The Exorcist

Year: 1973
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: William Peter Blatty
Cast: Linda Blair, Ellen Bustryn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller
I saw this film across at least five viewings over the course of more than ten years owing to my terror of it. How it was made and released cinematically in the early 1970s I still can't work out. What with the scandal and cacophony of agendas and interests shrieking about the pros and cons of The Da Vinci Code, imagine them trying it today?

I can't put my finger on what makes it so terrifying, but I can see several images that make me remember why I feel that way. Among them is Reagan's (Blair) blistered and bloody face turning around at that unnatural angle and leering out of the bedroom door to say in a voice that isn't hers 'Did you see what she did?'

Two decades of jokes about pea soup aside, there's something that chills many of us to the bone about a cute little girl being highjacked by something from beyond that uses the worst behaviour, language and excretions the human body can muster against us.

Father Karras (Miller) is struggling with his faith and doesn't know what to think about the girl-turned monster in Regan's bed. As in the book on which the film is based, the Catholic church is very guarded and reluctant to brand the episode demonic possession, and the iconic image of father Miller (Sydow) showing up under the eerie glow of the streetlight is a last resort.

By the time he arrives, Regan is a hissing, spitting, spewing ghoul strapped to her bed, vomiting, screaming abuse and tormenting whoever enters her room.

It was scary for three reasons; the first is the imagery like that mentioned above, which would haunt any kid the age I was when I saw it. The second is because there isn't a single moment of humour in the film, not a minute's respite from the building sense of doom. And the third is that no explanation for the demon picking Reagan for his horrible manifestations is ever revealed. Like the shark in Jaws that could snatch us from below by pure chance, the film is challenging us with the spine-chilling question; what's to stop this happening from you? You might not believe in God or demons, but if they are there, they certainly believe in you.

I've read theories since that author Blatty and perhaps director Friedkin were playing a huge joke on society with the tale of Reagan's possession. In the old days, the psychological and physical changes that occurred in women were often written off as madness, the spirit of which is still present in enlightened society today.

We fear the burgeoning sexuality of women, the secretions their bodies produce as they come of age, and the power their newfound womanhood represents. What else is The Exorcist about if not a young girl learning to swear like a trooper, bleed and vomit uncontrollably (parables for menstruation and pregnancy) and defy everyone around her violently – as every teenager does?

That's what I've heard, anyway.

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