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
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells