Tag Archives: The Exorcist

The First Award-Winning Horror Film: The Exorcist



Though the word “horror” was not used to describe a film genre until the 1930s, films including supernatural or frightening elements, usually adapted from fictional sources, began to be made as early as the 1890s. Between 1910-1920, quite a few European films featuring the supernatural, witchcraft, or superstitious beliefs were released. The German film Nosferatu, though an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was the earliest vampire-themed production. Many of the earliest American horror films, such as The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame — both based on novels — were considered dark melodrama rather than horror, if only because of their stock characters or romance elements.

In the 1930s, horror films began to do more than just startle or frighten audiences. Filmmakers inserted elements of Gothic fiction into their stories, giving audiences dangerous mysteries, ancestral curses, remote and crumbling castles, doomed Byronic heroes, and oft-fainting heroines. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Dr. Moreau contributed elements that belonged more to science fiction than to Gothic horror, such as the “mad” scientist or doctor who, playing God, wants to re-animate corpses or manipulate human genetics to create some superior being but instead develops monsters. In 1933, the mad scientist appeared alongside Gothic elements in James Whale’s film The Invisible Man, known for its “clever and ground-breaking special effects,” and a new film genre was successfully underway.

In the 1950s-1960s, the subject matter of horror films began to include contemporaneous concerns along with the science fiction, supernatural, or Gothic elements. Alien invasions, deadly (atomic) mutations, demonic possession, post-apocalyptic worlds, and social alienation were prevalent in horror films such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Godzilla (1954), The Innocents (1961), When Worlds Collide (1951), and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). The terror of demonic possession reached its apotheosis in 1973, when The Exorcist — the first horror film ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture — demonstrated that a horror film could be as artistic as it was frightening.

Based on William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Exorcist tells the story of a young, innocent child possessed by demons. The novel was inspired by the 1949 story of a mentally ill boy, Roland Doe (psyeudonym), who was the last person to be subjected to a Catholic Church-santioned exorcism. According to the film’s director, William Friedkin, Blatty originally wanted to write a non-fiction account of the thirteen-year-old boy’s experiences in a psychiatric hospital but couldn’t get enough details: Blatty dramatized the story instead.

Linda Blair as Regan, The Exorcist © Warner Bros

Extremely faithful to the book, the film version of The Exorcist tells the story of 12-year-old Regan (Linda Blair),

Ellen Burstyn as mother Chris MacNeil, The Exorcist © Warner Bros

who lives with her actress-mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn).

Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist © Warner Bros

When Regan’s personality begins to change, and when she complains of strange events, such as her bed’s shaking, her mother initially seeks helps from the medical community. Examined by doctors and psychiatrists, Regan is initially misdiagnosed with personality disorders, rebellious attention-seeking behavior, and brain lesions. Subjected to tests that are as frightening as any demonic possession could be, Regan suffers but does not improve. In fact, her condition worsens.

Lee J. Cobb as Lieutenant Kinderman, The Exorcist © Warner Bros

When one of Chris MacNeil’s colleagues and friends is murdered after having been alone with the severely ill Regan, Detective Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) begins to investigate Regan, terrifying Chris that her young daughter will be accused of a crime she may have committed but of which she is not morally guilty.

Jason Miller as Father Karras, The Exorcist © Warner Bros

In desperation, Regan’s mother seeks help from a local Jesuit psychiatrist, Father Karras (Jason Miller), who is experiencing his own crisis of faith after the death of his mother and his inability to successfully counsel his fellow priests.

Max von Sydow as Father Merrin, The Exorcist © Warner Bros

Although skeptical of demonic possession, Father Karras soon concludes that something supernatural and demonic is, in fact, happening to Regan. Karras does not have the experience to help her, however, and he decides that he needs the help of an expert exorcist: Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, known most recently for his role as the Three-Eyed Raven in HBO’s Game of Thrones).

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and winner of two — Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing — The Exorcist is still the highest-grossing horror film ever made (the earnings for the new version of Stephen King’s It have not yet been adjusted for inflation).

The film’s weaknesses are the same as those in its source material: its inability early in the story to decide if it is a murder mystery or a horror story, for example, and its extended scenes setting up the “innocence” of the major protagonists.

The Exorcist © Warner Bros

The film’s strengths outweigh any weaknesses, however, and its exploration of faith, maternal devotion, and possible psychological illness are still powerful more than 40 years after its release. The complex special effects are outstanding, as is the demon’s terrifying voice, which was supplied by veteran actress Mercedes McCambridge.

Regan (Linda Blair) floats, watched by Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) and Father Karras (Jason Miller), The Exorcist (1973) © Warner Bros (Photograph Allstar: Cinetext Collection)

The Exorcist is available for rent ($2.99 SD / $3.99 HD) or purchase from Amazon (free with a 7-day trial subscription to Cinemax), Cinemax (free for subscribers), iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Demons, Demons Everywhere: Cinemax’s Outcast, Review


No Spoilers


You don’t have to be a fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead to be captivated by Cinemax’s new horror thriller Outcast, based on the graphic novels-comics by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta. You don’t even have to be a fan of the authors themselves. It helps, however, to be a fan of the horror genre, since the shows packs in a hefty weekly dose of demons, Satanic and personal.

Based on the premise that one’s inner demons can be almost as terrifying as being possessed by Hellish ones, Outcast explores the way a person’s past can haunt him as much as any supernatural demon. The major protagonist, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) grew up with a mother who, supposedly possessed by demonic forces, violently abused the boy.


Later, after she became catatonic and was committed to a Home, Kyle was taken in by a foster family who eventually adopted him. His sister Megan (Wrenn Schmidt) tries to take care of Kyle now that he is separated from his wife and daughter.


In conjunction with Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) — one of the most fascinating and complex characters in the series to date — Kyle confronts the demons who seem to be gathering in various inhabitants of Rome WV, all the while wondering what it is about him that causes him to constantly encounter these demons, who address Kyle as “Outcast.”


At first, the show had some major weaknesses. The constant flashbacks to Kyle’s childhood, when he was abused by his demonically possessed mother, Sarah Barnes (Julia Crockett) were repetitions of the same few flashbacks: they were repetitious because they didn’t provide new information on Kyle’s childhood, his character, nor his mother’s nature. Also, they occurred every few minutes, which got tedious in the extreme.


Additionally, each of the first three episodes featured an exorcism, leading me to fear that the show would degenerate into an Exorcism of the Week format.

Fortunately, both of those weaknesses disappeared by the fourth episode, “A Wrath Unseen,” as the show stretched its focus to explore the personal lives of the characters surrounding Kyle, including his sister Megan and her husband officer Mark Holter (David Denman, below L), who is conducting an investigation with Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey, below R) into dead and mounted animals left in the woods, and a bloodied camper.


Reverend Anderson is one of the strongest characters in the early episodes, since he is more  unpredictable in his attempts to help his congregation defeat demons. Is he doing it for God, or for his own reputation? We’ve yet to discover that.


Apparently, Rev. Anderson has been doing this for a while, but suddenly, the demon possession of individuals in Rome has multiplied exponentially. Except for the fact that this would be immediately noticed by law enforcement and medical personnel since there’s quite a bit of physical violence inflicted on those who are possessed, both by the demons themselves and by Kyle as he aids the Revered in his attempt to exorcise the demonic spirits, the show handles the actual violence relatively well. Some of it is on-screen, but most is off.


One of the most gruesome moments happens in the first scene of episode 1, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” with a possessed boy, Joshua (Gabriel Bateman), and a bug. In the highlights of the show aired immediately afterward, the director and writer stated that young Bateman himself thought of many of the possessed behaviors for his character.


While that may be true, it is clear that Bateman has seen The Exorcist quite a few times, since much of his demonic actions — levitating, talking in Voices, puking green-pea-soup — are directly from the classic film.

That’s one of the things that slowed the premiere down because viewers had a “been there, seen that” feeling. The show improved in the second episode, “(I Remember) When She Loved Me,” which concentrated on Kyle’s past, including his relationship with his mother, which wasn’t all demons and physical abuse, making the demonic possession more tragic.

By the fourth episode, the show has found its comfort zone in the horror genre, terrifying viewers with hints of demons — personal and demonic — instead of just rolling out the Exorcist special effects. Veteran character actor Grace Zabrieski as Mildred, a congregationist who was supposedly exorcised two years previously, displayed her acting talent by threatening both Kyle and the Reverend.


The investigation into the gruesome bloodied camper finally expanded, while a visit from someone in Megan’s past released her own demons, those of her husband, and those of adopted brother Kyle. Brent Spiner’s character Sidney, introduced in episode 2, is not yet doing more than lurking about, but I suspect that will change. (If it doesn’t, it would be a dreadful waste of Spiner’s talent.) At this point, it’s unclear whether Sidney is the Devil himself or just a powerful and very well dressed demon.

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The show’s super haunting and spooky opening credits will get your attention fast. Outcast airs Fridays at 10p.m. ET on Cinemax. You can watch the premiere, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” free on Cinemax (or on its YouTube Channel) and watch all the episodes on MaxGo.

Scary in a completely different way from Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, Cinemax’s Outcast is sure to grab horror fans by the throat and not let them go. Enjoy the trailer, my fellow Outcasts.



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