The Exorcist is a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name. Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran (in his penultimate performance), Jason Miller, and Linda Blair star in the film. It is the first picture in The Exorcist film series, and it tells the story of a little girl who is possessed by a demon, and her mother’s attempt to save her through an exorcism performed by a pair of Catholic priests.
In late December 1973, The Exorcist was released in 24 cinemas across the United States and Canada. Despite mixed critical reviews, people flocked to the film, with many waiting in long lines during the cold winter months. Scenes in which the protagonist suffers a realistic cerebral angiography and then forcefully masturbates with a crucifix cause some viewers to have bodily symptoms such as fainting or vomiting. There have been reports of heart attacks and miscarriages, and a psychiatric magazine has published a study on ‘cinematic neurosis’ prompted by the film.
Many children were allowed to view the film, prompting accusations that the MPAA rating body bowed to Warner Bros. by awarding it an R-rating rather than the X-rating it merited in order to ensure its commercial success. Several localities attempted to outright ban it or make it illegal for children to attend.
This story of an exorcism is based partially on true events and is one of the most profitable horror films ever made. When Regan (Linda Blair) begins to act strangely, such as levitating and speaking in tongues, her anxious mother (Ellen Burstyn) seeks medical treatment, only to come up empty-handed. However, a local priest (Jason Miller) believes the girl has been kidnapped by the devil. The priest requests an exorcism, and the church dispatches an expert (Max von Sydow) to assist him with the difficult task.