The Exorcist

The Exorcist ★★★★★

For the sheer magnitude of unrelenting terror that The Exorcist unleashed on its unsuspecting audience back in 1973, the tag of "the scariest film of all time" sits perfectly well on this horror masterpiece. After all, there had never been an example in motion picture history that affected the viewers as strongly as this film did, for many fainted, threw up or went hysteric in a manner unlike anything witnessed before or since.

Looking back now, countless imitations & parodies over the years might have diminished its scare factor by a great deal but there's no denying that even today The Exorcist remains in a league of its own & is yet to find an equal. Succeeding not just as a genre-defining tale of demonic possession but also as a remarkable piece of superb storytelling with great character build-up & groundbreaking special effects, The Exorcist is quite possibly the gold standard of horror filmmaking.

Based on the novel of the same name, the story of The Exorcist takes place in the Georgetown area of Washington D.C. & concerns the 12-year old daughter of a famous actress, who begins manifesting some strangely disturbing behavioural changes in her personality. When science fails to offer any rational explanation, her mother turns to superstition in a desperate attempt to save her daughter's life & enlists the help of a troubled priest, who is struggling with his own faith.

Directed by William Friedkin, the film opens with one of the most powerful, sinister & perfectly crafted prologues which apart from serving as a warning for things to come also sets up an extremely eerie mood for the rest of the film. Friedkin's work here is perhaps the finest of his career as the extent to which the director went in order to bring out the best from his cast & crew is well documented plus he leaves no stone unturned to make the experience as emotionally shattering as possible.

The screenplay is penned down by William Peter Blatty, the author of the novel, and it is expertly balanced in all storytelling aspects. Cinematography makes brilliant use of slow zooms, close-ups & sharp focus to immerse viewers into its demonic tale, use of music is effectively carried out, make-up & special effects end up adding a whole new chapter to filmmaking manuals and as far as editing goes, it paces the film ingeniously but is also marred by heavy amount of continuity errors.

Coming to the performances, The Exorcist features a talented cast in Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow & Lee J. Cobb. One amazing thing here is that the characters are wonderfully fleshed out in the script & the actors simply build their act on an already solid platform, delivering some high quality performances. Each character is properly introduced, their arc is elegantly handled & unlike most horror films of today, we do grow to care for these fictional lives on the screen.

What continues to separate this film from most examples of its genre is that despite its extensive gore effects & disturbing premise, the main emphasis remains on telling a story rather than revel in its extremity, which ultimately makes the final showdown all the more bone-chilling & unforgettable. The horror it unleashes is absolutely brutal, difficult to watch & too heavy in content yet the extent to which this film pushed the boundary of horror cinema by exploring subjects no one before ever dared to venture in is no mere feat in itself.

On an overall scale, The Exorcist is one of the most influential, unnerving & faith-shattering films ever made which opened the doors to our deepest fears back when it was released and is still capable of surprising the newcomers with its discomforting ambience & troubling themes, if not the now dated visceral horror. Immortal for its contribution to cinema & pop culture, memorable for the mass hysteria it caused, and admirable for its uncompromising & undeniably effective take on faith, "the scariest film of all time" comes strongly recommended.

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