Re-released after nearly 30 years, with 9 minutes of new footage, The Exorcist delivers periodic, high voltage shocks.Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) uncovers an artifact in Iraq and witnesses a strange apparition. In Washington, Regan (Linda Blair), the young daughter of movie star Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) begins acting strangely - swearing uncharacteristically, claiming that her bed is shaking. Her condition worsens in episodes of escalating intensity and horror until MacNeil convinces a disullusioned young Jesuit (Jason Miller) that the devil is inhabiting her daughter’s body, and must be exorcised.
The Exorcist has a brooding atmosphere, and a complement of grotesque images and scenes. But it lacks the cathartic suspense of a fun horror movie; the religious imagery is self-consciously portentous, and Owen Roizman’s drab cinematography becomes depressing. There’s no relief in the performances, which lack humour (there’s some warmth in the early interaction between Regan and her mother, but the jokes of Lee J Cobb’s detective die faster than the devil’s victims).
The pacing between horrific episodes is stolid and flat, so that you find yourself almost longing for the next grisly shock. Strangely, director William Friedkin frequently cuts partway through a shocking night time scene to the next day. This jacks up the suspense to almost unbearable levels because we never see the characters relaxing, only nervously awaiting the next horror.The Exorcist inspires uncomfortable, voyeuristic thrills (watching it, I felt I was intruding on a family tragedy, like seeing the aftermath of a car crash). The extra footage includes one startling new sequence (Regan “spider walking” down the
stairs), but adds little in the way of explanation or exposition. [Stephen Groenewegen]