William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is based on the novel and screenplay by William Peter Blatty. The film opens in Iraq, where Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow, flawlessly made up to look forty years older than his true age) works as an archaeologist who discovers a medallion of Saint Joseph and a statuette that represents Pazuzu, an Assyrian demon. At sunset, Merrin finds a giant statue of Pazuzu towering in the desert as dogs begin to fight with each other in the distance. Merrin understands that a demon has been set loose and he must return home.
Meanwhile, back in the states in Georgetown, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is in the middle of making a film on campus directed by her good friend, Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), when her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) begins to show signs of the flu and then more and more disturbing actions such as crawling backwards down a staircase like a spider, peeing what looks like green soup, and rotating her head in highly suspect ways.
The first half of the film shows Chris trying every scientific and medical option to help Regan. Unfortunately, Regan gets worse and is even suspected of pushing Burke Dennings out of her bedroom window to his death at the bottom of the world’s most iconic stairs. At this point, even the doctors recommend an exorcism just for the possible psychological value for Regan.
Chris contacts Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller) who has recently lost his mother and may have also lost his faith in God. Though he is not completely convinced that Regan needs an exorcism, he is able to convince the Church to allow him to conduct one with the aid of Father Merrin, who participated in an exorcism many years ago.
- Disc 1 – Extended Director’s Cut – Eleven minutes added to The Exorcist in 2001 that help propel the story on an even more scary trajectory.
- Disc 2 – Original Theatrical Version – The cut you are probably most familiar with.
- Commentary by Director William Friedkin – Both versions of the film have original commentary by William Friedken. The original version, and the extended version are both worth a listen.
- Commentary by Producer / Screenwriter William Peter Blatty – This commentary is played over the original version of the film but is actually Blatty’s side of a long, rambling, but interesting interview.
- Introduction by William Friedkin – A short intro for The Exorcist.
Great performances abound here. Jason Miller, as Father Karras, is a tour de force of sadness, anger, and hope that he can save a little girl. Linda Blair, as Regan MacNeil, is a real breakout role. While doubles and stand-ins were often used for Blair’s goriest and most “satanic” scenes, her moments on screen are always sweet and heart-warming in what must have been a chaotic, scary set. We care for her; we fear for her.
The special effects are some of the best seen up to that date in a horror movie: spinning heads, the spider walk, the angiography scene – where a needle is inserted into tiny Regan MacNeil’s throat. Almost entirely utilizing practical sets, the mood is foreboding, and the scares pack a genuine wallop. The Exorcist is phenomenal.