The year 1973 opened with cries of pain and closed with a bone-chilling bang. It began with Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers and concluded with William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. These two films may seem worlds apart, but they both delve deep into the human soul, forcing us to grapple with fear, horror, and the stark reality of human suffering. In this article, we’re diving into The Exorcist, a classic of its own, that pushed the boundaries of the horror genre and set new standards for cinematic intensity.
The Terrifying Plot of The Exorcist
The Exorcist opens with an eerie scene in an archaeological site in Iraq, introducing the character of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), who’s unearthing strange relics. The majority of the film takes place in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where we meet actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her 12-year-old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair). They’ve moved into a large rental house to shoot a film called Crash Course.
During the shoot, Chris meets Father Karras (Jason Miller), a Roman Catholic priest and psychologist struggling with his faith due to his elderly mother’s mistreatment in New York City. In Washington, strange occurrences begin in their rental house, with eerie sounds coming from the attic. Regan complains that her bed shakes at night, setting the stage for a series of supernatural events.
One evening, during a dinner party, Regan urinates on the carpet in a trance-like state, deeply unsettling everyone. Her behavior becomes increasingly violent, prompting a series of invasive medical tests that reveal no physical cause. Chris leaves her friend and the director of Crash Course, Burke Dennings, to watch over Regan. However, upon her return, Chris discovers Dennings dead outside Regan’s window, with his head forcibly turned backward. Homicide detective William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) questions Chris about the murder.
Watch Trailer: The Exorcist
Things take a sinister turn when, upon Kinderman’s departure, Regan stabs her groin with a crucifix and begins speaking in Dennings’s voice, confirming suspicions of demonic possession. Desperate, Chris seeks the assistance of Father Karras, who engages in a chilling conversation with Regan, leading to a horrifying moment when she claims to be the Devil and vomits green bile onto Karras.
After witnessing this demonic display, Chris pleads for an exorcism to save her daughter. During a second interview, Karras reluctantly agrees and requests permission from the Roman Catholic Church to perform the exorcism, which is granted. The Church sends Father Merrin to assist Karras in this perilous endeavor, and they begin the terrifying exorcism ritual.
Regan reacts violently to the exorcism, with scenes of thrashing, vomiting, levitating beds, and harassing the priests. The demon, named Pazuzu, takes on the form of Karras’s deceased mother, driving him out of the room. Karras returns to find Merrin dead and, in a desperate act, offers himself as a host for the demon to save Regan. In a final moment of clarity, Karras throws himself out of Regan’s window, committing suicide.
The exorcism concludes, and Regan is miraculously healed. She has no memory of her possession, and she and Chris leave town, leaving behind the horrors of Georgetown.
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The Real-Life Inspiration: Roland Doe and the Novel
The Exorcist was loosely based on real-life events and inspired by a 1949 exorcism case involving a 13-year-old boy. The boy was known by pseudonyms like Roland Doe or Robbie Mannheim. This case involved a series of disturbing and unexplained events, including mysterious noises, furniture moving on its own, and the boy speaking in strange languages.
Author William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist drew heavily from this case and was the foundation for the movie’s screenplay. While the film remained loyal to the book, it presented the events with a cinematic intensity that brought the horrors to life.
The Enigmatic Exorcist Curse
While the movie thrilled audiences with its terrifying storyline, it also became known for the peculiar incidents and accidents that plagued its production. These occurrences led to the creation of the so-called Exorcist curse. Here are some of the eerie incidents that contributed to this legend:
- Challenging Casting Decisions: Director William Friedkin wanted to cast unknown actors for the leading roles, a decision that faced strong opposition from the film’s producers. Established stars like Jane Fonda and Audrey Hepburn declined roles, and eventually, Ellen Burstyn and Jason Miller were cast.
- Extreme Filming Conditions: Friedkin pushed the boundaries during production, demanding that Regan’s room be refrigerated to a bone-chilling -20°F (-29°C) to capture the actors’ breath realistically. He would also fire guns into the air to startle the crew, further intensifying the atmosphere.
- Injuries and Accidents: Friedkin’s insistence on pushing his cast and crew to physical extremes resulted in injuries. Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn both suffered back injuries during filming. Additionally, a carpenter lost a thumb, and a technician lost a toe behind the scenes.
- Mysterious Deaths: Several people associated with the film met untimely deaths during its production, fueling the notion of a curse. An extra tapped to play a nurse was later convicted of murder and was a suspect in a series of gruesome unsolved killings in New York City in the 1970s.
- Mysterious Fire: In a bizarre incident, the entire MacNeil house set burned in a fire one weekend during production, leaving only Regan’s room unharmed. This strange occurrence added to the mystique surrounding the film’s curse.
The Exorcist curse has become a legendary part of film history, leaving many to wonder if there was indeed some malevolent force at play during the making of the movie.
Is The Exorcist suitable for everyone?
The Exorcist isn’t your typical horror movie. It’s not about enjoying chills and thrills. Instead, it offers a raw and painful experience that leaves you with more questions than answers. It’s not for the faint of heart or for those seeking light entertainment. The movie’s intensity is enough to make you question if people today are so numb that they need such extreme experiences to feel anything at all.
The Exorcist stands as a landmark in horror cinema, both for its terrifying narrative and the mystique of the Exorcist curse that shrouds its production. The film’s intense and relentless exploration of demonic possession pushed the boundaries of the genre and left an indelible mark on the world of cinema.
While the alleged curse continues to intrigue, The Exorcist remains a testament to the power of storytelling and filmmaking. It’s a chilling tale that reminds us of the fine line between the known and the unknown, the real and the supernatural. As viewers, we are left questioning the mysteries that linger beyond the screen, forever tied to the enigma of The Exorcist.
Q. What is The Exorcist, and why is it famous?
A. The Exorcist is a 1973 horror film that redefined the genre. It’s famous for its relentless intensity and a gripping tale of demonic possession.
Q. What’s the plot of The Exorcist?
A. The movie follows actress Chris MacNeil, her daughter Regan, and a priest, Father Karras, as they confront the terrifying ordeal of Regan’s demonic possession and the subsequent exorcism.
Q. Is the film based on a true story?
A. Yes, The Exorcist is loosely based on a 1949 exorcism of a 13-year-old boy known as Roland Doe or Robbie Mannheim.
Q. Why is there talk of an Exorcist curse?
A. Several accidents, injuries, and mysterious incidents occurred during the movie’s production, leading to speculation of a curse associated with the film.
Q. Who were the key actors in The Exorcist?
A. Ellen Burstyn played Chris MacNeil, Linda Blair portrayed Regan, Jason Miller took on the role of Father Karras, and Max von Sydow played Father Merrin.
Q. What made The Exorcist such a landmark horror film?
A. The Exorcist went beyond typical horror by delivering raw and horrifying experiences. It’s widely considered one of the best horror films ever made.