‘The Exorcist’ ain’t what it used to be


The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by William Friedkin

7/10  R

Having waited until 2014 to finally watch a classic like “The Exorcist,” I admit I’m not able to make a fair judgment. Not only have I heard all there is to hear about the film, but forty years sure does a lot to a horror movie. Like, make it not so horrifying anymore. Can it still scare? Sure. But four decades of shitty exorcism movies killed, for me at least, the original exorcism movie. The past three Januarys have shown us that newer horror movies are definitely not always better (“Mama,” “The Devil Inside,” “The Rite”), but recent movies like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Conjuring” have proven that they have the potential to be scarier than those produced in the golden era of film.


Why? For starters, archaic effects (animatronics, invisible wires, pea soup) killed any real terror “The Exorcist” could have provided for audiences today. Maybe those who had seen it in 1973 still recall the terror they felt, and I don’t blame them. Some of the things Regan MacNeil (played by Linda Blair) did in her fit of demonic possession still have the ability to frighten. Back then, I’m sure they were even creepier. But the juxtaposition of religious formality and vulgar sexual references seems to be a source of much of the “horror.” I didn’t buy it. Today’s society isn’t bothered in the slightest by such gross, perverted talk…even by a young girl. To me, Regan’s demons are rude and immature…not frightening. They turn her into a brat. Horrifying for a parent, but not for a detached viewer. How many people watching “The Exorcist” have been personally affected by the rite of exorcism? Probably not many. The idea is certainly bloodcurdling to ponder, but if you can watch a horror movie and believe it won’t happen to you, it ceases to be very horrible. Want to avoid the horror of “The Blair Witch Project”? Stay out of the woods. Does “Psycho” freak you out? Try staying in a Holiday Inn instead. It’s easy. Technically, I guess demonic possession is hard to avoid, but the fact that it happens so infrequently should keep your fears at bay. I will say, though, that “The Exorcist” gives us a worthy ending with a genuinely surprising twist. And brilliant dramatic performances by legendary actors like Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow give us the motivation to want to stay interested. The rest, unfortunately, is lost in translation after forty years. It’s like “The Exorcist” is speaking in tongues.

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