The Exorcists - 25 years on
Director William Friedkin discusses his Definitive Horror Movie, The Exorcist

No movie has ever had the impact The Exorcist did. The story of a little girl possessed by a demon could easily have been a mess. Instead, Director William Friedkin’s gritty documentary approach to an already unsettling book turned the film into a classic. The 121-minute movie is scary and thoughtful, a story about faith, evil and sacrifice. Besides being one of the most unusual efforts released by a major studio, The Exorcist has had a major influence on modern thrillers. In Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, the intense moments where Hannibal Lecter and Clarice confront each other, are shot exactly like the conversations between Regan and Father Karras. Even John Carpenter’s Halloween borrows the scene where Ellen Burstyn’s Chris MacNeil walks home from work past nuns and trick-or-treaters – Carpenter recreates the scene with three girls walking home from school. But despite rip-offs, sequels and copycats, The Exorcist’s power has not diminished.

Intensity desperate Regan
Director William Friedkin is a stocky, bespectacled dynamo with an impressive intensity. Soft-spoken and serious, he is thoughtful about his life and work. While his theological thriller has frightened audiences, the director never saw it as a simple fright film. “I think The Exorcist is much deeper. It’s about the mystery of faith,” he declares. “I did not set out to make a Horror film. We took this extraordinarily frightening, highly visceral notion and did it in a realistic context,” he explains. “You believed that this was happening to real people out in the real world and that’s where the greatest Horror lies. The star of a film like this is always the concept. If it works, it’s the concept.”

Fled the Country
“When I made The Exorcist, I had no idea when I finished it that it would work at all or that it did work,” the director confesses. “In fact, I left the country because I thought I had really failed and I didn’t want to be around when the bomb dropped! It’s only over the years, with the response of people, that I realize the film does work. The main reason it does work is because of Blatty’s story and his wonderful screenplay, there’s no doubt about that.” Besides breaking box office records and earning dozens of magazine covers and political cartoons, The Exorcist gripped the American public in a way that affected the director.

Exorcist pic copyright unknown
For our full interview with William Freidkin, read on inShivers #58.
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