Review: ‘The Exorcist’

William Friedkin's film of William Peter Blatty's novel The Exorcist is an expert telling of a supernatural horror story. The well cast film makes credible in powerful laymen's terms the rare phenomenon of diabolic possession.

William Friedkin’s film of William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist is an expert telling of a supernatural horror story. The well cast film makes credible in powerful laymen’s terms the rare phenomenon of diabolic possession.

Blatty’s story is based on a 1949 incident of documented possession, atop which came Friedkin’s own investigations. The joint effort is cohesive and compelling, gripping both the senses and the intellect.

A compendium of production delays, some of puzzling origin (shooting alone occupied more than 10 months [of the 16-month period]), and rush to completion upped final costs to $8 million-$10 million.

Jesuit priest Max von Sydow is the leader of an archeological expedition. After unearthing some pagan hex symbol, several near fatal accidents occur. Thence to Georgetown, Maryland.

Ellen Burstyn, a divorced film actress, is on location with daughter Linda Blair, the latter becoming aware of some apparent inner spiritual friend whom she calls ‘Captain Howdy’, and their rented house now filled with strange sounds and movements. Finally, Jason Miller is a psychiatrist-Jesuit.

The lives of these three gradually converge as Blair’s fits become genuinely vicious and destructive, provoking a shocking series of psychiatric tests. At length, Von Sydow, who has exorcised before, is sent to perform the rare rites. The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror.

1973: Best Adapted Screenplay, Sound.

Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Ellen Burstyn), Supp. Actor (Jason Miller), Supp. Actress (Linda Blair), Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing

The Exorcist


Hoya/Warner. Director William Friedkin; Producer William Peter Blatty; Screenplay William Peter Blatty; Camera Owen Roizman, Billy Williams; Editor Jordan Leondopoulos, Evan Lottman, Norman Gay, Bud Smith; Music Jack Nitzsche; Art Director Bill Malley


(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1973. Running time: 121 MIN.


Ellen Burstyn Max von Sydow Lee J. Cobb Kitty Winn Jack MacGowran Linda Blair
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  1. Pure Genius says:

    Was waiting in line to see this opening night and an ambulance pulled up with sirens blaring because a man had a heart attack at the previous screening. It was that scary.

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