Oscar Vault Monday – The Exorcist, 1973 (dir. William Friedkin)

My mother wouldn’t let me see this movie when I was a kid. She did, however, give the local rental store permission to allow me to rent rated R films. This was mostly for action pictures and such. One time, when I was about twelve years old, I went to the rental store with my friend Tiffany to rent movies for her birthday party and we all wanted to see The Exorcist, but it was rated R. Needless to say, I rented it for her. We watched it. It scared the shit out of us. My mother found out that I rented it and was very angry. That was my first experience with the movie. I didn’t see it again until I was 18 and I went to see it as a midnight movie the night before Halloween. That was one of the worst decisions I ever made in college. So many nightmare that night. I’d only seen it those two times, so I decided to rewatch it again in order to write about it now. After the cut are my thoughts. The film became the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture, racking up 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two: Best Sound (won), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Supporting Actor Jason Miller, Best Supporting Actress Linda Blair, Best Actress Ellen Burstyn, Best Director William Friedkin and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were: American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, A Touch of Class and winner The Sting.

For his work on this film, director William Friedkin received  his second nomination for Best Director, having won the award for 1971’s The French Connection, which also won the Oscar for Best Picture. I’ve only seen a handful of Friedkin’s films, but the ones I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed. If you get a chance, I definitely recommend you watch his newest film, Killer Joe. I also have to mention that not only did William Peter Blatty write the novel on which the film is based, he wrote the screenplay and produced the film. Apparently the shooting of the film, which was supposed to last 85 days, went on for a whopping 224 days. However, it went to be one of the highest earning movies of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide. It was added by the Library of Congress to the National Film Registry in 2010.

Ellen Burstyn is excellent as actress and concerned mother Chris MacNeil, whose daughter it appears is possessed by the devil himself. Burstyn is one of those actresses who completely disappears into her roles and this is no different. The scene where she begs Father Karras to help her daughter is utterly heartbreaking.  her first Oscar nomination was in the Best Supporting Actress category for 1971’s The Last Picture Show, which she lost to co-star Cloris Leachman. For her performance in The Excorist, she received her first of five Best Actress nominations, though she lost to Glenda Jackson in A Touch of Class. She went on to win the award for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. She was also nominated for 1978’s Same Time, Next Year, 1980’s Resurrection and 2000’s Requiem For A Dream.

There was some controversy over the use of Mercedes McCambridge’s voice in the film. Originally. Friedkin wanted to use Blair’s voice, but altered. When it didn’t work they hired McCambridge, who was a veteran of radio (as well as an Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress for 1949’s Best Picture winner All The King’s Men and nominee in the same category for 1956’s Giant). Warner Bros. attempted to hide the fact that it was her voice and this resulted in one of Hollywood’s most infamous lawsuits. Blair won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and reprised the role of Regan in 1977 sequel to the film helmed by John Boorman. 14 year old Blair lost the Oscar to 10 year old Tatum O’Neal in Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon. Controversy aside, Blair is great in the pre-posession scenes. I’m still not really sure what scenes during the possession sequences were her and what were dummies. Also, I have to wonder about all the foul language the character spews. If Friedkin originally tried to have Blair’s own voice, that means she spoke all those words. That’s a little heavy for a 12-year-old, you know? Regardless what Blair’s performance is one of the most haunting ever captured.

The scenes prior to the possession between Regan are very touching, which makes the eventual decline all the more powerful.

In his film debut,  Jason Miller plays Father Karras, a Jesuit priest who is also a psychiatrist. Early in the film you see him anguish over his role in life and his relationship with his ailing mother. I think Father Karras is a fascinating character and Miller imbues him with such brilliant vulnerability. This was Miller’s only Oscar nomination; lost to John Houseman in The Paper Chase. He did, however,  win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his 1972 play The Championship Season. He is also the father of actor Jason Patric.

Who doesn’t love Lee J. Cobb? Cobb plays a police detective investigating the murder of the director of Chris’s film. He’s sassy and no-nonsense at the same time. Although he was not nominated for his work in this film – his role is quite small – he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice: for 1954’s Best Picture winner On The Waterfront (which had three Best Supporting Actor nominees, all of whom lost to Edmond O’Brien in The Barefoot Contessa) and 1958’s The Brothers Karamazov. also known for his work in Best Picture nominee 12 Angry Men.

Possibly Sweden’s most famous actor ever, Max Von Sydow plays Father Lankester Merrin, who apparently  shows up many times in the novels of William Peter Blatty. He is the titular “exorcist” and studies demonic history. When we first meet him, he is in Iraq on an archaeological dig. Von Sydow is the perfect choice for this role, with his somber Scandinavian essence. Von Sydow was nominated at the Golden Globe Awards for his work in The Exorcist, though not at the Academy Awards. He has been nominated, however, for two Oscar:  Best Actor for 1988’s Pelle the Conqueror and Best Supporting Actor for 2011’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Von Sydow, Hal Holbrook and Christopher Plummer all hold the record for oldest nominees in the category, as they were all 82 when last nominated. Plummer won for his work in Beginners.

William O’Malley, an actual Jesuit priest in his only film role, is wonderfully effective as mentor to Miller’s troubled Karras.

I forgot how funny this character is; what a shame he dies so early on! Also sad because died from the flu right after the filming of his role was finished.


While I like the very end of the film with Lt. Kinderman and Father Dyer walking off together, the climax of the film still bothers me. They never explain why Regan was possessed. Why the Devil chose her. Was it her room? The Ouija board is brought in sort of, but never explicately blamed. Then you get this climax that is kind of messy, with Father Merrin suddenly having a heart attack and then in an act of redemtion (sort of?) Father Karras tells the Devil to take him, which it does, and he throws himself out the window. Why would the Devil do that? Why was he in Regan in the first place? And then why would he just jump into Karras? It just seems really messy to me.

Let’s talk about how creepy the sound design is in this movie. I chose this screencap because x-rays were never as terrifying as they are in this movie. I’m definitely glad this film won the Academy Award for its sound design, because it’s definitely contains some of the most artistic uses of sound ever.

Now I just want to share a few shots of excellent cinematography because y’all know how much I love excellent cinematography. Also some iconic shots from the film.

It wouldn’t be right not to include Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, which became closely associated with the film and is often called its “theme song.”

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on October 29, 2012, in Oscar Vault Monday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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