The Exorcist is one of the most lauded horror films of all time.
I almost feel silly choosing The Exorcist as a site pick.
It seems like one of those films that every horror fan has already seen and is willing to share their opinion on, but as my experience has grown, the “seems” has grown ever more accurate. The truth is, like many movies of its era, The Exorcist has a few moments that have become ingrained in pop culture and quite a few people have taken their impressions of the film from that. The image of a little girl turned into a monster, spewing bile and spinning her head around is familiar whether you’ve seen the film or not. While some weirdos (myself included) were intrigued by this image, it turned a lot of people off. And yes, it is a prominent part of the film, but it is not it’s strongest aspect. In fact, the strongest tool of The Exorcist is how unique a horror film it actually is.
Those who have seen the film know that it’s strength lies not in the tale of possession, but in the fascinating and complex guilt of Damien Karras. Much of the fear in the film is not derived from the antics of “Captain Howdy”, but in the incapability of the accidental exorcist. Karras, with his vast knowledge of psychiatry and religion, is shown to be weakest in the situation he should be most prepared for. When Karras could manipulate his perception of reality, it gave him security. Now confronted with the type of evil he had once dismissed as fantasy, the priest is forced to reevaluate his entire life, including the recent death of his mother. Damien is haunted, not by something measurable, but by the thought that he has placed himself in a position he doesn’t belong in. The Exorcist is not a story of a monster intruding on our reality, but one of a man’s inability to reconcile undeniable truth with long held beliefs. Regan, or even her possessor, is not the monster here. Reality is the monster. In this, Karras becomes one of the most relatable characters in cinema history, and the driving force of The Exorcist’s entry into the cannon.
If you have not seen The Exorcist, especially because you were turned off by your initial impressions, please give it a shot. It is one of the most effective psychological dramas ever crafted.