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Sometimes the greatest achievements are things we don't even set out to accomplish. Take for instance legendary film director William Friedkin. He never set out to make The Exorcist one of the scariest films of all time; yet that's exactly what he did.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Friedkin, just in time for some Halloween fun discussing his landmark horror picture. During their chat, the director admitted that while his film scared the life out of audiences, and caused many a movie-goer to cringe with fear, he was really aiming for a completely different type of story. Friedkin explained his true intent in the following statement:
I thought it was a film about the mystery of faith ... but I didn't set out to make a horror film. But by now, I have accepted that it is [a horror film].
On the surface, The Exorcist looks like a simple tale of possession and demonic trickery. However, the actual theme of faith runs down to the film's core, particularly with the opposing figures of Fathers Merrin and Karras. While Merrin is a true believer who's battled the demon Pazuzu before, Karras is a figure of doubt when it comes to the existence of God. Considering his ultimate fate of death while fighting Pazuzu, one could assume that Karras had to have turned towards believing in God in order to sacrifice himself, thus defeating the demon.
While William Friedkin's film is chock full of horrific imagery and thrilling moments, The Exorcist isn't as salacious of a horror film as most might consider. Its reputation doesn't do the true story on display justice, as the film really seems like more of a religious thriller when you look at it the right way. The only reason the film plays better as a horror film is when you think of the film as a fight between two men and the realm of the supernatural. However, if you re-frame The Exorcist as a battle between agents of God versus a force of The Devil, then you've got a film that could slyly be classified as a Christian blockbuster.
If the director had approached the film like a true horror product of its era, The Exorcist probably would have failed miserably. Sadly, 20th Century Fox didn't take this approach into account when they set out to make The Exorcist III for release in 1990. It was this ill-fated decision that ultimately ruined what could have been a truly compelling film, as it followed returning character Detective Kinderman in his investigation of a serial killer with demonic inspiration. Then again, if they hadn't stepped in to change the title of the film from its originally chosen name, Legion, perhaps they wouldn't have been compelled to beg writer/director William Peter Blatty to throw in an exorcism sub-plot.
Fortunately, William Friedkin aimed for the straight and narrow path, and it proved to be the right decision after all. Imperfect sequels aside, The Exorcist remains a paragon of dramatic film-making, as well as a perfect example of how to craft a perfect horror film. But as you get ready to host your Halloween movie marathon, consider giving this one a spin and looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes. You might be surprised with what you find.