Flashback: The Exorcist and its sequels and prequels

At least they waited until the day after Christmas to release the film.

It was 40 years ago today that a movie called The Exorcist came out in theatres and proceeded to shock its way to box-office success. But the film did more than jolt people with its images of outrageous demonic behaviour; it also subverted the assumptions of modernity by suggesting that there was more to us than science and psychology could understand, and in its own roundabout way, the film became an expression of faith (certainly on the part of its screenwriter, William Peter Blatty, though his particular brand of faith might not be exactly conventional or orthodox).

To mark the anniversary of the film’s release, I have re-posted my reviews of the original film and its prequels, and I have compiled a few links to other blog posts that I have written about the film. Check ’em out below the jump.

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Review: Exorcist: The Beginning (dir. Renny Harlin, 2004)

It is almost impossible to imagine that a worthy sequel to 1973’s The Exorcist could ever be made, but that hasn’t stopped several filmmakers from trying. The original film — directed by William Friedkin from a screenplay by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the original novel — was more of a mood piece than a story. The demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl was less a conflict to be resolved than a hook on which to hang a thoughtful meditation on the tension between modern materialistic science and an ancient, even primitive, belief in a spiritual realm beyond this life. At a time when many were asking if God was dead, and if concepts such as goodness still had any meaning, Blatty and Friedkin hit audiences with a bold, shocking depiction of evil and dared them to say that this, too, was not meaningful. If there truly was such a thing as evil, then there truly must be such a thing as good, too; and if the Devil existed, then so did God.

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Restored Exorcist searches for a moral centre

I WAS just getting out of diapers at the time, but the early 1970s were, I am told, a period of intense spiritual sensitivity. Certainly, popular culture bears that out. In 1973, Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, two popular musicals based on the life of Jesus, hit the big screen. But the film that caught the country’s attention that year looked not to the Prince of Peace, but to the Prince of Darkness, for its inspiration.

The Exorcist was a huge box-office hit, raking in a then-unheard-of $165 million; once inflation is taken into account, some estimates place it among the 20 most successful films of all time, right up there with old Disney cartoons, Star Wars movies and Gone with the Wind. The film won an Academy Award for its script, which William Peter Blatty adapted from his novel; it was, in turn, inspired by a supposedly true incident.

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