Film: The Exorcist

"Is there someone inside you?"

The Exorcist is a 1973 Religious Horror (though the director, William Friedkin, doesn't view it as such) film.

Based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, and inspired by what was supposedly (it's been disputed) an actual documented exorcism from 1949, The Exorcist is the terrifying, shocking tale of an originally rather cute 12-year-old girl named Regan McNeil and the efforts of her mother Chris, a famous film actress, her mom's secretary Sharon, and a pair of priests to save the poor girl's soul from the ravages of a powerful, malign entity called Pazuzu.

Initially manifesting as strange behavior in little Regan and her Ouija-board trysts with an invisible companion calling itself Captain Howdy, the being's infiltration is at first dismissed as Regan acting out frustrations after her mother's divorce. As the demon takes hold of Regan, however, she undergoes drastic changes in appearance and behavior, manifesting physical symptoms and incredible strength that cannot be explained by medical science. After Regan starts gliding around the house on all fours face up, licking Sharon's ankles, her mother decides that it is time to consult a higher authority...

The original movie is considered one of the best horror movies of all time and was followed by two sequels and (for complicated reasons) two versions of the same prequel, with varying levels of quality and success from each of them.


  • Adult Fear:
    • Father Karras is deeply depressed about choosing a life of poverty instead of becoming a rich doctor - and his uncle gives him a What the Hell, Hero? about it. (His mom, on the other hand, is proud of him.) Made worse that he can't afford to give his mother proper health care when she goes insane, and she dies alone in her squalid apartment. Pazuzu exploits this fully.
    • Regan's possession also counts. The idea of a mother being unable to save her child from a mysterious, unexplainable disease that completely wipes out her mind and personality is far scarier than any monster or demon.
      Chris: I'm telling you that that thing upstairs isn't my daughter. Now I want you to tell me that you know for a fact that there's nothing wrong with my daughter except in her mind. YOU TELL ME YOU KNOW FOR A FACT THAT AN EXORCISM WOULDN'T DO ANY GOOD! YOU TELL ME THAT!
    • This is why Friedkin originally cut out the spider-walk scene. He knew that if the audience spent the whole movie wondering if/when Regan was going to leave the bedroom and attack somebody, it would distract from the drama unfolding outside. That's right: a scene where a demon-possessed Creepy Child walks backwards down a staircase and vomits blood was cut out because it was less scary than a mother's agony over her child's well-being.
  • Affectionate Parody:
  • Beat the Curse Out of Him: After all the enchantments, crosses and holy water, it took Karras punching the crap out of out of the possessed Regan in order to drive the spirit out of her and into him.
  • Big "NO!": Karras just before he kills himself to prevent Pazuzu, who has gone inside of him, from killing Regan.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The two priests die, but they save Regan.
  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: Bile-splattered. Throughout the scenes where Regan is fully possessed, she wears a pretty blue nightgown with ruffles and flowers. The subtext could be that Chris dressed her in this to communicate her love.
  • Brown Note: Many sound effects were put in (sometimes deep in the mix) to make it more unsettling - for instance, pigs being herded for slaughter and angry bees.
  • C.A.T. Trap: As one transcript puts it, "a huge machine, two pieces on either side of Regan's head and a piece above."
  • Clean Pretty Reliable: Uh, Damien, that's not how you do CPR, and you as a doctor should know that. Naturally, he's pretty distraught, exhausted, and not thinking clearly.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Pazuzu's very prone to dropping these.
    Regan/Demon: Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you! Let Him fuck you!
  • Confessional: A field confession occurs at the end of the first movie.
  • Consummate Liar: "He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us.
  • Crisis of Faith: Father Karras at the beginning of the film.
  • Daylight Horror: Most of the scariest scenes happen during the day; notably, the head-spinning scene.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Burke Dennings. Even when he's dead.
  • Demonic Possession: Present and accounted for, sir!
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The medical scenes are treated like scientific exorcisms, complete with a lighted cross that resembles a crucifix.
  • Evil Albino: Pazuzu/Captain Howdy when you can see his face.
  • Evil Plan: The Exorcist is Pazuzu's revenge on Fr. Merrin for evicting him from a child in Africa.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: A twelve-year-old girl should not sound like Mercedes McCambridge.
  • Exorcist Head: Trope Namer. The reason for it isn't clear in the film and only subtly explained in the novel, but the demon is taunting Karras with knowledge that she (it) knew how Burke Dennings died (having his neck snapped, twisting his head around 180 degrees from his tumble out of the window.)
  • Fake-Out Opening: The movie begins with an archeological dig.
  • Foreshadowing: When Pazuzu remarks that an Exorcism would bring Regan, Karras, and him together, he was right because he ends up possessing Karras.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: An altered version, The Version You've Never Seen, containing several minutes of additional material (including a scene of Regan "spider-walking" down a staircase which Friedkin had deleted from the original cut due to technical problems, and which bore no resemblance to the spider walk in the book) and added CGI and subliminal imagery, was released to theaters in 2000.
  • Giggling Villain: After Merrin dies of a heart attack, Regan/Pazuzu is giggling like a madman. In the book, he is not laughing, but raging at the old man "You would have lost and you know it! Come back!" (The demon's goal was to possess Merrin as Laser-Guided Karma, but was foiled there.)
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: Inverted by Pazuzu. The wings on the stone idol he was released from (and most other depictions of him, we might add, most famously in the Shin Megami Tensei series) are actually birdlike.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Self-inflicted (sort of), with a crucifix, as Regan uses it as a dildo.
    • Regan's attack on the psychiatrist.
  • Heroic Suicide: Fr. Karras kills himself to save Regan and get rid of Pazuzu. Harsher in Hindsight if you accept Exorcist III as canon.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Demon-possessed Regan's reaction to what a priest says is holy water.
  • Imaginary Friend: What Chris assumes Captain Howdy is at first.
  • It Amused Me: Burke Dennings enrages Karl by calling him a Nazi strictly for the lulz.
  • Medical Horror: Regan in the operating room having all sorts of medical procedures done on her was the scariest part of The Exorcist for some moviegoers at the time. No, it wasn't the cursing, the exorcism or anything else that caused them to actually leave the theaters and vomit - it was this.
  • Mind Screw: Pazuzu seems to be a fan of this trope.
  • Mood Motif: It's all about the Ominous Bells here...
  • No Name Given: The demon that possesses Regan is never named in the film, though he was called "Mr. Howdy" at one point. His real name is Pazuzu.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Kinderman, in the books. He calls it "schmaltz". Everything he does has a purpose. Chris tells people she's "dumb" to get them to explain things to her.
  • The Obi-Wan: Father Merrin in his mentor role to Father Karras. Subverted, in that neither of them make it out alive.
  • Placebo Effect: Subverted. Regan screams in pain when Father Karras douses her with tap water, which he claims is holy water. Later, it's implied that Pazuzu intentionally did this to fool Karras into thinking that Regan wasn't really possessed. When he douses her with real holy water in the exorcism scene, the screams are real.
  • Playing Gertrude: Max von Sydow was only 44 when he played the elderly Father Merrin. This worked nicely in Exorcist II where you see young Fr. Merrin investigating Kokumo's healing abilities and later exorcising Pazuzu out of him.
  • Re Cut: "The Version You've Never Seen", released in 2000.

Exorcist: The Beginning

  • Anyone Can Die: Only Merrin and Joseph survive the massacre.
  • Creepy Child: Joseph, who seems to attract bad luck everywhere he is present. Subverted since the one actually possessed is Sarah, the doctor.
  • Genre Savvy: Merrin's guide expresses apprehension about going into the recently unearthed Byzantine Church because the locals say it is cursed by evil spirits. He dismisses them as superstitious, but when Merrin questions him he says he's "not superstitious. Smart."
  • Mutual Kill: During the climax, Merrin's native guide manages to shoot an angry tribesman at exactly the same time the tribesman throws his spear.
  • Stock Subtitle: The Beginning is a typical subtitle for a prequel.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

Alternative Title(s):

Exorcist The Beginning, Dominion Prequel To The Exorcist