This extremely successful adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel has a notorious reputation. I imagine it was very shocking when it was first released and there is a mythology around the making of the film too. Due to not being issued a ratings certificate, it wasn’t even available on video in the UK between 1986 – 99. Plus, there are some horribly disturbing scenes which are so well-known that they’ve entered popular culture. The film is therefore part of the horror canon and it set a trend. However, I watched it straight after reading the book and was rather underwhelmed because the film is a lot less graphic than the book – necessarily, as at the time they didn’t want it to be given an X-rating. It’s certainly a well-crafted film with great sets, brilliant acting (apparently some are authentic reactions) and the same unhurried pace as the book.
The problem is, a lot of background information is left out. It felt like much was left unsaid in the film (or else some scenes were cut). The desecrations in the church are barely touched upon and not solved. The Black Mass is mentioned once and not explained. Chris MacNeil’s decision to give up her coveted directing gig so she can look after Regan is not noted. The movie-mad detective Kinderman does not get much detecting done. The foul-mouthed director Burke Dennings is a forgettably minor character. Maybe this story would have worked better as a TV series and not squashed into a feature-length film.
If you don’t know the book, then the film probably seems complete. As I noted with the book, it’s not really frightening. It’s disturbing and gross but the scare factor is maybe 2 out of 10. The film does follow the plot closely, which makes sense as the author also wrote the screenplay. Saying that, for some reason there’s a notorious scene added in which Regan undergoes a painful medical procedure. We really didn’t need to see that. In fact I didn’t see it, I had to look away.
In summary, this is an accomplished film in its own right and a good adaptation but I preferred the book.
Low-resolution image sourced from Wikipedia.