An “Exorcist” Family Reunion

An Exorcist lobby display from
the NYC press day on Tuesday.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

I’ve had a hell of a week. On Tuesday I attended a press day for the Blu-ray release of The Exorcist, which is due out through Warner Home Video next week. Present at the event were director William Friedkin, star Linda Blair, cinematographer Owen Roizman, sound man Chris Newman and, to my pleasant surprise, author/screenwriter William Peter Blatty. I was able to privately interview Friedkin for an hour, Blair for 20 minutes and Blatty for 35 minutes, and the experience was certainly exciting and illuminating.

While The Exorcist has been billed as the scariest movie of all-time, none of the key players originally considered what they were making to be a horror film. Friedkin, Blair and Blatty have called it a theological thriller, while Blatty has also stated that he set out to write a supernatural detective story. They now understand why it’s considered a horror film and a milestone of the genre, but their perspective emphasizes why the film has endured.

Watching the film for the third time in two months at the Museum of Modern Art last night, and for the first time on a big screen with souped up sound in ten years, I realized why I did not feel burned out by such repeated exposure. The filmmakers took their time in developing the characters, unraveling the story and creating a sinister atmosphere, and the careful consideration paid off because the movie contains psychological and emotional underpinnings that are hard to shake off. (Blatty and Newman won Oscars and Blair a Golden Globe (and Oscar nomination) for their work on The Exorcist, while Roizman and Friedkin were Oscar nominated, the latter having won previously for The French Connection.)

Having seen it numerous times now, I’m not really scared by The Exorcist in the way I was when I was younger; but it still creeps me out and sticks with me for hours after I’ve seen it. Watching it with the sound cranked a bit loud, I heard new things in the deep layers of audio that I had not heard before. I wondered how an audience must have felt watching this movie back in 1973 (I was four at the time, so I didn’t see it until the early Eighties), and I also contemplated how cut sequences restored in the 2000 reissue, like the ever-freaky spider walk sequence, would have generated massive heart palpitations throughout an audience.

Linda Blair encourages the crowd at MOMA to keep the spirit of
The Exorcist alive and also snap up those Blu-rays next month.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Modern horror movies tend to rely on shock and awe tactics of jarring sound, fast-paced editing and extreme effects, but most cannot capture the ambiance of something like The Exorcist. I am still a die-hard horror fan and can always find something good to watch. Finding something great to watch is another matter. And this is one of those rare films, like The Changeling, Suspiria and The Ring, that falls into the latter category. During the post-screening panel discussion with Friedkin, Blair, Blatty, Newman and Roizman, Friedkin joked about how Billy Wilder once told him that their movies would become known as entertainment and to never expect to see a movie he made in the Museum of Modern Art. Friedkin then thanked MoMA for proving Wilder wrong for the only time in his life. From my perspective as a horror fan, it was nice to see the genre (and a more modern release) acknowledged in a highly respected museum.

Story links from my interviews will emerge in the coming days. For now, I have posted the following photos from the press day on Tuesday and the MoMA screening and 100-minute panel discussion last night.

Old friends William Friedkin (at left) and William Peter Blatty say hello again.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Linda Blair and cinematographer Owen Roizman catch up
while doing roundtable interviews together.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Blatty at ease during his interviews.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

The Exorcist lobby display at MoMA.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Friedkin and Blatty chat animatedly before the filmgoers at MoMA.
(Friedkin conjures up a freaky special effect with his hand.)
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Blatty talks about the real-life events that inspired his terrifying tale.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Friedkin introduces cinematographer Owen Roizman
to the audience to discuss shooting the film.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Blair tells everyone how much she appreciated being a part
of the historic film and how she feels it is still important and relevant.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Friedkin during a lighter moment in the discussion.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

A fearsome foursome? On and through the screen, for sure.
(And look, Blatty has learned Friedkin's freaky hand trick.)
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Blair listens to sound man Chris Newman discuss his work on the film.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Roizman listens attentively.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

Blair and Friedkin share a hug at the end.
(Photo © 2010 by Bryan Reesman.)

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4 Responses

  1. C.A.

    A movie that scared the bejeezus out me when it first came out (still does). Thanks for sharing, great event coverage!

  2. Carmen

    Thanks for sharing! I feel like such an idiot. I went to the screening where I live in NJ, 1 hour away from NYC. I travel there all the time! I HAD NO IDEA THAT THIS REUNION WAS HAPPENING! I would have so been there had I known. It’s one of my all-time favorite films and after last night, I finally understood why they don’t consider it a horror film. Yes, it’s frightening but it has to do more with the notion of good and evil and the existence of both within us as humans. This is why I love the film because it was an intelligent story being told about a family having to deal with something that was beyond their comprehension and two priests willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of a young girl. Yeah…I get it now. And you sir…are one lucky fellow to have met these fine team!

  3. Design That Rocks

    One of the best movies of all time….and one I have had a personal fascination with since childhood. Really love the pics, and I cannot wait to read the interviews.

    I am green with jealousy.


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