The Exorcist 45 years later and its lasting effect on the horror genre


The Exorcist turns 45 on Dec. 26 and even today it remains one of the most influential films in the horror genre.

How It All Began

The Exorcist premiered on Dec. 26, 1973. Prior to the film’s release, nothing like it had ever graced the silver screen. Up until that time, horror was confined to monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman or haunted houses. Demonic possession wasn’t explored.

Rosemary’s Baby definitely focused on Satanic rituals but it didn’t really touch on someone actually being taken over by the devil or one of his minions. When William Friedkin’s masterpiece opened in theaters, word of mouth spread and the result was record box office crowds and lines around the block.

According to The New York Times in 1974, people stood in inclement weather, built bonfires and otherwise occupied themselves while waiting four hours to get into the theater to see this supernatural epic. Apparently, people threw up, fainted or just left before the end of the picture.

Some of the reactions were potentially dire including heart attacks and a miscarriage. How many of these accounts are true or strictly hype remains to be seen. The Exorcist was visceral. It frightened people to their core.

Acting Conveys Realism

The idea of losing one’s identity to something as terrifying as Satan was disturbing. This wasn’t a monster that could be seen it was an unseen entity that couldn’t be fought with weapons. Combine the storyline from William Peter Blatty with the direction of William Friedkin and the elements were in place for an international phenomenon.

What set The Exorcist apart was the caliber of the acting. In prior efforts, horror was in the B movie realm. However, this particular picture had the combined talents of Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller, Max Von Sydow and Lee J. Cobb. Burstyn and Cobb were Actors Studio alum and Method actors.

Cobb appeared in the classic Sidney Lumet film, 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda. Jason Miller who is the father of Jason Patric who starred in The Lost Boys was a successful Broadway playwright. Max Von Sydow was Sweden’s premiere actor.

For Linda Blair, The Exorcist propelled her onto superstardom. From the beginning moments of the film, you are drawn in. You feel as if you are watching a documentary. The conviction and commitment of all of the actors to their respective parts makes you believe that demonic possession is possible. Thus, making what happens on screen extremely frightening.

As a result, The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards. The genre was beginning to be taken seriously. It was no longer thought of as B movie schlock.

The Legacy of Friedkin’s Masterpiece

Subsequently, in 1991, Jonathan Demme followed in The Exorcist’s footsteps by winning several Academy Awards. The Silence of the Lambs attracted such veteran talent as Jodie Foster and world-renowned thespian, Anthony Hopkins.

The influence of Friedkin’s work can be felt today. If you look at The Conjuring universe created by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the caliber of actors is impressive with stage trained Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.

Of course, Get Out while not dealing with demonic possession has benefited from the precedent set by The Exorcist. Once again, you have a top-notch script with talented and committed actors, a stellar debut from director Jordan Peele and the result is not only box office dynamite but critical acclaim. Get Out ended up winning an Academy Award.

Recent tallies at the box office show that horror is here to stay and it continues to be an audience draw. Not only that but it is now acceptable to enjoy those types of pictures as evidenced by the triumphant return of Jamie Lee Curtis in David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s version of Halloween.

Next. Sandra Bullock shines in Netflix’s nail-biting survival thriller Bird Box. dark

The Exorcist being recognized by the Hollywood establishment paved the way for a great deal of the accolades that we are seeing 4 decades later. 2019 will continue the legacy of that landmark film with Glass, It: Chapter 2 and Us.

Are you a fan of The Exorcist? Let us know what you think in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.