Eric’s Guide to Watching ‘The Exorcist’ Films
Let Eric guide you through your journey of watching “Exorcist” films!
“The Exorcist” is known as the scariest film of all-time. Whether or not you agree with that is up to you but most would still say that it is a very good movie with a bunch of sequels that don’t quite measure up. Are any of them worth seeing? I think so and will be glad to guide you through them. There’s a lot of them to get through so let’s get started.
1. “The Exorcist”
The scariest film of all-time… according to countless lists and just general consensus, but is it true? I think so. Now let me explain that I understand if you don’t find the film itself scary. It is more than 40 years old. Tastes change with newer viewers. HOWEVER that being said, how many films have had the impact this film had? How many scary movies since can you think of that have had such a strong reaction on as many people? Not a lot I’ll bet. Sure some movies come with stories about how someone wasn’t able to sleep alone for weeks or something but when was the last time you remember hearing news stories about a film that caused multiple people to go into therapy or run back to church just to be on the safe side? And they aren’t some well placed publicity stunts, this was a huge reaction experienced by many. The closest film I can think of to have that strong of an impact would be “Jaws.” So while you may not be scared by the movie, we are all different. I think it does deserve that title even if it will inevitably raise people’s expectations a little too high. Speaking only for myself I can say that it is still an effective film. There is just a real evil sense to this film and it left me feeling totally creeped out after my first time seeing it. It’s hard to describe but I just felt like something was watching me.
However when you strip away the title of “scariest film ever” does it still hold up? I think so, let’s not forget this is a Best Picture nominee and Best Adapted Screenplay winner. Like I’ve said before I think the mark of a good horror film is if you get rid of the horror aspect, the film still works. And even without all the devil and possession elements, it still works as a drama about a priest who has lost his faith but regains it in the end and in doing so makes the ultimate sacrifice for someone he doesn’t even know. Speaking of the ending, one thing I always found interesting about “The Exorcist” is how it came out in a time where Hollywood was obsessed with the Devil but unlike a lot of the other films this movie actually has a fairly uplifting ending. Here are some spoilers for a bunch of old movies but how do “The Omen” or “Rosemary’s Baby” end? Evil wins! The heroes are defeated and the Devil at the very least is one chess move closer to accomplishing his goal. However, here Regan is saved and on top of it has no memories of what happened. Speaking of Regan, she’s a very effective child character. It would be easy to turn her into a saintly figure to make it seem more sad and tragic. She feels very much like a real, good kid. All of the actors do a fantastic job at their roles. Thanks to this movie my mental image of Max von Sydow is much older than he is, so I always have to catch myself when I see him and am surprised that he’s still alive. But really there isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already been said a million times by this point. This film is a classic and no one can take that away from it. It honestly gets better the more times I see it so I highly recommend it so that you can see what all the fuss is about.
Advice: Must See for any movie buffs or horror fans.
Check out our interview with Linda Blair earlier this year!
2. “The Exorcist III”
I finally broke down and got this on DVD. I had been holding out for a special edition or Director’s cut. However it’s likely if they haven’t found the elements needed by this point they’re probably never going to find them. Supposedly all of the original footage was lost by the studio so we will probably never get William Peter Blatty’s real version of this film. Which is a shame because this is a really good film that feels like it could be better with just a few changes. This film is still really good and at times it comes damn close to achieving greatness like the first film. The story is about the cop character from “The Exorcist” (who was a minor part) who is investigating some recent murders in Georgetown, Washington DC. The most disturbing thing about them is that they bare a striking similarity to a serial killer from the past that they all know for a fact is dead, the Gemini Killer. Eventually the cop tracks it down to a patient in a hospital who looks an awful lot like Damien Karras (the main character priest from “The Exorcist”) but refers to himself as the Gemini Killer.
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The film is expertly acted by the likes of the great George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Jason Miller, etc. and 100% feels like a continuation of the story. The story and themes are still on point mostly thanks to it being directed by the author of the books, William Peter Blatty. However some issues do fall on him. While the dialogue is great and full of some hilarious exchanges (remember this guy also wrote the best Pink Panther film “A Shot in the Dark” ) it at times can feel a little too talky, a common issue with authors turned directors. Some scary moments work amazingly well, including a sequence with a nurse that many consider to be the greatest jump-scare in film. Re-watching it for the first time in a few years I was shocked by how well it worked on me. However the film walks this odd line of silly and scary. There are a dozen moments that I imagine if I was reading this in a book that it would be totally creepy but seeing it performed in real space with real actors… it’s kinda silly looking but I still recognize how creepy this idea is. The scene of the old woman crawling around on the ceiling being a prime example. All of this I think is from William Peter Blatty not being a director by trade. Maybe a more experienced director like William Friedkin could have made these moments work. However the biggest misstep comes at the climax where a priest we’ve only seen a few times before (looking scared as foreboding music plays) comes in and tries to perform an exorcism. Not only does it not fit the tone with its emphasis on special effects, but it just doesn’t fit in at all. It just comes out of nowhere with no build up. You can almost feel Blatty’s frustration at having to add this for the studio. However if you can look past those flaws it really is a very good film and a worthy follow-up. I just pray the footage can be found and made into a director’s cut one day.
3. “The Ninth Configuration”
Now this might be the one you’re going “huh?” at. Understandable, this isn’t a film everyone knows but they should. You may consider this cheating but I say if you want an Exorcist trilogy then it should be “The Exorcist,” “The Ninth Configuration,” and then “The Exorcist III.” I consider it an “Exorcist” film, why? Remember that scene in “The Exorcist” where Regan comes downstairs to a party and goes to an astronaut and tells him coldly, “you’re going to die up there,” and then pees herself? Well this movie follows the story of that astronaut character (played by a different actor). It’s a little confusing as to how the timeline works (most likely a side effect from the page to screen adaptations happening when they did). Anyways the way I like to read it is after having been in the presence of ultimate evil but not realizing it, and after hearing it tell him, “you’re going to die up there,” it just festered in Cutshaw until the day of the launch where he had his mental breakdown. Afterwards he’s taken to a castle and used by the army for an insane asylum. A new head doctor is transferred in named Col. Kane who begins working with Cutshaw and the two form an odd bond through their debating of God, the Devil, and morality in general.
Like “The Exorcist III” the film is written and directed by William Peter Blatty and like that film it is very funny at first and the second half is where the film gets dark. However, unlike the other “Exorcist” films this isn’t really a horror film or at least it’s not trying to scare you. It’s a hard film to classify but I guess I’d consider it a dark drama that happens to take place in the same universe of “The Exorcist” so this could be an easier film for some to watch who don’t like horror films. For me this film is all about the debates. It’s clear they are written by a very smart guy who is very interested in the subject. Blatty even gets the chance to show off some visual flair with one of the most striking images ever committed to film. An astronaut on the moon finding a full size crucifix across from the american flag as Kane discusses the nature of our existence. This all leads to a killer ending that is almost as dark as any of the “Exorcist” films but also does contain that hopeful optimism that I think often gets overlooked in Blatty’s work.