The Exorcist (1973)

While at an excavation in northern Iraq, a scarred catholic priest finds figurine-parts of his arch enemy, Pazuzu – not only a demon, but a king among demons who nearly took the priest’s life during an earlier exorcism in Africa – and interprets it as a warning of a coming confrontation. Rightly so, he is summoned by the Catholic Church in the United States to help an inexperienced priest who doubts his own faith and a desperate mother, whose only child has fallen victim to a terrible case of demonic possession.




Full plot:
The foundation for virtually every possession- or exorcism-themed movie, “The Exorcist” from 1973 begins with shots of lights going out in a bedroom-window in Georgetown, Washington D.C. and a graceful marble statue of Virgin Mary, before taking us far across the Atlantic and Mediterranean:

Northern Iraq is home to countless Mesopotamian dig-sites. At an unspecified excavation, a helping kid is seen running to Father Lankester Merrin, informing him that some diggers have found a batch of artifacts at the base of the mound. Father Merrin talks to the diggers and sees that they’ve exhumed lamps, arrowheads and coins, including a coin or medallion from a wrong period with an image of Saint Joseph on it. Father Merrin sticks a pickaxe into a nearby hole in the rock to find additional items. He pulls out a piece of sediment that holds the head of a smaller statuette of Pazuzu (lit.: “king of the demons of the wind”).

Merrin later sits at a tea-bar and takes nitroglycerin for his heart-condition. At the collection, he studies again the medallion with Joseph and the magic baby on as well as the statuette-head he found.

Merrin then leaves his lodgings and is almost run down by a horse-carriage in the nearby town. He grabs a 4×4 and goes to an undisclosed ancient city. He climbs the rubbles and ruins to stand face to face with a larger Pazuzu-statue.

Back in Georgetown, Chris MacNeil, an American actress and celebrity, works on a manuscript in her apartment while her 12-year-old daughter, Regan, is asleep. Chris investigates some strange sounds from the attic and attributes it to rats. She walks into Regan’s room and closes the window to save Regan from draft.

Next morning, she asks her two housekeepers to set up traps to deal with the “rats”. Chris goes to her shoot/set where she is supposed to portray a collage teacher. Since her director, Burke Dennings, is filming in public, a number of casual spectators are present. Among these is Father Damien Karras, a Catholic priest with a background in psychiatry and boxing. Chris decides to walk home and asks someone to bring home her handbag. On her way back, she sees Father Karras talking to another vicar. When Chris gets home, Sharon, her personal assistant (who also occasionally takes care of Regan) is already sitting at the typewriter.

Father Karras lives elsewhere in D.C. under far less prestigious conditions. He visits his aging mother and puts bandages on her injured leg and tells her that she cannot use the stairs. He then drops some cash for her before leaving.

Meanwhile, Chris goes down the basement room to find that Regan has toyed with a Ouija board that she found in a closet. Chris believes that two people are required to use the Ouija board, but Regan tells her that it works fine for her to “play” alone. When Chris tries to touch the planchette, it automatically veers away from her hands. They forget about it and casually plan on going to the cinema the next day.

At a local bar, Damien Karras talks to Tom, the president of a theological university, and tells him that he believes himself unfit for his job as a local priest who consults people with mental disorders and that he might actually have lost his faith.

After Chris has gone to sleep, she is woken up by a work-related phone call. She then realizes that Regan lies besides her. Regan says she couldn’t fall asleep in her own bed because it was “shaking”. Chris again hears noises from the attic and decides to check it out with a candle. On the attic, her candlelight catches a cobweb and scares her.

Next day, when the priest enters the local church to put up some flower-decorations, he sees that the marble statue of Mary in the church has been desecrated and vandalized.

At the local hospital, Regan is having some test done on her. She is very aggressive and rude to the hospital staff and starts behaving as if in euphoric states or psychosis. She gets diagnosed with a “disorder of the nerves”, possibly related to depression. Dr. Samuel Klein proscribes Ritalin (a stimulant drug) for Regan, saying that it might ease her hyperkinetic behavior, and that they should see how the Ritalin works and not yet contact a psychiatrist.

At the same time, Father Karras visits his mother in a hospital together with his uncle, and realizes that her condition has worsened. He later has a dream wherein he sees images of his mother and the Joseph-medallion from Iraq.

Chris hosts a party for locals and talks to Father Joseph Dyer, who tells her that Father Karras is in fact the community’s “psychiatric counsellor” and that his mother is now dead. Also at the party is the film-director, Burke Dennings, who gets drunk and starts a fight with one f Chris’ housekeepers, so Chris sends him home. An astronaut is also present, and while Father Dyer plays the house-piano, Regan walks into the room, looks at the astronaut, drops the famous line: “You’re gonna’ die up there!” and urinates on the carpet.

After Chris has put her to bed, Regan begins to scream frantically, so Chris rushes back into the bedroom to discover that Regan wasn’t lying about the bed shaking. She takes her to the hospital again and Doctor Klein attributes the problem to a possible brain lesion. The hospital does a full brain scan on Regan but sees nothing physiologically wrong with her brain.

Dr. Klein and Dr. Taney are later called to Chris’s apartment, where they find Regan in a state of trauma which evolves into the downright state of possession which the film is known for. Regan runs out of control and is given a tranquillizing injection. The doctors then take her back to the hospital and commence a second scan which also turns out negative. Klein finally concludes that it’s time to look for a psychiatrist.

When Chris is back in her apartment, the Phone immediately rings but no one is there when she picks up, all the light flickers and Regan’s room is extremely cold. The window which is close to her bed is open, and in the darkness that surrounds the bed, the silhouette of Pazuzu’s statue fades into the picture.

Sharon returns to the apartment with Thorazine for Regan and tells Chris that she entrusted the stewardship briefly to Burke Dennings, who just visited the apartment a short a while ago. Chuck, an assistant-director and close friend of Burke, rings the doorbell. He comes in and informs Chris and Sharon that Burke is lies dead outside with a broken neck, at the foot of some stairs which are just below Regan’s bedroom-window. Chris has an intense nervous breakdown, and it doesn’t help when she sees Regan crawling down the stairs, showcasing the famous spider-walk.

Dr. Klein and Chris call upon a psychiatrist who attempts to hypnotize both Regan and whatever entity is interned in her. A picture drops off a shelf by itself and Regan attacks the psychiatrist.

While Karras runs laps at the local stadium, Lt. William Kinderman (a cop from the local homicide department) approaches him and tells him that not only did Burke die at those stairs: He was also found with his head (neck) rotated 180 degrees. He asks Karras whether he has a clue as to who might have done this, in case it was a murder, but gets no satisfying answer.

Dr. Klein suggests that Chris takes Regan to an exorcist for psychiatric reasons. Chris puts Regan to sleep and removes an unfamiliar crucifix from under her pillow. She cannot find anybody who will credit themselves to putting it there.

At the stairs where Burke fell, Kinderman finds what looks to be a loose part of the smaller Pazuzu-statuette. Kinderman visits Chris and tells her that in the time where he visited the ill Regan, Burke must have been killed by first having his neck sharply turned and then been thrown out from the window in Regan’s bedroom to land on the stair where he was found dead.

Soon as Kinderman leaves, Chris again hears screams from Regan’s bedroom and finds her violently stabbing herself in her crotch with a crucifix so that she bleeds and is heavily injured. When Chris tries to prevent this, Regan brutally beats her and shows her no mercy whatsoever.

Chris is later approached by Damien Karras at a bridge. Chris begs Damien to exorcise the demon she thinks inhabits Regan. He explains that an official exorcism needs church approval, but agrees to see Regan privately. When he sees Regan, her condition has worsened and she lies tied to her bed to prevent her from hurting herself again. She claims to be “the devil” and vomits unnatural-looking, green fluid all over Karras. Karras however still believes that an old-school exorcism won’t be of much help. When Karras leaves the apartment he is watched by Kindermam, who also spots a shadowy silhouette in Regan’s bedroom-window. Karras then investigates an audio tape with Regan’s voice on it.

Karras sees Regan again and records her speaking different languages; gibberish included. He then sprinkles ordinary tap-water (which he claims is holy water) onto Regan’s body, and she begins to writhe in agony. Afterwards, Chris tells him that Regan, or whoever possesses her, must have been responsible for the death of Burke Dennings.

Karras soon discovers that the gibberish he heard was in fact English in reverse. He also hears the demon inside Regan calling out Father Merrin’s name. At night, Sharon shows Karras the words “help me” has formed on Regan’s stomach, and this somewhat changes Damien’s convictions.

He ultimately asks Bishop Michael for approval for an exorcism. Michael lets him assist while Father Merrin leads the exorcism.

Click here to unfold the remaining story (SPOILER WARNING)

Merrin arrives to Chris’ apartment, unleashing a grudging bellow from Regan’s bedroom as Pazuzu senses Merrin’s presence. He asks Karras to first fetch a number of different items needed for the exorcism. Merrin does not wish to hear anything about the background of the possession. Nor does he wish to engage in conversation with the possessed or the possessor.

When Karras has retrieved the required items, he and Merrin enter Regan’s bedroom, sprinkle holy water on her and open two copies of The Roman Ritual. They begin to pray together while spraying some more holy water on her. They are interrupted when the bed starts levitating, but Merrin shows fortitude and pushes through with the exorcism. Merrin drains out large amounts of the unnatural green liquid. He then starts showing problems with his heart and the ceiling begins to crack. The straps which hold Regan’s wrists break and she levitates even higher. They manage to bring her down though, and as she stands up, Merrin recognizes her pose as the stance of Pazuzu.

They then take a break and Merrin takes his nitroglycerin for his heart. Karras has a vision of his mother sitting on the bed in Regan’s place. The demon then copies the mother’s voice and calls him. Merrin asks to be alone with Regan and begins to pray in silence.

When Karras again enters, he finds that Merrin’s heart has given up. Sobbing over the dead body of Father Merrin, Karras berserks and tosses Regan/Pazuzu around, screaming for the demon to take over his body instead. He sees his mother briefly again before sensing Pazuzu’s power taking control over him. Regan in turn reverts back to her former self.

Karras, now possessed by Pazuzu, are close to attacking and hurting Regan, but by sheer willpower, Karras’ own personality manages to break through and toss his body through the window; making him tumble down the outside stairs and giving him the same tragic death that befell Burke Dennings, and relieving Pazuzu’s power over the body, essentially sending Pazuzu formlessly [hostlessly] into the ether.

At this time, Kinderman visits the house and enters Regan’s bedroom with Chris. The room is absolutely wrecked, Regan is on the floor crying in her original voice, Father Merrin lies dead at her feet and Father Karras lies dying on the stairs outside. Coincidentally, Father Dyer is present on the street near the stairway and administers the last rites to his good friend as Karras dies.

Chris and Regan are then seen moving out of their apartment in D.C. While emptying the apartment, Sharon finds the Joseph-medallion. Outside of the house, Father Dyer bids the moving pair farewell and is handed the medallion by Chris. He hands it back to Chris though, and asks her to keep it.

Dyer is lastly approached on the street by Detective Kinderman who says he’s got spare tickets for a trip to the cinema.

Max von Sydow as Father Lankester Merrin
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil
Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil
Jason Miller as Father Damien Karras
Mercedes McCambridge as Pazuzu
Kitty Winn as Sharon
William O’Malley as Father Dyer
Lee J. Cobb as Lt. William Kinderman
Barton Heyman as Dr. Klein
Jack MacGowran as Burke Dennings
Wallace Rooney as Bishop Michael
Vasiliki Maliaros as Karras’ Mother
Gina Petrushka as Willi (housekeeper)
Rudolf Schündler  as Karl (housekeeper)

William Friedkin

William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist (1973) on IMDB

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