The Movie: 'The Exorcist' (1973)

The Scene: Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is a young girl living in Georgetown with her actress mother. When her behavior shifts dramatically, doctors and psychiatrists try to figure out why. When science fails, it's up to Fathers Merrin (Max von Sydow) and Karras (Jason Miller) to save her through the rite of exorcism. The resulting ritual is a terrifying and dangerous ordeal that puts all three parties in grave danger. Karras and Merrin risk the most, and some of the things they see and hear would test anyone's faith. During the battle between good and evil, the demon inside Regan shows its power by twisting the child's head in a complete 360. When Karras catches the demon in a lie, its response is to projectile vomit pea soup on the Priest. The holy men are undaunted by these events and continue in their quest to save the little girl's soul.
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Why It's Iconic:
The reasons why these two parts of 'The Exorcist' have become ingrained in the collective consciousness are pretty easy to figure out. Even today, nearly 40 years after Friedkin's film took the world by storm, the exorcism conducted in the film is shocking. Seeing a child twist her head completely around is a very cool -- and very scary -- piece of special effects work, but the scenes are memorable not so much for their technical achievements, but instead for the way they shock an audience. Regan's rantings are blasphemous and her actions intensely disturbing (like the crucifix masturbation scene...). Friedkin plays for keeps in this film, clearly wanting to upset his audience, and he goes all out in achieving that goal.

Attributing the appeal of the scene solely to shock value isn't fair, though. 'The Exorcist' has become iconic because it plays to our deeper fears --both religious and physical. Audiences look at Regan in these scenes and see a child possessed by a great evil, something that could, in theory, befall anyone. Then to see the physical manifestations of this evil, reflected uncomfortably in the innocent girl's actions and appearance, is enough to shake even the most jaded viewers. Friedkin doesn't flinch from the ugliness of evil in this sequence, and that's what makes it so memorable.

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Imitators/Flatterers: Interestingly enough, these scenes from 'The Exorcist' have been imitated, but mostly in spoof comedies. 'Scary Movie 2' and others have paid homage to Friedkin's classic scenes, playing them for laughs instead of screams. This seems to indicate that a lot of horror filmmakers feel as though the pea soup and head spin are so good that they can't be made scarier. Linda Blair took another stab at them in the comedy 'Repossessed,' but most of the pure horror homages have emanated from other countries. Turkey made one of the most infamous remakes with 'Seytan,' a shot-for-shot retelling that was very much like Friedkin's version -- only with Turkish actors and a fraction of the budget. Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy also paid homage with 'Exorcismo,' which features a climactic exorcism sequence that borrows quite liberally from the American film. Naschy always claimed he'd written his script before seeing 'The Exorcist,' but I'm guessing he read Blatty's novel at some point. Needless to say, while homages are cool, nothing tops the original.

In Theaters on September 14th, 1990

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categories Halloween, Horror