for similar statue and encounters strange omens like clock stop ticking and finally he encounters a bizarre statue of a demonic figure.

Father Merrin

We encounter another catholic Priest while he is watching Chris’s shooting for movie directed by Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), thus we are introduced to a catholic priest named Damien Karras who is also a shrink or a psychologist if you prefer. We encounter him undergoing a struggle with his faith as we see him talk to his seniors about a transfer. We are also shown his troubled relationship with his mother and how he is guilty for her situation.

Father Damien Karras

The situation with Regan keeps getting worse as her bed begins to ‘Shake, she starts to speak obscene language and has a complete change of personality, Chris takes her to every Doctor and no one is able to tell whats wrong with Regan, we witness as the mother descends down a path of depression and anxiety. The situation worsens when Chris returns from work and finds her house deserted with Regan alone in her bed,  Sharon returns and tells her that she left Burke with Regan and soon they find that Burke was found dead at the base of the steps which is just beside the house.
Shortly after this, Chris is visited by a detective named Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), who seems suspicious of Burke’s death, as he leave Chris hears shouting from Regan’s room and this is when Regan in her Demon’s voice says, “Do you know what she did? Your c*****g daughter??” Chris then realizes that Regan is responsible for Burke’s death.

The Infamous Spiderwalk Scene

Desperate for help Chris meets with Father karras and he with the help of church gets Father Merrin to help and exorcise the demon out of the child. Thus ensues the climactic battle of the movie.

Why is it good?

The Reason i provided this detailed synopsis is to prove a point, if you take a modern horror movie for example let us take Paranormal Activity, what are the characters, do they have any depth and the most important point of all do you as a viewer care about the characters. The answer is no, we don’t, What The Exorcist brilliantly do is to build up its characters in it’s first half, each of the character we are introduced to has its own life and has their own troubles, as the camera pans away from one character to another, we also shift from one story arc from another. It is not just about Regan and her possession, it is about the struggle of faith between God and Damien, it is about the conflict between  the good father Merrin and his old arch-nemesis Pazuzu or the devil himself. And It is also about the descent of Chris’s character from a hard working actress and loving mother to ever smoking and depressed women.

Another thing which makes exorcist that good is the acting behind every character, Linda Blair gives the most terrifying acting i have seen as the possessed child and Both the fathers acts particularly well. But the acting from Ellen Burnstyn was breathtaking, the way she goes her transformation and the portrayal of struggling mother is very frightening and utterly believable.

Why it worked back in 1970s?

The Reason that Exorcist terrified the masses and shocked the viewers in early seventies is because no one had witnessed something like this ever before. Before Exorcist horror movies were not all about devil and demons, they were rarely about possession, horror genre was all about monster movies, with Draculas and creature flicks lining theaters, horror genre was getting repetitive. With Movies like The Exorcist, The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby, the horror genre was revolutionized and the Silver screen was changed for ever.

People lining up for The Exorcist in 1973

The innocent Regan transforming completely to a spitting and vomiting incarnation of devil himself is utterly terrifying and that is what made Exorcist really scary, because every viewer could imagine themselves in place of Regan and think “that could be me” 1973 Audience was not prepared for what they got, they were not prepared to watch a girl spitting out green pea soup, no one was prepared about the head spinning , the spider walk with inverted legs down the staircase. And above all no one was prepared for obscene vulgarities spewed from the demon’s mouth.

Why it won’t work Now?

If Exorcist would release now, it wont get the same response from the public and you might wonder what is the difference. The difference is with the minds of public. The Exorcist changed the movies and started a series of same kinds of movies, the string of possession movies became endless, every year we can see numerous movies which claim that they will scare you, but what they actually have done is that people have become accustomed to the particular style. The awful Direction also has an important role to play in this, one of the many reasons for the exorcist’s success was its brilliant acting and direction. The acting in horror movie now is very superficial and silly and direction has become repetitive.

Paranormal Activity

Another important point and a significant reason that the movie will not scare people now is that, the vulgarities, the obscene remarks, the comments, the f bombs all these obscenities have become so common that every character in movies practically use them like clockwork. The shock of The Exorcist wont work now, because the viewers are accustomed to use the bad words. Another point is the countless imitations and copies of Exorcist out there. A few years ago, I saw a decent horror movie from Bollywood, i cant remember the name of the movie but the movie was exactly like The Exorcist.

Direction and Imagery

Face of the Devil which flashes cleverly in multiple times in the movie.

The Director William Friedkin did a brilliant job in directing the Movie, multiple transition shots from characters are well done and shot. The opening sequence was beautifully shot in deserts of Iraq and the scene of Statue silhouetted by large Sun Setting behind it was a beautiful shot. Most of the movie is shot in the house of Chris Macniel, as a director it becomes difficult to shoot so many scenes in the same house, without making the viewer bored, various angles are used like in the staircase and in the ending confrontation. The Practical effects done in the movie is also good and still works pretty well.

Imagery used throughout the movie.

Various Imagery is used throughout the movie, for example when the devil is at its most powerful stage, a scene shows with Regan holding her hands up with only moon light coming from the window behind her as Merrin witnesses the statue of Pazuzu behind her(See above). And also the iconin scene when Merrin Arrives at the house for the first time, the use of myst and shadows with huge house overpowering a small Merrin below(See below).

The Iconic Scene from the Exorcist ; Merrin Arrives

EDIT: I forgot to mention the chilling and haunting soundtrack of the movie which amplifies the terror tenfold. Especially the main theme Tubular Bells, check it out on YouTube, the theme is awesome.

To witness the horror click the link below.

With the battle between Evil and good(innocence) The Exorcist is a terrifying watch and also a brilliant piece of cinema. The movie gets 9/10.


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