The Exorcist (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Friedkin|
|Produced by||William Peter Blatty|
|Screenplay by||William Peter Blatty|
|Based on||The Exorcist
by William Peter Blatty
Max von Sydow
Lee J. Cobb
|Music by||Jack Nitzsche (additional)|
|Edited by||Norman Gay
Evan A. Lottman
Bud S. Smith
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||122 minutes
132 minutes (Director's cut)
The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film. directed by William Friedkin, adapted by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother's desperate attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests.
The film features Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, and (in voice only) Mercedes McCambridge. It is one of a cycle of "demonic child" films produced from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, including Rosemary's Baby and The Omen.
The Exorcist was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. on December 26, 1973. The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay), and losing Best Picture to The Sting. It became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide. It is also the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture.
The film has had a significant influence on popular culture. It was named the scariest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and Movies.com and by viewers of AMC in 2006, and was No. 3 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. In 2010, the Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved as part of its National Film Registry. In 2003, it was placed at No. 2 in Channel 4's The 100 Greatest Scary Moments in the United Kingdom.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Alternative and uncut versions
- 5 Sequels and related films
- 6 Home media
- 7 Reception
- 8 Awards and honors
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
During an archaeological dig in Iraq, Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow)—an archeologist and priest—discovers a small amulet and realizes it matches that of a statue of Pazuzu, an evil demon Merrin defeated many years ago. Merrin suspects the time has come to face the demon once again.
In the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., actress Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) begins noticing strange and frightening behavioral changes in her daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), which includes constant swearing and abnormal strength. When medicine fails, Regan is given a few unpleasant tests, but X-ray results prove "negative" much to the confusion of the doctors. In reality, Regan is now possessed by Pazuzu, who earlier pretended to be her imaginary friend "Captain Howdy" through a Ouija board.
Burke Dennings (Jack McGowran), the British director of Chris's latest film, dies mysteriously after falling from Regan's open bedroom window while Chris' secretary, Sharon Spencer (Kitty Winn), was away from the house. His murder is investigated by detective William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), who questions both Chris and a young priest named Damien Karras (Jason Miller) who has lost faith in God after the death of his ill and elderly mother. Chris begins to suspect Regan played a role in Burke's death. After Regan assaults a psychiatrist, the doctors decide that if Regan believes she is possessed, an exorcism may be Regan's only hope into restoring her sanity. Chris, however, is tentative as she and Regan have no religious beliefs.
Karras agrees to see Regan for Chris but refuses to perform an exorcism; however, further supernatural phenomena force him to accept Regan needs an exorcism. Karras is given permission by the bishop, who—at the request of the university's president—also hires Merrin to help, since Merrin has prior experience with exorcisms.
Working together, Karras and Merrin attempt to exorcise Pazuzu from Regan—who now refers to herself as the Devil—but the demon taunts them, especially Karras for his weak faith and guilt over his mother's death. Karras is dismissed after a break, as Merrin knows he is not mentally fit for a second attempt. Despite this, Karras returns to the room where Regan is now free from her binds and Merrin lies dead. In a fit of rage he assaults Regan and orders the demon to take him instead. Pazuzu obeys and Karras throws himself from the window. He then dies of his injuries, but not before receiving last rites from his friend Father Dyer (William O'Malley).
Days later, the McNeils leave for Los Angeles. They meet Dyer and say goodbye. Regan remembers nothing, but embraces Dyer after noticing his white collar.
- Linda Blair as Regan Teresa MacNeil, Chris's friendly, loving, faithful, and sweet twelve-year-old daughter. She displays strange and aggressive behaviors after playing with a Ouija board, which are later revealed as early symptoms of demonic possession.
- Ellen Burstyn as Christine "Chris" MacNeil, a famous actress temporarily living in Washington, D.C., with her daughter. She is an agnostic and has a quick temper but is also a loving mother. When Regan displays strange behavior, Chris experiences an emotional breakdown and tries to find help for her daughter, consulting neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, and finally a Catholic exorcist.
- Jason Miller as Father Damien Karras, a troubled priest, vocational counselor, and psychiatrist. He suffers deeply when his mother dies and confesses to have (apparently) lost his faith in God. Jack Nicholson was the original choice for the role, but Miller was cast after Friedkin saw his play, That Championship Season, and meeting the playwright/actor after the performance.
- Max von Sydow as Father Lankester Merrin, an elderly priest and archeologist. A quiet and patient man with great faith, he has prior experience in performing exorcisms and is aware of the risks of facing evil.
- Lee J. Cobb as Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, a police detective investigating Burke Dennings's death. Assertive and cunning, he thinks Regan was involved in Dennings's death, which may be related to the recent desecration of a nearby church.
- Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the demon, Pazuzu.
- Kitty Winn as Sharon Spencer, Chris's friend and personal assistant who acts as Regan's tutor.
- Jack MacGowran as Burke Dennings, an eccentric film director and close friend of Chris; his unexplained death while looking after Regan elicits a police homicide investigation.
- Father William O'Malley as Father Joseph Dyer, a close friend of Karras's who tries to help him deal with his mother's death.
- Robert Symonds as Dr. Taney.
- Barton Heyman as Dr. Samuel Klein, a doctor who suggests that Regan needs "special" help.
- Arthur Storch as the psychiatrist.
- Titos Vandis as Karras's uncle.
- Eileen Dietz as a face associated with the demon, seen only in visions and flash cuts.
Factual basis for the film
Aspects of the novel were inspired by an exorcism performed on a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland, in 1949 by the Jesuit priest, Fr. William S. Bowdern, who formerly taught at both St. Louis University and St. Louis University High School. Hunkeler's Catholic family was convinced the child's aggressive behavior was attributable to demonic possession, and called upon the services of Father Walter Halloran to perform the rite of exorcism. Although Friedkin admits he is very reluctant to speak about the factual aspects of the film, he made the film with the intention of immortalizing the events that took place in Cottage City, Maryland in 1949, and despite the relatively minor changes that were made, the film depicts everything that could be verified by those involved. It was one of three exorcisms to be sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the U.S. at that time. In order to make the film, Friedkin was allowed access to the diaries of the priests involved, as well as the doctors and nurses; he also discussed the events with the boy's aunt in great detail. Friedkin doesn't believe that the "head-spinning" actually occurred, but this has been disputed. Friedkin is not a Christian of any denomination.
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Although the agency representing Blair did not send her for the role, Blair's mother brought her to meet with Warner Brothers's casting department and then with Friedkin. Pamelyn Ferdin, a veteran of science fiction and supernatural drama, was a candidate for the role of Regan. April Winchell was considered, until she developed Pyelonephritis, which caused her to be hospitalized and ultimately taken out of consideration. Denise Nickerson, who played Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, was considered, but the material troubled her parents too much, and they pulled her out of consideration. Anissa Jones, known for her role as Buffy in Family Affair, auditioned for the role, but she too was rejected, for much the same reason as Ferdin. The part went instead to Blair, a relative unknown except for a role in The Way We Live Now.
The studio wanted Marlon Brando for the role of Father Lankester Merrin. Friedkin immediately vetoed this by stating it would become a "Brando movie." Jack Nicholson was up for the part of Karras before Stacy Keach was hired by Blatty. Friedkin then spotted Miller following a performance of Miller's play That Championship Season in New York. Even though Miller had never acted in a film, Keach's contract was bought out by Warner Brothers, and Miller was signed.
Jane Fonda, Audrey Hepburn and Anne Bancroft were under consideration for the role of Chris. Ellen Burstyn received the part after she phoned Friedkin and emphatically stated she was going to play Chris.
Friedkin originally intended to use Blair's voice, electronically deepened and roughened, for the demon's dialogue. Although Friedkin felt this worked fine in some places, he felt scenes with the demon confronting the two priests lacked the dramatic power required and selected legendary radio actress Mercedes McCambridge, an experienced voice actress, to provide the demon's voice. After filming, Warner Brothers attempted to conceal McCambridge's participation, which led to a lawsuit from McCambridge and opened a grudge between her and Friedkin.
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Warner had approached Arthur Penn (who was teaching at Yale), Peter Bogdanovich (who wanted to pursue other projects, subsequently regretting the decision), and Mike Nichols (who did not want to shoot a film so dependent on a child's performance) and John Boorman—who would direct the second film—said he did not want to direct it because it was "cruel towards children". Originally Mark Rydell was hired to direct, but William Peter Blatty insisted on Friedkin instead, because he wanted his film to have the same energy as Friedkin's previous film, The French Connection. After a standoff with the studio, which initially refused to budge over Rydell, Blatty eventually got his way. Stanley Kubrick was offered the film (and later on its first sequel) but declined.
Production of The Exorcist began on August 14, 1972, and though it was only supposed to last 85 days, it lasted for 224.
Friedkin went to some extraordinary lengths, reminiscent of some directors from the old Hollywood directing style, manipulating the actors, to get the genuine reactions he wanted. Yanked violently around in harnesses, both Blair and Burstyn suffered back injuries and their painful screams went right into the film. Burstyn injured her back after landing on her coccyx when a stuntman jerked her via cable during the scene when Regan slaps her mother. According to the documentary Fear of God: The Making of the Exorcist, however, the injury did not cause permanent damage, although Burstyn was upset the shot of her screaming in pain was used in the film. After asking Reverend William O'Malley if he trusted him and being told yes, Friedkin slapped him hard across the face before a take to generate a deeply solemn reaction that was used in the film, as a very emotional Father Dyer read last rites to Father Karras; this offended the many Catholic crew members on the set. He also fired a gun without warning on the set to elicit shock from Jason Miller for a take, and only told Miller that pea soup would hit him in the chest rather than the face concerning the projectile-vomiting scene, resulting in his disgusted reaction. Lastly, he had Regan's bedroom set built inside a freezer so that the actors' breath could be visible on camera, which required the crew to wear parkas and other cold-weather gear.
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Lalo Schifrin's working score was rejected by Friedkin. Schifrin had written six minutes of music for the initial film trailer but audiences were reportedly too scared by its combination of sights and sounds. Warner Bros. executives told Friedkin to instruct Schifrin to tone it down with softer music, but Friedkin did not relay the message. It has been claimed Schifrin later used the music written for The Exorcist for The Amityville Horror, but he has denied this in interviews.
In the soundtrack liner notes for his 1977 film, Sorcerer, Friedkin said had he heard the music of Tangerine Dream earlier, he would have had them score The Exorcist. Instead, he used modern classical compositions, including portions of the 1972 Cello Concerto No. 1, of Polymorphia, and other pieces by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, Five Pieces for Orchestra by Austrian composer Anton Webern as well as some original music by Jack Nitzsche. The music was heard only during scene transitions. The 2000 "Version You've Never Seen" features new original music by Steve Boddacker, as well as brief source music by Les Baxter.
The original soundtrack LP has only been released once on CD, as an expensive and rare Japanese import. It is noteworthy for being the only soundtrack to include the main theme Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, which became very popular after the film's release, and the movement Night of the Electric Insects from George Crumb's string quartet Black Angels.
The Greek song playing on the radio when Father Karras leaves his mother's house is called "Paramythaki mou" (My Tale) and is sung by Giannis Kalatzis. Lyric writer Lefteris Papadopoulos has admitted that a few years later when he was in financial difficulties he asked for some compensation for the intellectual rights of the song. Part of Hans Werner Henze's 1966 composition Fantasia for Strings is played over the closing credits.
The film's opening sequence was filmed in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. The people of Sinjar are mostly Kurdish members of the ancient Yezidi sect, which reveres Melek Taus. Outsiders often equate Melek Taus with the Devil, though this benevolent being has little in common with the Islamic and Christian Satan. The archaeological dig site seen at the film's beginning is the actual site of ancient Hatra in Nineveh Province.
The "Exorcist steps", stone steps at the end of M Street in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. were padded with 1/2"-thick rubber to film the death of Karras. The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.
The MacNeil residence interiors were filmed at CECO Studios in Manhattan. The bedroom set had to be refrigerated to capture the authentic icy breath of the actors in the exorcising scenes, while the bedroom scenes along with many other scenes were filmed in the basement of Fordham University in New York. The temperature was brought so low that a thin layer of snow fell onto the set one morning. Blair, who was only in a thin nightgown, says to this day she cannot stand being cold. Exteriors of the MacNeill house were filmed at 36th and Prospect in Washington, using a family home and a false wall to convey the home's thrust toward the steps. In fact, both then and now, a garden sits atop the embankment between the steps and the home.
The scenes involving Regan's medical tests were filmed at New York University Medical Center and were performed by actual medical staff which normally carry out the procedures shown. In the film Regan first undergoes an early type of cerebral angiography, then (when the results come back negative) a pneumoencephalography – two painful diagnostic tests nowadays obsoleted by far less invasive neuroimaging studies using modern CT or MRI scanners. As was the common practice in those days, the angiography was performed by direct puncture of the carotid artery resulting in blood squirting that caused some movie viewers to faint. The follow-on procedure, pneumoencephalography, though routinely performed through the 1970s, was very taxing on patients and sometimes required months of recuperation. In the film Regan is shown to be in great distress while undergoing it, as actual patients often were. Consequently, Chris MacNeil experiences a breakdown when the doctors suggest it be attempted as the other tests failed to locate a brain lesion they are certain would be found.
The interior of Karras' room at Georgetown was a meticulous reconstruction of Theology professor Father Thomas M. King, S.J.'s "corridor Jesuit" room in New North Hall. Fr. King's room was photographed by production staff after a visit by Blatty, a Georgetown graduate, and Friedkin. Upon returning to New York, every element of King's room, including posters and books, was recreated for the set, including a poster of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., a paleontologist on whom the character of Fr. Merrin was loosely based. Georgetown was paid $1,000 per day of filming, which included both exteriors, such as Burstyn's first scene, shot on the steps of the Flemish Romanesque Healy Hall, and interiors, such as the defilement of the statue of the Virgin Mary in Dahlgren Chapel, or the Archbishop's office, which is actually the office of the president of the university. One scene was filmed in The Tombs, a student hangout across from the steps that was founded by a Blatty classmate. The motion picture St. Elmo's Fire includes scenes filmed at The Tombs.
The Exorcist contained a number of special effects, engineered by makeup artist Dick Smith. In one scene from the film, Max von Sydow is actually wearing more makeup than the possessed girl (Linda Blair). This was because director Friedkin wanted some very detailed facial close-ups. When this film was made, von Sydow was 44, though he was made up to look 74. Alan McKenzie stated in his book Hollywood Tricks of the Trade that the fact "that audiences didn't realize von Sydow was wearing makeup at all is a tribute to the skills of veteran makeup artist Dick Smith."
Alternative and uncut versions
Several versions of The Exorcist have been released: the 1979 theatrical re-issue was reconverted to 70mm, with its 1.75:1 ratio cropped to 2.20:1 to use all the available screen width that 70mm offers. This was also the first time the sound was remixed to six-channel Dolby Stereo sound. Almost all video versions feature this soundtrack.
In both the TV-PG and TV-14 rated network versions, the image of the obscenely defiled statue of the Virgin Mary stays intact. It stays on screen several seconds longer for the TV-14 version. On original TV airings, the shot was replaced with one where the statue's face is smashed in but without other defilement.
The DVD released for the 25th Anniversary retains the original theatrical ending, and includes the extended ending with Dyer and Kinderman as a special feature (as opposed the "Version You've Never Seen" ending, which features Dyer and Kinderman but omits the Casablanca reference). The Special Edition DVD also includes a 75-minute documentary titled The Fear of God on the making of The Exorcist (although PAL releases feature an edited, 52 minute version). The documentary includes screen tests and additional deleted scenes. The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology (box set) was released in October 2006. This DVD collection includes the original theatrical release version The Exorcist; the extended version, The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen; the sequel with Linda Blair, Exorcist II: The Heretic; the supposed end of the trilogy, The Exorcist III; and two different prequels: Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. Morgan Creek, current owner of the franchise, is now negotiating a cable television mini-series of Blatty's novel, which is the basis for the original film.
The spider-walk scene
Contortionist Linda R. Hager performed the infamous spider-walk scene on April 11, 1973. Director Friedkin deleted this scene just prior to the December 26, 1973 premiere because it was technically ineffective due to the visible wires suspending Hager in a backward-arched position as she descends the stairs. According to Friedkin, "I cut it when the film was first released because this was one of those effects that did not work as well as others, and I was only able to save it for the re-release with the help of computer graphic imagery." Additionally, Friedkin considered that the spider-walk scene appeared too early in the film's plot and removed it despite screenplay writer William Peter Blatty's request that the scene remain. In the book, the spider-walk is very quiet, and consists of Regan following Sharon around and occasionally licking her ankle.
In 1998, Warner re-released the digitally remastered DVD of The Exorcist: 25th Anniversary Special Edition. The DVD includes the BBC documentary, The Fear of God: The Making of The Exorcist, highlighting the never-before-seen original non-bloody variant of the spider-walk scene.
To appease the screenwriter and some fans of The Exorcist, Friedkin worked with CGI artists to digitally remove the wires holding Hager. The director reinstated the bloody variant of the spider-walk scene for the 2000 theatrically re-released version of The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen.
In October 2010, Warner released The Exorcist (Extended Director's Cut & Original Theatrical Edition) on Blu-ray, including the behind-the-scenes filming of the spider-walk scene.
After the film's success, rip-off films and The Exorcist franchise sequels appeared. John Boorman's Exorcist II: The Heretic was released in 1977, and revisited Regan four years after her initial ordeal. The plot dealt with an investigation into the legitimacy of Merrin's exorcism of Regan in the first film. In flashback sequences, we see Regan giving Merrin his fatal heart attack, as well as scenes from the exorcism of a young boy named Kokumo in Africa many years earlier. The film was so sharply criticized that director John Boorman reedited the film for a secondary release immediately after its premiere. Both versions have now been released on video; the cut version on VHS and the original uncut version now on DVD.
The Exorcist III appeared in 1990, written and directed by Blatty himself from his own 1983 novel Legion. Jumping past the events of Exorcist II, this book and film presented a continuation of Karras' story. Following the precedent set in The Ninth Configuration, Blatty turned a supporting character from the first film—in this case, Kinderman—into the chief protagonist. Though the characters of Karras and Kinderman were acquainted during the murder investigation in The Exorcist and Kinderman expressed fondness for Karras, in Exorcist III Blatty has Kinderman remembering Karras as his "best friend".Jason Miller reprised his Academy Award nomination role.
A prequel film attracted attention and controversy even before its release in 2004; it went through a number of directorial and script changes, such that two versions were ultimately released. John Frankenheimer was originally hired as director for the project, but withdrew before filming started due to health concerns. He died a month later. Paul Schrader replaced him. Upon completion the studio rejected Schrader's version as being too slow. Renny Harlin was then hired as director. Harlin reused some of Schrader's footage but shot mostly new material to create a more conventional horror film. Harlin's new version Exorcist: The Beginning was released, but was not well received. Nine months later Schrader's original version, retitled Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, was given a small theatrical release. It received better, but still mostly negative, critical responses. Both films were made available on DVD. Like Exorcist II: The Heretic, both films made significant changes from the original storyline. The plot of these films centered on an exorcism that Father Merrin had performed as a young priest in Africa, many years prior to the events in The Exorcist. This exorcism was first referenced in The Exorcist, and in the first sequel Exorcist II: The Heretic, flashback scenes were shown of Merrin exorcising the demon Pazuzu from an African boy named Kokumo. Although the plot for both prequels Beginning and Dominion centered around Merrin's exorcism in Africa, they both took a significant departure from the original storyline, making no effort to be faithful to original details. For example: the African boy, though he appeared in the film was not named Kokomu, and eventually discovered not to actually be the possessed character.
A made-for-television film, Possessed (based on the book of the same name by Thomas B. Allen), was broadcast on Showtime on October 22, 2000, directed by Steven E. de Souza and written by de Souza and Michael Lazarou. The film claimed to follow the true accounts that inspired Blatty to write The Exorcist and starred Timothy Dalton, Henry Czerny, and Christopher Plummer.
Blatty directed The Ninth Configuration, a post-Vietnam War drama set in a mental institution. Released in 1980, it was based on Blatty's novel of the same name. Though it contrasts sharply with the tone of The Exorcist, Blatty regards Configuration as its true sequel. The lead character is the astronaut from Chris' party, Lt. Cutshaw.
The success of The Exorcist inspired a string of possession-related films worldwide. The first was Beyond the Door, a 1974 Italian film with Juliet Mills as a woman possessed by the devil. It appeared in the U.S. one year later. Also in 1974, a Turkish film, Şeytan (Turkish for Satan; the original film was also shown with the same name), is an almost scene-for-scene remake of the original. The same year in Germany, the exorcism-themed film Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen was released. In 1976, Britain released The Devil Within Her (also called I Don't Want to Be Born) with Joan Collins as an exotic dancer who gives birth to a demon-possessed child.
Similarly, a blaxploitation film was released in 1974 titled Abby. While the films Şeytan and Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen were protected from prosecution by the laws of their countries of origin, Abby's producers (filming in Louisiana) were sued by Warner. The film was pulled from theaters, but not before making $4 million at the box office.
A parody, Repossessed, was released the same year as The Exorcist III, with Blair lampooning the role she had played in the original.
The prologue for Scary Movie 2 was a short parody of several scenes from the original.
A meta-reference to the film was made in an episode of Supernatural- a show where demons possessing humans is a common plot element; demons in the series are human souls corrupted by their time in Hell, lacking physical bodies of their own to interact with Earth-, where Linda Blair appeared as a police detective, with protagonist Dean Winchester finding her character familiar and expressing a strange desire for pea soup at the episode's conclusion.
In Angel: Earthly Possessions, a spin-off comic story based on the TV series Angel, protagonist Angel finds himself dealing with a priest who performs exorcisms, but comes to realize that the priest is summoning the demons for him to exorcise in the first place. He also makes a note of The Exorcist film, noting that the vision it created of possession actually made things easier for possession demons by making it harder for humans to know what to expect from a possession.
A limited edition box set was released in 1998; it was limited to 50,000 copies, with available copies circulating around the Internet. There are two versions; a special edition VHS and a special edition DVD. The only difference between the two copies is the recording format.
- DVD features
- The original film with restored film and digitally remastered audio, with a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio.
- An introduction by director Friedkin
- The 1998 BBC documentary The Fear of God: The Making of "The Exorcist"
- 2 audio commentaries
- Interviews with the director and writer
- Theatrical trailers and TV spots
- Box features
- A commemorative 52-page tribute book, covering highlights of the film's preparation, production, and release; features previously unreleased historical data and archival photographs
- Limited edition soundtrack CD of the film's score, including the original (unused) soundtrack ("Tubular Bells" and "Night of the Electric Insects" omitted)
- 8 lobby card reprints
- Exclusive senitype film frame (magnification included)
In an interview with DVD Review, Friedkin mentioned that he was scheduled to begin work on The Exorcist Blu-ray on December 2, 2008. This edition features a new restoration, including both the 1973 theatrical version and the 2000 "Version You've Never Seen". It was released on October 5, 2010. A 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray will be released on October 8, 2013. The release will contain both cuts of the film and many of the previously released bonus features in addition to two featurettes that revolve around author William Peter Blatty.
Upon its December 26, 1973, release, the film received mixed reviews from critics, "ranging from 'classic' to 'claptrap'." Stanley Kauffmann, in The New Republic, wrote, "This is the scariest film I've seen in years—the only scary film I've seen in years ... If you want to be shaken—and I found out, while the picture was going, that that's what I wanted—then The Exorcist will scare the @#!*% out of you." Variety noted that it was "an expert telling of a supernatural horror story ... The climactic sequences assault the senses and the intellect with pure cinematic terror." In Castle of Frankenstein, Joe Dante called it "an amazing film, and one destined to become at the very least a horror classic. Director Friedkin's film will be profoundly disturbing to all audiences, especially the more sensitive and those who tend to 'live' the movies they see ... Suffice it to say, there has never been anything like this on the screen before."
However, Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, dismissed The Exorcist as "a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap ... a practically impossible film to sit through ... It establishes a new low for grotesque special effects ..." Andrew Sarris complained that "Friedkin's biggest weakness is his inability to provide enough visual information about his characters ... whole passages of the movie's exposition were one long buzz of small talk and name droppings ... The Exorcist succeeds on one level as an effectively excruciating entertainment, but on another, deeper level it is a thoroughly evil film." Writing in Rolling Stone, Jon Landau felt the film was "nothing more than a religious porn film, the gaudiest piece of shlock this side of Cecil B. DeMille (minus that gentleman's wit and ability to tell a story) ... "
Over the years, The Exorcist's critical reputation has grown considerably. The film currently has an 87% "Certified Fresh" approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, based on 47 reviews the website collected. Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel placed it in the top five films released that year. However, the film has its detractors as well, including Kim Newman who has criticized it for messy plot construction, conventionality and overblown pretentiousness, among other perceived defects. Writer James Baldwin provides an extended negative critique in his book length essay The Devil Finds Work. Director Martin Scorsese placed The Exorcist on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire Magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies Ever Made. It was also placed on a similar list of 1000 films by The New York Times.
The film earned $66.3 million in distributors' domestic (US/CAN) rentals during its theatrical release in 1974, becoming the second most popular film of that year (trailing The Sting). After several reissues, the film eventually grossed $232,671,011 in North America, which if adjusted for inflation, would be the ninth highest-grossing film of all time and the top-grossing R-rated film of all time. To date, it has a total gross of $441,071,011 worldwide.
Following a successful re-release in cinemas in 1998, the film was submitted for home video release for the first time in February 1999  and was passed uncut with an 18 certificate, signifying a relaxation of the censorship rules with relation to home video in the UK. The film was shown on terrestrial television in the U.K. for the first time in 2001, on Channel 4.
Theaters provided "Exorcist barf bags".
Alleged subliminal imagery
The Exorcist was also at the center of controversy due to its alleged use of subliminal imagery. Wilson Bryan Key wrote a whole chapter on the film in his book Media Sexploitation alleging multiple uses of subliminal and semi-subliminal imagery and sound effects. Key observed the use of the Pazuzu face (in which Key mistakenly assumed it was Jason Miller made up in a death mask makeup) and claimed that the safety padding on the bedposts were shaped to cast phallic shadows on the wall and that a skull face is superimposed into one of Father Merrin's breath clouds. Key also wrote much about the sound design, identifying the use of pig squeals, for instance, and elaborating on his opinion of the subliminal intent of it all. A detailed article in the July/August 1991 issue of Video Watchdog examined the phenomenon, providing still frames identifying several usages of subliminal "flashing" throughout the film. In an interview from the same issue, Friedkin explained, "I saw subliminal cuts in a number of films before I ever put them in The Exorcist, and I thought it was a very effective storytelling device... The subliminal editing in The Exorcist was done for dramatic effect—to create, achieve, and sustain a kind of dreamlike state." However, these quick, scary flashes have been labeled "[not] truly subliminal". and "quasi-" or "semi-subliminal". True subliminal imagery must be, by definition, below the threshold of awareness. In an interview in a 1999 book about the film, The Exorcist author Blatty addressed the controversy by explaining that, "There are no subliminal images. If you can see it, it's not subliminal."
Awards and honors
The Exorcist was nominated for ten total Academy Awards in 1973, winning two. It is the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. At the 46th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, the film won two statuettes (highlighted in bold).
The film was nominated for:
- Academy Award for Best Picture – William Peter Blatty and Noel Marshall
- Academy Award for Best Actress – Ellen Burstyn
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – Jason Miller
- Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – Linda Blair
- Academy Award for Best Director – William Friedkin
- Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – William Peter Blatty
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Owen Roizman
- Academy Award for Best Film Editing – Norman Gay
- Academy Award for Best Production Design – Bill Malley and Jerry Wunderlich
- Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing – Robert Knudson, Chris Newman
Golden Globe Awards
The Exorcist was nominated for seven total Golden Globes in 1973. At the 31st Golden Globes ceremony that year, the film won four awards.
- Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama
- Golden Globe Award for Best Director – William Friedkin
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture – Linda Blair
- Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – William Peter Blatty
The film was nominated for
- Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama – Ellen Burstyn
- Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture – Max von Sydow
- Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress – Linda Blair
Library of Congress
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #3
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
- Regan MacNeil – #9 Villain
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "What an excellent day for an exorcism." – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Exorcist (film).|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Exorcist (film)|
- Official website
- The Exorcist at the Internet Movie Database
- The Exorcist at AllMovie
- The Exorcist at Box Office Mojo
- The Exorcist at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Exorcist at Metacritic
- The Haunted Boy of Cottage City: The Cold Hard Facts Behind the Story that Inspired The Exorcist, by Mark Opsasnick
- Jason Miller Remembers The Exorcist