Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"The Exorcist" is an unquieting film

Cleveland Press December 29, 1973

"The Exorcist" is playing at the Colony. Devilish melodrama; adults. In the cast are Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair. Running time: 121 minutes.

"The Exorcist" is a movie to make your hair stand on end.

And turn your stomach.

Unfortunately it may affect your stomach more than it does your hair. For many "The Exorcist" may well be the movie to be nauseous by.

With more than 6,000,000 copies of William Peter Blatty's best selling novel in print the movie has the biggest advance built-in audience since "The Godfather."

Blatty's own screen play retains the essentials of his plot but without its sense of being philosophically provocative. There is less room in the film, in spite of its two hour length, to provide the characters with dimension.

What most people will want answered is whether the stream of obscenities uttered by the demonically possessed girl are faithfully reproduced. Yes indeed. The movie is R-rated but some of the soundtrack is strictly X.

The picture concerns Chris, an actress (Ellen Burstyn), and her 12-year~old daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), living in Georgetown where the mother is making a movie.

The unexplained phenomena which are to dominate the movie begin with a horrible pounding and scraping in the attic.

"Rats," says Chris.

Elephants, say I. One of the strange things about the movie is the larger-than-life sound effects. This may be one of the noisiest movies ever made.

That there is something wrong first becomes apparent when Regan interrupts her mother's party. There are all those nice film people drinking while a visiting Jesuit priest plays the piano and in comes Regan, announcing that the film director is going to die. Then she promptly urinates on the carpet.

The movie goes down hill from there.

The child gets worse, has spells in which she utters obscenities normally considered unutterable. Medical procedures are not only tried out graphically portrayed for the edification of t h e audience -- encephalograms, arteriograms, skull X-rays, spinals, the works.

After the blood stops spurting, the bile starts.

Little Regan, her face covered with sores, has an almost unending stream of green bile flowing from her mouth when she isn't spraying it on others. It looks like green pea soup with U.S. certified food color added for good measure.

There are other story threads concerning the desecration of a holy statue, the murder of the film director who strangely takes a header from Regan's window with his head turned backwards, the death of the mother of a psychiatrist priest.

The latter, Father Karras (Jason Miller) gets called in when the medical men and the psychiatrists give up. They suggest that maybe exorcism is the answer.

Meanwhile furniture is flying and Regan is tied down to a padded bed.

Father Karras investigates, is convinced this is a case of diabolic possession, gets the permission of his superiors and an older priest, Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), who is an authority on exorcism, is called in.

The rite of exorcism is conducted and before it is over there is more flying furniture, crumbling plaster, a backward turned head, speaking in strange tongues, wind whistling through the room, the girl's body floating to the ceiling and more death.

Aside from the trappings one assumes that the exorcism rite is correct since three Jesuit priests are credited as technical advisors and two of them have small parts in the movie.

"The Exorcist," as a movie, is more often concerned with devilish manifestations by way of special effects than it is in the philosophical question of good vs. evil.

The actors do well enough considering the noisy competition and the movable furniture. Jason Miller is especially effective as the psychiatrist priest. Max Von Sydow is never bad and Lee J. Cobb, as a detective, plays Lee J. Cobb.

The girl, when the devil speaks through her, has a gravely, frog like voice and no actor is credited with it.

Director William Friedkin does some fast and fancy cutting and the parallel plot elements are neatly balanced with a minimum of confusion.

But he is mostly possessed by the tricky things the screen can offer and the uncleanness of the unclean spirit. He may be having a devilishly good time but audiences may find themselves alternately horrified, amused and insulted.