The Exorcist

The Exorcist ★★★★

Theatrical cut

I generally try to give exorcism films a hard pass these days because they all feel like weak echoes of The Exorcist. And perhaps even The Exorcist is landing a weaker punch with me now. A great film? Yes. One I think deserving of being canonized as the greatest horror film? Ehhhh….

Maybe this subdued reaction on my part has to do with watching the theatrical cut. Previously I've only ever seen the extended director's cut. I may not typically think that theatrical vs director's cut matters much, but in this case I definitely missed some of the added elements, especially when the scene is as iconic as spider walking down the stairs. I'm pretty sure I'll have to grab a copy of the director's cut for the next time I watch this--it really does make a big difference.

Still, theatrical isn't without merit; this is still The Exorcist, just in a bit of a different form.

I was impressed with how the story flows, keeping up tensions even during the comparatively subdued first half. Hell, the film opens with a lengthy prelude on an archeological dig--it should be a boring slog to get to the good stuff. Then again, no matter how well done the "good stuff" is, The Exorcist has been so aped on so many fronts that it's impossible to see any kind of possession horror as not spawning directly from The Exorcist; even modern, shitty wannabe knockoffs feature rattling beds, guttural demon voices, and a whole lot of crass language. So really, the real good stuff is the characters and the way their characters develop as the film plays out--which is interesting, because neither of the two characters I peg as "primary" (Chris MacNeil and Father Damian Karras) have much of an arc to their story. Yet they are our emotional core--we get sucked into the story because it's so easy to care because of how much they care.

One place I was a bit dissatisfied was the connection between the archeological dig and the possession. Maybe that's clarified in the director's cut, but the narrative seems to point to a cause and effect (or at the least some cycled imagery of the stone demon head) and you'd expect Father Merrin--one of the "finders" at the dig, and lead exorcist at the exorcism--to draw some sort of helpful link, but instead it was just left coy, as if it was a big coincidence. I don't like coincidence, generally speaking, and I think that is a bigger reason for my lowered score this time around than the theatrical cut business (unless, of course, director's cut makes it much more obvious).

Regardless, there's a reason The Exorcist is a revered classic, regardless of cut.

Jacob liked these reviews