Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, the Exorcist is the story of famous actress whose young daughter is possessed by a demon and calls in the aid of a Catholic exorcist to expell the evil force. The story was inspired by a "real" 1949 exorcism story of a young boy that shared some details with Blatty's book and then the film that followed.
The film was a huge success and changed not only horror films but introduced the public to the idea of the blockbuster. It was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture and it scared the living crap out of most of the people who saw it. Just hearing the theme "tubular bells" was enough to set people on edge after seeing it.
I had read the book before seeing the film and the movie version very closely follows the base material, so I wasn't as unprepared as many to see some of the more shocking moments in the film. Still, some shots to this day are very shocking and unsettling and while some like the infamous pea soup vomit scene have been reproduced in other films and in parody, there remain a few scenes that I've never seen anyone have the nerve to copy.
The film is slowly paced, but keeps the tension up from start to finish. It uses almost but not quite subliminal imagery superimposed over background elements to add to the nightmare quality of what is happening. The make effects stand the test of time, even the head turning 360 degrees scenes hold up and the soundscape of the film is really haunting. I have to say while the movie is known for it's shocking violence and gore, it's the more subtle, quieter moments that stay with you. They compliment the more over the top moments and make this a more psychological horror piece than a gore film. All the technical aspects are enhanced by the case, everyone - Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Max von Sydow - give performances that draw you into the supernatural story in a way lesser actors never could.
The version I just saw was the "version you've never seen" DVD and it had several added scenes including the bloody version of the "spider walk" scene which you would think would look like comic relief in a movie made this long ago... but it's pretty damn bizarre and scary even today.
It's hard to remember that before this movie practically no one had ever heard of an exorcism. After it was released, there were exorcisms galore, not just in other films but in real life. Suddenly demon possession was in all the papers and the Catholic church had it's hands full with all the new cases being brought before them.