Today! Because it’s pretty much discarded these days, except by the Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of embarrassment –
The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by William Friedkin (x2)
Starring Ellen Burstyn (x2), Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, William O’Malley, Mercedes McCambridge
If you’ve managed to compartmentalize types of horror films to the point that you can place something ahead of The Exorcist in overall quality, okay. It is more a supernatural horror flick than a slasher movie, more a psychological thriller horror than a ghost story or a tale of creeping death. But this is a lot of mental gymnastics to avoid the obvious conclusion – The Exorcist is the greatest horror movie ever made, and it’s not even particularly close. Again, I’m not a huge fan of the genre in general, but I do tend to seek out renowned, acclaimed films of any stripe, and I’ve never seen anything that quite compares. Halloween is a great slasher movie, but it’s like comparing a small family drama to Citizen Kane.
And I know The Exorcist is a huge, worldwide classic of cinema, but in some ways I’ve always thought of it as special to my small corner of the world growing up – even though I didn’t see it until I was probably a teenager, thankfully. You see, Scranton, Pennsylvania doesn’t have much to put it on the national map, and especially back when I was young, before NBC’s The Office landed in Lackawanna County. But what they had was the pride of the west side, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Jason Miller, whose That Championship Season made him a star in 1972. My mom would tell stories of them filming some bits of the ’82 movie version down the road from my grandmother’s house on Jackson Street. And he was Oscar nominated for his first big screen appearance as Father Karras in this demon possession masterpiece.
I’ve written at length about Jason Miller elsewhere – large, bizarre sections of my underappreciated, undervalued contribution to Scranton history, Parade Day (available from Amazon, and some very suspicious eBay sellers), go into lying detail about the famed playwright – but it is undeniable he was the most famous playwright and the most famous actor from the area this side of Jean Kerr and Cynthia Rothrock. And so The Exorcist – with no other Scranton connection that I’m aware of – still kind of feels like a local movie to me.
It also manages to snag William Friedkin some glory, as the 32nd Two-Timer director – Friedkin’s post-Exorcist career is spotty to say the least (he already had that French Connection Oscar on the mantle), but at least he gave us the greatest Shaq film ever made in the form of #317 Blue Chips. He also enables Ellen Burstyn to join the acting guild here today, following her work in #255 Red Dragon. Spotlight!
The Exorcist was nominated for ten Oscars, winning for Screenplay and Sound, after taking home Best Drama, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actress for Blair at the Golden Globes. Let’s face it, the Academy just was not ready to give a horror movie Best Picture, thus, The Sting, which is a lot of fun, but not exactly landmark cinema.