Film: Holy ghostbusters

The horror that turned heads in '74 has been exhumed from movie hell. Chris Darke exorcises its troubled past, while Catherine Von Ruhland gives it her blessing

MY FLESH creeps before I even enter the cinema. After all, The Exorcist has a silver jubilee of urban myth to feed on: of heart attacks and epileptic fits in the audience, of strange things happening to the cast like some Tutankhamun curse striking down anyone involved. I was still in primary school when it was first released but I can remember the stark posters as distinctly as Malcolm McDowell's false eyelashes from A Clockwork Orange ads just the year before.

The young Catholic marketing officer at the local multiplex where it's showing tells me she's avoiding seeing it. Editors on the Christian press seem reticent about giving the film's Scottish distribution any coverage. Phoning in ideas for my column on an evangelical paper, there is a marked silence from the editor when I suggest reviewing it. Another Christian arts editor is more interested in the news angle of any campaigns against its showing - "and especially if Episcopalians have anything to say".

The film's atmosphere of utter evil is chillingly authentic in a way achieved by possibly no other movie. Where most Hollywood horror pussyfoots around the satanic, casting a hollow-cheeked gentleman charmer like Christopher Lee or Al Pacino as the very devil himself, The Exorcist remains deeply disturbing in its account of the 12 year old Regan's possession and the ensuing spiritual battle for her soul.

The improved sound quality exacerbates the film's sheer horror, for without a visible foe - except as expressed in young Linda Blair's impressive contortions and bestial facial transformation - it is what we hear that terrifies. Yet the film's redeeming theme is that of the Catholic priest choosing to go the full distance with Utter Darkness - a sleeves-rolled- up, no-holds-barred fight to the finish between God's earthly representatives and Satan.

Disturbing in its depiction of evil in a way that controversial releases such as Reservoir Dogs and Crash are not, it is a not a film that I would wish to be seen by anyone who is under 18. But, the Exorcist is surely an explicitly Christian film. Against primitive 1970s brain scans and dismissive psychiatric diagnoses, only Church rites administered by Max von Sydow's frail but fearless Father Merrin and Jason Miller's doubting Father Karras can reach Regan's troubled soul.

Certainly the depicted possession is overblown, but the ministry is presented with dignity as an honourable vocation, staffed by people who are ordinary, imperfect men aided by the power of God. Both priests, like their God, are self-sacrificial in their quest to save the girl. And the very crux of the film is all there in the famous poster image: the yellow silhouette of the man at the gate bringing light into the pitch black of the night.

Catherine Von Ruhland is film critic of the `New Christian Herald'

What they said in 1974

`The Exorcist is claptrap. It has hardly any narrative to speak of ... it contains more loose ends than the first draft of a 2000-page novel.'

Vincent Canby, `New York Times'

`It rates high on the list of phenomena not to be taken seriously ... Making analytic statements about it is as silly as the famous one made by a social scientist about `The Godfather'; he said that the movie was a hit because people liked the example it provided of family solidarity.'

Eugene C Kennedy, priest and psychology professor, `New York Times'

`All I can say after squirming through this sickening excess of blood, vomiting, lewd language and gruesome satanic phenomena is that I hope never again to see anything half as hateful.'

The `Daily Mail'

`Doing that soundtrack was a terrible experience. I didn't just do the voice. I did all the demon's sounds. That wheezing, for instance. My bronchitis helped with that ... I used moaning cries I used when playing Lady Macbeth for Orson [Welles] ... For the groaning, I pulled a scarf around my neck, tight, and almost strangled.'

Mercedes McCambridge, who voiced the demon, speaking to Charles Higham, `Variety'

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence