The Exorcist is a 1973 Religious Horror 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.
Evil Versus Evil: The theme of "evil against evil" is prevalent, starting with Merrin's archeological trip to Northern Iraq where he finds a demon statue that the natives stated was an evil artifact to combat evil. This foreshadows Karras' "evil act" of accepting Pazuzu into himself, to save Regan: also, suicide's a mortal sin in the Catholic Church.
Karras acted on impulse, but it was exactly the right thing to do; he was not thinking John 15:13, but that's why it worked.
It Amused Me/For the Evulz: Burke Dennings enjoys tormenting the housekeeper Karl simply because he can. After Burke's death, the possessed Regan spends quite a bit of time speaking in Burke's voice and continues to torment Karl.
Pet the Dog: Burke Dennings is a drunk and a vulgar, foul-mouthed, often hateful bastard, but he is very fond of Regan. He gives her a birthday party on the set, and when he films her cutting the cake he calls it a screen test. His love for her is what killed him; when Sharon left him alone in the house with her, he knew only that she was sick; he must have gone upstairs to check on her.
Write What You Know: Chris MacNeil is based on William Peter Blatty's friend Shirley MacLaine, and her marital situation on MacLaine's then-husband having left for Europe determined to not live in his wife's shadow. What's weird, is that nobody even cares to try and contact him because of his daughter's worsening health to the risk of DEATH.
This caused Sachiko MacLaine a bit of trouble, as numerous people had heard Blatty had based Chris on Shirley and assumed that Sachiko had been sick or possessed.
Adult Fear: Father Karras is deeply depressed about choosing a life of poverty instead of becoming a rich doctor - and both his uncle and mother give him a What the Hell, Hero? about it. 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.
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.
He hooked every mother in the audience with that decision. Also, in the book, Merrin says the point of demonic possession is to make onlookers feel complete helpless despair. Watch Ellen Burstyn's face in Chris' first scene with Fr. Karras.
Big "NO!": Karras just before he kills himself to prevent Pazuzu, who has gone inside of him, from killing Regan.
Blatty was extremely annoyed that the key line "I won't let you hurt them!" (spoken by Karras to Pazuzu after it enters him) did not make it into the final cut.
Billing Displacement: Max von Sydow only appears in the movie during the prologue and the last twenty minutes, but is billed second, despite Jason Miller and Linda Blair's characters being the main focus of the film. The reason for this error is likely because von Sydow was already well known, and Miller and Blair were screen newcomers.
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.
Special mention must go to the shot where Ellen Burstyn is "thrown" by Regan across the room and her back hits the tallboy. Burstyn to be forcibly thrown and dragged with a wire harness, giving her a spinal injury that's plagued her her whole life. Her scream of pain is real.
The real reason Father Dyer is shaking while he's administering last rites to Father Karras is because William Friedkin slapped his actor just before the take.
Linda Blair had to endure the freezing cold bedroom set wearing only thin nightgowns.
Evil Albino: Pazuzu/Captain Howdy when you can see his face.
Evil Sounds Deep: A twelve-year-old girl should not sound like Mercedes McCambridge.
Evil Plan: The Exorcist is Pazuzu's revenge on Fr. Merrin for evicting him from a child in Africa.
Foot Focus: The party scene features a closeup of Regan's bare feet... and the puddle of urine that forms between them.
Freudian Excuse: A lot is made of the fact in both the book and the film that Regan is entering puberty. Considering her actions...
In the book, the first doctor Chris consults shoots that theory down pretty strongly, describing how the symptoms of a brain tumor can appear psychological.
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.
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.
Holy Burns Evil: Demon-possessed Regan's reaction to what a priest says is holy water.
Left It In: When Regan first spits pea-soup vomit over Fr. Karras, the mechanism they had rigged up malfunctioned. The gunk was supposed to hit him in the chest. Instead, he got it right in the face. Jason Miller's disgust and anger are real, and perfect.
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...
Obfuscating Stupidity: Kinderman, in the books. He calls it "schmaltz". Everything he does has a purpose. Chris tells people she is "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.
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.
In both book and film, the doctors explain that real split personality is almost unheard of, but brain lesions and epilepsy can cause patients to act like it.
The satires milked this for all it was worth. The Saturday Night Live version speculated what would have happened if one of the priests was black (Specifically, Richard Pryor) and had to endure insults like "Your momma eats kitty litter!" and "Your momma sews socks that smell!"
Parodied in Hell Blazer where a demon says this of John Constantine's father. Constantine, not missing a beat, responds thusly: "Does he swallow?"
It's the original Exorcist, Fr. Merrin. The Vatican is investigating his life and writings for heresy because of his theory that goodness attracts evil, and because he believed the devil was real, something Church authorities are trying to play down. There is also a movement to have Merrin declared a saint, and Fr. Lamont is trying to prove Merrin's exorcisms were valid.
And then the title refers also to Lamont, after he accepted Pazuzu's help in locating Kokumo.
The Cameo: The Exorcist III is full of them. Fabio makes his first screen appearance in the Dream Sequence, along with Patrick Ewing as The Angel Of Death, Samuel L. Jackson as the blind man, while other Washington, DC personalities such as then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson walking around.
Canon Discontinuity: Despite the "III" in the title, the film completely ignores the second entry. It was probably for the better...
In this movie Kinderman and Karras were best friends. In first film, they barely knew each other - however, in the novel, they had a friendship growing, and when it was cut short, Kinderman and Dyer became friends because of their mutual relationship with Karras.
Canon Foreigner: Father Morning wasn't in any of the books, and was added into the film because the producers wanted there to be an actual exorcism scene.
Ceiling Cling: There is a very creepy moment where an old woman skitters by the protagonist... on the ceiling.
Deadpan Snarker: Most of the cast. Kinderman wins the Deadpan prize with his story about the carp swimming in his bathtub.
Death by Adaptation: Gemini's Father is a Type 2 example. In Legion, the novel this installment was based on, he dies of natural causes, and his death causes the Gemini to lose all his motivation because he can no longer bring him shame and grief; in the movie, he was the Gemini's first victim; after this, the Gemini kept on murdering so he could figuratively continue to kill his father forever.
The Dragon: The Gemini Killer to the evil spirit who is helping him.
(You can almost see the light bulb appear above Kinderman's head.)
Executive Meddling: The ending was reshot at the insistence of the producers, because they wanted an actual exorcism in the film. They also forced William Peter Blatty to title the film The Exorcist III instead of his preferred title, Legion.
Test audiences wanted someone from the original film to appear, so they hired Jason Miller and reshot the Patient X scenes. In this case, it worked, since there was a clear division between The Gemini Killer and Father Karras.
Evil Sounds Deep: When played by Brad Dourif, the Gemini Killer's voice changes pitch several times in each of his scenes, and often goes unnervingly low; people who have seen Dourif in other movies would likely be very creeped out by how much lower than Dourif's natural range the voice gets.
The Gemini Killer: It's too bad about Father Dyer. I killed him, you know. An interesting problem, but finally... it worked! First, a bit of the ole succinylcholine to permit one to work without, ah, annoying distractions, then... a three foot catheter threaded directly into the inferior vena cava — or, superior vena cava. It's a matter of taste, I think, don't you? Then the tube moves through the vein, under the crease of the arm, into the vein that leads directly into the heart, and then, you just hold up the legs and you SQUEEZE the blood manually into the tube from the arms and the legs. There's a little shaking and pounding at the end for the dregs — it isn't perfect, there's a little blood left I'm afraid. BUT, regardless, the overall effect is astonishing! And isn't that REALLY what counts in the end? Yes GOOD SHOW BIZ, Lieutenant, the EFFECT! And then, off comes the head without spilling one single drop of blood. Now I call that SHOWMANSHIP, Lieutenant!
Large Ham. The Exorcist III has George C. Scott in his hammiest role, ever.
Kinderman: Yes, I believe... I believe in death. I believe in disease'. I believe in injustice and inhumanity and torture and anger and hate... I believe in murder. I BELIEVE IN PAIN. I believe in cruelty and infidelity. I believe in slime and stink and every crawling, putrid thing... every possible ugliness and corruption, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH! I BELIEVE... in you.
Meanwhile, Brad Dourif's The Gemini Killer Lampshades this after an outburst ("But the main thing is the torment of your friend Father Karras as he watches while I rip and cut and mutilate the innocent, his friends, and again, and again, on and on! HE'S INSIDE WITH US! HE'LL NEVER GET AWAY! HIS PAIN WON'T END!) he sheepishly apologizes: "Gracious me. Was I raving? Please forgive me. I'm mad."
Nothing Is Scarier: Most of The Exorcist III derives its horror from implication and verbal speeches. And it works.
The Nth Doctor: The Gemini Killer switches actors depending on whether the audience is seeing things from Kinderman's perspetive (in which he's played by Jason Miller) or from the "eyes of faith" perspective (where he's played by Brad Dourif).
Posthumous Character: Thomas is killed either before the movie even starts or right after the opening credits (depending on how much of the credits sequence was just Patient X's dream), but is a big reason for Kinderman's personal interest in the case, actually shows up in Kinderman's nightmare, and don't get started on how he plays into the climatic showdown.
Executive Meddling: Took place to a savage degree with Paul Schrader's original cut, which was entirely junked by the studio and refilmed from scratch by Renny Harlin.
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."