Film: The Exorcist

aka: The Exorcist III

"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.


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    The Novels 
  • Disappeared Dad: Howard MacNeil is in Europe for the whole book.
    • Freudian Excuse: Which the characters surmise is the reasoon of her pick of the name "Captain Howdy."
  • Driven to Suicide: The Gemini Killer in Legion.
  • 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 with Burke's voice and continues to torment Karl.
    • The demon also mocks Karras for the drugs he's using to keep Regan stable, informing him (correctly) that he's going to give Regan a fatal heart arrhythmia if he keeps it up.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Karras continues to find scientific explanations for the various phenomena for most of the book. It's more than a bit of a stretch by the end, but a rational explanation is at least possible, if not quite plausible. Subverted in The Film of the Book by the floating body of Regan, which is pretty tough to explain away as anything but supernatural. In the novel, she does not float. The demon does some telekinesis, but Karras is aware of scientific research that indicates evidence for TK, so it doesn't count. A lot of the bed lurching around the room, etc., is explained by her superhuman strength as she thrashes around. The demon knows all this and is playing Karras like a fish on a line.note 
  • 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.

    The Exorcist 
  • Abnormal Limb Rotation Range
  • 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.
      • 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.
  • Affectionate Parody: Repossessed, starring Leslie Nielsen and Linda Blair Adam Westing.
  • 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 Reagan 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.
    • Blatty was extremely annoyed that the key line "I won't let you hurt them!" (spoken by Karras to Pazuzu after it enters him) didn't make it into the final cut.
  • 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.
  • Daylight Horror: Most of the scariest scenes happen during the day; notably, the head-spinning scene.
  • 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 Laugh/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.)
  • Evil Sounds Deep/Guttural Growler: A twelve-year-old girl should not sound like Mercedes McCambridge.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The movie begins with an archeological dig.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Pazuzu.
  • Film of the Book
  • 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.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Merrin.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • There have been some reports that they actually adjusted the tube at the last second so it hit him in the face. Either way, it makes a great scene.
  • 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.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Pazuzu's got a pretty foul mouth.
  • 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.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Images of a demonic face are periodically flashed throughout the film.
  • Take Me Instead/Thanatos Gambit: 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.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Exorcist was inspired by an actual exorcism performed in a Jesuit hospital in St. Louis.
  • 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.
  • Who You Gonna Call?
  • Xanatos Gambit: Pazuzu tries to do this; either the priest or the girl but the priest decides to Take a Third Option
    • 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 Hellblazer where a demon says this of John Constantine's father. Constantine, not missing a beat, responds thusly: "Does he swallow?"
    • And then there's Scary Movie 2: "Suck on this." (the priest pulls a gun; possessed Regan goes Oh, Crap; Boom, Headshot as it cuts to the film's title card).

    Exorcist II: The Heretic 
  • Back for the Dead: Sharon.
  • Canon Discontinuity
  • Evil Doppelganger
  • Fake Shemp: A weird example = Linda Blair only accepted to return if she didn't have to go through the make-up again. Thus whenever possessed Regan appears, it's a stand-in.
  • Flashback
  • Genre Shift: It's difficult to say exactly what genre this film falls under, but it most definitely isn't horror.
  • Hall of Mirrors: Dr. Tuskin's psychiatric institute appears to have been built with "put as many reflective surfaces as possible!" as its motto.
  • Informed Ability: Regan's artistic talent, especially her laughably bad drawing of Father Lamont.
  • Kill Her With Fire: The fates of the possessed girl in the opening sequence and Sharon.
  • Large Ham: Weirdly enough, Richard Burton underacts as aggressively as he overacts in some scenes.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Dr. Tuskin decides to try a mind-reading gizmo on Regan. It all goes downhill from there.
  • Mind Screw: The whole friggin' movie.
  • Missing Mom: Adding to Howard MacNeil being absent from Regan's life, now so is Chris, who Regan says is 'away all the time'.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Linda Blair is quite hot in this movie.
  • Nonindicative Name: So just who is the Heretic of the title, anyway?
    • 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 and threatened to overthrow the power of God, 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.
  • One-Woman Wail: 'Regan's Theme'.
  • Posthumous Character: Father Merrin
  • Psychic Powers: Regan has them. Other than that spoon-bending trick she fakes Sharon out with at the beginning of the picture.
  • Re Cut: Shortly after its premiere, John Boorman went back to re-cut the film in response to poor audience reactions, hoping to salvage the film. It did not work, and the re-cut version has been long out of print.
  • Scenery Porn: The sets and mattes are very amusing to look at.
  • She Is All Grown Up: My, how little Regan has grown. Most of the movie has her in some form of revealing clothing. And then there's the tap dancing scene.
  • The Swarm: Locusts are a recurring appearance.
  • Title Drop: Kokumo says to Father Lamont 'You're a Heretic.'
  • Written-In Absence: Ellen Burstyn didn't come back to reprise her role of Chris MacNeil, so they just say that she's away on work.

    The Exorcist III 
  • 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.
  • Confessional: A brutal murder occurs in one offscreen.
  • 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.
  • Dream Sequence. The Exorcist III, for Nightmare Fuel.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The above Dream Sequence is Kinderman dreaming of Dyer's murder.
    Kinderman: You know, I wonder if both of us are dreaming this.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Arguably, Father Dyer.
  • Eureka Moment:
    Allerton: Do you treat your family this way?!
    (You can almost see the light bulb appear above Kinderman's head.)
  • 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.
  • Failed a Spot Check: A frightening example, when a possessed old lady escapes the hospital by crawling across the ceiling, which isn't very high. It's all but outright stated that supernatural forces are at work to keep people from noticing her.
  • Foreshadowing: "Do you dance?"
  • Hannibal Lecture. Brad Dourif out-Hannibal Lectures Hannibal Lecter; The Exorcist III was released a year before The Silence of the Lambs.
    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!
  • Jump Scare: Poor Nurse Keating.
  • 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."
  • Mercy Kill:
    Patient X: We won, me.
  • 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.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Father Dyer.
  • Serial Killer: The Gemini Killer.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Kinderman, after The Gemini Killer gets a little too graphic.
    Gemini Killer: (after Kinderman breaks his nose, mockingly) Oooh, a few boos from the peanut gallery.
  • Shout-Out: The nurse Lisa in Silent Hill is based off of a scene with a nurse in a red sweater.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Father Dyer.
  • Surreal Horror:
    • The opening credits
    • Kinderman's nightmare
    • Brad Dourif's voice changing pitch throughout each of his scenes.
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked with the animatronic grinning pianists at Grand Central during the Dream Sequence for Nightmare Fuel.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Nurse Allerton gives one near the end of the film to Kinderman, which leads to a Eureka Moment for the cop.

    Exorcist: The Beginning 
  • Anyone Can Die: Only Merrin and Joseph survived the massacre.
  • 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."

    Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist 

Alternative Title(s):

Exorcist The Beginning, Exorcist II The Heretic, The Exorcist III