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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a mature horror film, not aimed at (or paced for) kids. No rock-music soundtracks or look-out-the-killer-is-behind-you scares, but rather an awful sense of corruption as demonic possession takes over an adolescent girl like a loathsome progressive disease. The infamous makeup effects of projectile vomiting and blood, blaspheming, and gutturally obscene language were meant to disturb the viewer as nothing before seen in movies, and they still convey solid shocks.
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What's the story?
Linda Blair plays Regan MacNeil, the bright 12-year-old daughter of successful actress Chris (Ellen Burstyn), who can afford to raise the girl in a nurturing atmosphere with live-in cooks and nannies (Regan's absentee father is written off as self-absorbed and oblivious). The first signs of trouble include Regan playing with a Ouija board and claiming she's communicated with a ghost she calls Captain Howdy. Then the girl begins behaving abnormally, urinating in front of party guests and foretelling death for Chris' film-director boyfriend. While Regan suffers grueling medical exams and gets progressively worse, the story line simultaneously follows Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a Greek-American Catholic priest with some doubts about his religion. When medical science fails to cure the howling, obscenity-spewing, uncontrollable Regan, doctors point Chris to Father Karras, whose background in psychology includes the now-rare rite of exorcism. Karras summons another priest to help, the wiser and older Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), and together they begin to do battle with Regan's occupier.
Is it any good?
If you think your teen is ready for this shocking film, keep in mind that some audience members in the '70s reportedly fainted after seeing Dick Smith's grisly makeup effects on Blair. In some extreme cases, viewers even required psychiatric care. Also, the moans, snarls, and profane utterances from Regan (most are actually the dubbed-in voice of a well-known older actress, Mercedes McCambridge) amount to some of the most chilling audio ever done for film.
Thanks in part to Linda Blair's wrenching, Oscar-nominated performance, The Exorcist was a huge hit, earning back 10 times its $10 million budget (a then-lavish sum, outrageous for a "mere" horror flick). Movie historians cite it (along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as the conclusive end of old-school spook shows featuring Dracula and Frankenstein and bobbing rubber bats.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's religious and scientific overtones. Does Father Karras regain his religious faith in the finale, and how does he become almost Christlike? What do you think about the novel's suggestion that this might not be a "real" demon but rather some terrible but explicable mental disorder?