Film / The Exorcist

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"Is there someone inside you?"
"Sometimes..."

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

Based on the 1971 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 (though his name is kept ambiguous in the film).

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. A TV series of the same named premiered on FOX, which was later revealed to be another sequel to the original.


Tropes:

  • 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.
  • Breaking Speech: Pazuzu is very good at it.
    Pazuzu: (using Karras' mother's voice) Dimmy, why did you do this to me? Please, Dimmy, I'm afraid.
    Karras: (Angrish) You're not my mother!
  • 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."
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Obviously, as it is the only church to offer exorcism as a practice. This is Truth in Television. The Lutheran minister of the parents of the child in the real life case the movie is based on told the parents to get a Catholic priest because Lutherans had no exorcism tradition. It is somewhat strange though that Damien Karras is a Catholic despite being Greek because Greek people are overwhelmingly Eastern Orthodox (98%).
  • 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.
    • Regan is on the verge of puberty, and a lot of the film plays on the fears parents have of their daughters finding their sexuality. (Taken to extremes, surely, but the hormonal mood changes, the developing sexual urges, and so on are parodied by Pazuzu.)
  • 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.
  • Feelies: The US theatrical release of the film gave free barf bags to audience members.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The two dogs mindlessly attacking each other in the street, as Merrin mentions "evil against evil".
    • As noted by Filmsite.org:
      Chris grabs a bullhorn and tells the rebellious students in the crowd: "If you want to effect any change, you have to do it within the system," a long crane shot finds Father Karras walking away from the crowd and the filming - he turns back to watch for a moment, and then continues his departure in serious thought. [To accentuate one of the film's themes, the actor's lines are deliberately juxtaposed with the priest's departure, since he is experiencing an inner struggle of religious faith within his own system - the church.]
    • When Pazuzu remarks that an Exorcism would bring Regan, Karras, and him together, he was right because he ends up possessing Karras.
  • Freudian Excuse: Invoked. Everyone, including Chris, thinks Regan's conversations with "Captain Howdy" is her desire to see her father, whose name is Howard, more often. After discussing Captain Howdy, Regan is seen reading a magazine with the headline: "Big Trouble In the MacNeil Marriage! The Night Howard Walked Out On His Wife."
  • 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.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The scene when Merrin arrives (as seen in the poster image above), the priest is clad in black, while white light emanates from the demon's room.
  • Medical Horror: Regan in the operating room having a carotid angiographynote  — including the blood spurting from an artery in her neck — was the scariest part of The Exorcist for some moviegoers at the time. No, it wasn't the cursing, the vomiting, the exorcism or anything else that caused them to actually leave the theaters and vomit - it was this.
  • The Mentor: Father Merrin in his mentor role to Father Karras. Subverted, in that neither of them make it out alive.
  • 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 initially called "Captain Howdy" by Regan. 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.
  • Ouija Board: Regan played with one prior to getting possessed. It strongly suggested that it was Pazuzu made contact with her in the first place.
  • 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.
  • Religious Horror: The first movie was part of a cycle of "demonic children" movies that started with Rosemary's Baby and continued with The Omen (1976).
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The entire possession is Pazuzu's revenge on Merrin for exorcising him out of a little boy in Africa.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Pazuzu's got a pretty foul mouth.
    Pazuzu: (to Merrin) Stick your cock up her ass, you motherfucking worthless cocksucker.
  • Stealth Sequel: Word of God states that The Ninth Configuration is the true sequel to The Exorcist. According to That Other Wiki, the astronaut in The Exorcist is Captain Cutshaw in The Ninth Configuration. In the book series, several unused pieces of dialogue from The Exorcist were used in The Ninth Configuration instead.
  • Split Personality: As the possession starts to take hold and Regan's behavior gets more bizarre, Chris thinks her daughter might have a split personality — but see the reference to Voice of the Legion, below. The doctors explain that real split personality is almost unheard of, but brain lesions and epilepsy can cause patients to act like it.note 
  • Subliminal Seduction: Images of a demonic face are periodically flashed throughout the film.
  • Take Me Instead: Both part of Father Karras' Heroic Suicide.
  • That Thing Is Not My Child!: Literally, in Chris' impassioned speech to Father Karras.
  • Truth in Television: Father Karras saying he'd have to travel back in time to the Renaissance to perform an exorcism is correct. In the modern day, actual Church-sanctioned exorcisms are incredibly rare, and even then they're only used as a last resort.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Regan before becoming possessed.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • The Exorcist was inspired by the witch trials of Loudon, France in 1634. A group of nuns were or claimed to be possessed by seventeen demons, blaming their confessor for having summoned the evil critters. All of the sexual acts, animal noises and violence were enacted by these nuns.
    • Blatty also used some of the elements of a supposed possession and exorcism case in St. Louis. There have been a number of Urban Legends around this story. Recently published research indicates the boy in that case was most likely faking for attention, and even the priests who officiated weren't sure of what they were seeing, but Blatty used the telekinesis and violence claimed by the boy's relatives. Blatty says there have been only a handful of possession cases in the U.S. that were acknowledged by the Catholic Church.
    • Pazuzu wasn't simply a name invented for the books/film. It's the name of an evil demigod/demon in ancient Mesopotamian mythology who ruled over disease, pestilence, and the heat of the midday sun.
  • Voice of the Legion: Pazuzu invokes this when possessing Regan, but Merrin confirms that it's a trick and that there's only one demon inside of the girl.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: The most well-known example of someone blowing chunks on screen ever. Though, actually, Regan isn't regurgitating. She's spitting up loads of bile - which is worse.

Exorcist: The Beginning

  • Anyone Can Die: Only Merrin and Joseph survive the massacre between the locals and the British military.
  • Ate His Gun: After Major Granville witnesses supernatural activity in his tent in the form of finding himself preparing a crow for his butterfly collection instead of a regular insect specimen, his collection coming to life and then having butterfly crawling out of his mouth, he puts his gun into his mouth and pulls the trigger.
  • Creepy Child: Joseph, who seems to attract bad luck everywhere he is present. Subverted since the one actually possessed is Sarah, the doctor.
  • Flies Equals Evil: Flies are present in places with higher density of demonic activity.
  • 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.
  • Sadistic Choice: Flashbacks show that Merrin lost his faith after he was forced by Nazis in WWII to pick ten people from a crowd to be shot, lest they all be killed.
  • Slashed Throat: When Merrin goes to question Bession about the archeological site, he finds him bleeding from a chest wound. After a cryptic conversation, Bession then kills himself by slicing his throat open with a shard of glass.
  • Stock Subtitle: The Beginning is a typical subtitle for a prequel.
  • Wall Crawling: Possessed Sarah does this briefly after Merrin drives her away with his faith.

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (directed by Paul Schrader)


Alternative Title(s): Exorcist The Beginning, Dominion Prequel To The Exorcist

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/TheExorcist