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Power of The Exorcist still compels

“Scariest Movie of All Time” is a label The Exorcist has lived with since its release 37 years ago.

In that time the horror landscape has changed drastically. On screen violence has gotten to the point where rival productions seem to be in contention as to who can outdo the other in the gore stakes, vampires have become tween friendly, pin-up boys, and zombies have now infested the mainstream to such a degree that they no longer curl the blood upon sight.

Rare it is to find a horror movie that is as much an experience as it is a ripping yarn. For all of the wonderful advancements which modern filmmaking boasts, the ability for a horror picture to haunt the soul is lacking.

The Exorcist is film that does just that. Its longevity is not only due to its power of persuasion, but also its ability to tap into the deep, dark recesses of the soul, and stay there like a lump in the back of your throat.

Sure, there are plenty moments of shocking violence and gory imagery. Projectile vomit, masturbation with crucifixes, and heads twisting at 360 degrees are commonplace. Yet those moments are coupled with something else much more sinister, an undercurrent that is hard to shake.

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist focuses on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair) in the upper class suburbs of Washington D.C. A Jesuit priest (Jason Miller) caught in a crisis of faith is asked to investigate the validity of her possession, and perform an exorcism to save her soul.

Blatty insists the book is based on true events, where a young boy was possessed by an evil entity, and subsequently exorcised by a Catholic priest. The facts are shaky at best, yet there is no denying that something had happened.

In investigating the events that inspired his novel, and the theological concept of evil within God’s creation, Blatty underwent a spiritual journey that infused his writing and the movie that was too follow.

It is that exact spiritual core, mixed with its bare as bones approach to the supernatural that makes The Exorcist more than just a horror movie.

Pulling it off was not an easy thing to do. It is one thing to write about the demonic possession of a young girl, quite the other to project it as a visual document. And in director William Friedkin, a document of evil in practice is exactly what was presented.

Granted, The Exorcist broke new ground in makeup and special effects. But it is its moments of drama which sells its supernatural components, Friedkin insisting on natural performances and authentic reactions from his talented cast, to the point of his using artificial stimulants such as a gun fired in the air to make his actors react when and how he wants.

Authenticity was also sought in its religious components, with some going so far as to accuse The Exorcist of blatant religious exploitation, a ruse to force Catholicism down the throats of unsuspecting viewers who came for a horror movie, and left with a sermon on evil.

Hell, even popular Christian evangelist Billy Graham was convinced an actual demon lived in the celluloid reel of the movie!

Yet if the job of The Exorcist was to convince that evil does indeed live among us, why not use the resources of the Church, namely its priests, two of whom served as “technical assistants” hired to add more detail to Blatty’s descriptions of the exorcism process, from its pre-investigation to its chaotic conclusion.

A popular complaint from many Gen Y movie fans is that The Exorcist is too slow. There are too many scenes of Linda Blair undergoing psychiatric treatment and numerous medical procedures to determine her mental well-being. Too many moments dedicated to Jason Miller’s tragic back story.

Brutal, nihilistic, and sadistic gory are the new components needed to capture the attention of today’s horror fans. Even the biblical epic was forced to undergo a torture porn makeover as evident in The Passion of the Christ.

But The Exorcist is not that type of horror movie.

While its drawcard may have been the freakshow which was a child possessed by a demon, The Exorcist in actuality is about one man’s struggle with his faith through great diversity.

After all it is called “The Exorcist”, and it is through Jason Millers heartbreaking performance as the Jesuit priest/psychiatrist that the film finds its heartbeat. There is a reason why the Church has placed The Exorcist at no.44 in its Top 100 Pro-Catholic Films.

Demonic possession has once again become en vogue in the cinemas. The past week saw the release of Paranormal Activity 2. Next month will see The Last Exorcism drop in the multiplexes.

Yet it is The Exorcist which continues to stand tall as a film unlike no other: powerful, repulsive, spiritual, and above all frightening.

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