The Exorcist

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Based on a novel by William Peter Blatty, and inspired by what was supposedly (it's been disputed) an actual documented exorcism from 1949, The Exorcist is the terrifying, shocking tale of an originally rather cute 12-year-old girl named Regan and the efforts of her mother, a famous ex-actress, her mom's secretary Sharon, and a pair of priests to save the poor girl's soul from the ravages of a powerful, malign entity called Pazuzu.

Initially manifesting as strange behavior in little Regan and her Ouija-board trysts with an invisible companion calling itself Captain Howdy, the being's infiltration is at first dismissed as Regan acting out frustrations after her mother's divorce. As the demon takes hold of Regan, however, she undergoes drastic changes in appearance and behavior, manifesting physical symptoms and incredible strength that cannot be explained by medical science. After Regan starts gliding around the house on all fours face up, licking Sharon's ankles, her mother decides that it is time to consult a higher authority...

The original movie is considered one of the best horror movies of all time, and was followed by two sequels and (for complicated reasons) two versions of the same prequel, with varying levels of quality and success from each of them. However, the first sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic, is considered to be one of the worst movies of all time.

The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the The Exorcist franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.


The Novels

  • Driven to Suicide: The Gemini Killer in Legion.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The theme of "evil against evil" is prevalent, starting with Merrin's archeological trip to Northern Iraq where he finds a demon statue that the natives stated was an evil artifact to combat evil. This foreshadows Karras' "evil act" of accepting Pazuzu into himself, to save Regan.
  • It Amused Me / For the Evulz: Burke Dennings enjoys tormenting the housekeeper Karl simply because he can. After Burke's death, the possessed Regan spends quite a bit of time speaking in Burke's voice and continues to torment Karl.

The Exorcist

  • Abnormal Limb Rotation Range
  • Adult Fear: Father Karras is deeply depressed about choosing a life of poverty instead of becoming a rich doctor - and both his uncle and mother give him a What the Hell, Hero? about it. Made worse that he can't afford to give his mother proper health care when she goes insane, and she dies alone in her squalid apartment. Pazuzu exploits this fully.
    • Regan's possession also counts. The idea of a mother being unable to save her child from a mysterious, unexplainable disease that completely wipes out her mind and personality is far scarier than any monster or demon.
    • This is why Friedkin originally cut out the spider-walk scene. He knew that if the audience spent the whole movie wondering if/when Regan was going to leave the bedroom and attack somebody, it would distract from the drama unfolding outside. That's right: a scene where a demon-possessed Creepy Child walks backwards down a staircase and vomits blood was cut out because it was less scary than a mother's agony over her child's well-being.
      • He hooked every mother in the audience with that decision. Also, in the book, Merrin says the point of demonic possession is to make onlookers feel complete helpless despair. Watch Ellen Burstyn's face in Chris' first scene with Fr. Karras.
      • The spider-walk scene in the book is less terrifying at first than completely, inhumanly alien. Blatty's description doesn't sink in for a minute. Then it hits you.
  • Affectionate Parody: Repossessed, starring Leslie Nielsen and Linda Blair Adam Westing.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Pazuzu's reaction to Merrin's death shows through Regan a sense of shock before he starts giggling in victory. Almost as if he couldn't believe he managed to kill his most hated foe.
  • Big No: Karras just before he kills himself to prevent Pazuzu, who has gone inside of him, from killing Regan.
  • Brown Note: Many sound effects were put in (sometimes deep in the mix) to make it more unsettling - for instance, pigs being herded for slaughter and angry bees.
  • CAT Trap: As one transcript puts it, "a huge machine, two pieces on either side of Regan's head and a piece above."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Throughout the movie, Karras' has hints that he used to be a boxer in his youth. When we first meet his mother, his room has photos of him in boxing attire. When his mother is dying, he starts violently hitting the heavy bag at a gym to vent his frustration. Lastly when Kinderman first questions him he mentions that Karras was easy to spot since he looked like a boxer. He puts his boxing into play when he finds Merrin dead. The first thing he does is pin the possessed Reagan on the ground and throw hooks at her in order to get the demon to possess him. It works.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Justified. Any reference to the original Lutheran clergy that Regan's mom consulted was left out, perhaps because Lutherans have no exorcism tradition.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: And how.

Regan/Demon: Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you! Let Him fuck you!
Regan/Demon: Fuck me! Fuck me!

  • Confessional: A field confession occurs at the end of the first movie.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: probably the most horrifying and disgusting example ever filmed.
  • Daylight Horror: Most of the scariest scenes happen during the day; notably, the head-spinning scene.
  • Evil Plan: The Exorcist is Pazuzu's revenge on Fr. Merrin for evicting him from a child in Africa.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: A twelve-year-old girl should not sound like Mercedes McCambridge.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The movie begins with an archeological dig.
  • Film of the Book
  • Good Shepherd: Fr. Merrin.
  • Groin Attack: Self-inflicted (sort of), with a crucifix, as Regan uses it as a dildo.
    • Regan's attack of the psychiatrist.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Demon-possessed Regan's reaction to what a priest says is holy water. Although it's implied the demon was faking it to further convince Damien that the possession was psychosomatic. Played with during the infamous Crucifix Masturbation scene. It's shown later on that genuine religious items such as the Crucifix and the Holy Water can harm the Demon. However if the items are defiled in one way or another, they seem to have no effect. As the demon was able to force the act on Reagan without the cross burning or subduing it in any way.
  • Mood Motif: It's all about the Ominous Bells here...
  • No Ontological Inertia After Karras gets the demon to leave Reagan and possess him, the decayed look is all gone from her. The only thing remaining is the cuts all over her body. However judging by the next couple of days, the cuts heal and she looks as good as new.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Kinderman, in the books. He calls it "schmaltz". Everything he does has a purpose. Chris tells people she is "dumb" to get them to explain things to her.
  • The Obi-Wan: Father Merrin in his mentor role to Father Karras. Subverted, in that neither of them make it out alive.
  • Placebo Effect: Subverted. Regan screams in pain when Father Karras douses her with tap water, which he claims is holy water. Later, it's implied that Pazuzu intentionally did this to fool Karras into thinking that Regan wasn't really possessed. When he douses her with real holy water in the exorcism scene, the screams are real.
  • Playing Gertrude: Max Von Sydow was only 44 when he played the elderly Father Merrin.
  • Potty Failure: During the after party, when Father Dyer entertains the remaining guests with his piano playing; Reagan comes down stairs. When Dyer first notices her he gets everyone's attention. She looks at the astronaut Dyer spoke to before, telling him he's gonna die in space. Which shocks the Astronaut and the guests. As things couldn't get more awkard, Regan proceeds to urinate over the carpet where she stands, while the guests look on in shock. Chris ushers her out of the room and apologizes to the astronaut on her behalf.
  • Recut: An extended director's cut of the original film, marketed as "The Version You've Never Seen" and containing several minutes of additional material (including a scene of Blair's character "spider-walking" down a staircase which Friedkin had deleted from the original cut due to technical problems, and which bore no resemblance to the spider walk in the book), was released to theaters in 2000.
    • It is generally disregarded by fans and critics. As Roger Ebert put it in his review, "'The version you've never seen.' No, and you don't need to, either."
  • Split Personality: As the possession starts to take hold and Regan's behavior gets more bizarre, Chris thinks her daughter might have a split personality. Later, the possessed Regan says the line "Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?" with the voice of the dead Burke Dennings.
  • Stealth Sequel: Word of God states that The Ninth Configuration is the true sequel to The Exorcist. According to That Other Wiki, the astronaut in The Exorcist is Captain Cutshaw in The Ninth Configuration. In the book series, several unused pieces of dialogue from The Exorcist were used in The Ninth Configuration instead.
  • Subliminal Seduction: Images of a demonic face are periodically flashed throughout the film.
  • Take Me Instead!
  • That Thing Is Not My Child: Literally, in Chris' impassioned speech to Father Karras.
  • Troll: Drunken Director, Burke Dennings full stop. At Chris' party, he's mostly seen hassling Karl, whom he accuses of Nazism. Karl tries to ignore him and even insists that he's Swiss. Eventually they somehow are alone together in the kitchen and Burke continues to prod him. Causing Karl to snap and try to strangle him. Chris and Sharon break up the fight and send an fuming Karl away. All the while Burke rather than be mad, smiles brightly, while saying the following line.

Burke: What's for dessert.

Exorcist II: The Heretic

Sandra: "What's the matter with you?"
Regan (in a rather matter-of-fact tone): "I was possessed by a demon."
<Sandra's eyes get as big as dinner plates>
Regan: "Oh, it's okay. He's gone!"

The Exorcist III

Kinderman: The Gemini is dead.

  • Bigger Bad: William Peter Blatty goes so far to suggest that the evil spirit might not be Pazuzu this time, but might actually be Satan himself, although this raises questions as to why the head of all demons would be interested in petty revenge as opposed to something more grandiose.
  • Big No
  • Body Surf
  • The Cameo: The Exorcist III is full of them. Fabio makes his first screen appearance in the Dream Sequence, along with Patrick Ewing as The Angel Of Death, Samuel L. Jackson as the blind man, while other Washington, DC personalities such as then-Georgetown head coach John Thompson walking around.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Despite its name, the third movie completely ignores the second. It was probably for the better...
    • In this movie Kinderman and Karras were best friends. In first film (and novel), they barely knew each other.
  • Canon Foreigner: Father Morning wasn't in any of the books, and was added into the film because the producers wanted there to be an actual exorcism scene.
  • Ceiling Cling: There is a very creepy moment where an old woman skitters by the protagonist... on the ceiling.
  • Confessional: A brutal murder occurs in one offscreen.
  • Death by Adaptation: Gemini's Father is a Type 2 example. In Legion, the novel this installment was based on, he dies of natural causes, and his death causes the Gemini to lose all his motivation because he can no longer bring him shame and grief; in the movie, he was the Gemini's first victim; after this, the Gemini kept on murdering so he could figuratively continue to kill his father forever.
  • The Dragon: The Gemini Killer to the evil spirit who is helping him.
  • Dream Sequence. The Exorcist III, for Nightmare Fuel.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: When played by Brad Dourif, the Gemini Killer's voice changes pitch several times in each of his scenes, and often goes unnervingly low; people who have seen Dourif in other movies would likely be very creeped out by how much lower than Dourif's natural range the voice gets.
  • Foreshadowing: "Do you dance?"
  • Hannibal Lecture. Brad Dourif actually out-Hannibal Lectures Hannibal Lecter; The Exorcist III was released a year before The Silence of the Lambs.

The Gemini Killer: It's too bad about Father Dyer. I killed him, you know. An interesting problem, but finally... it worked! First, a bit of the ole succinylcholine to permit one to work without, ah, annoying distractions, then... a three foot catheter threaded directly into the inferior vena cava -- or, superior vena cava. It's a matter of taste, I think, don't you? Then the tube moves through the vein, under the crease of the arm, into the vein that leads directly into the heart, and then, you just hold up the legs and you SQUEEZE the blood manually into the tube from the arms and the legs. There's a little shaking and pounding at the end for the dregs -- it isn't perfect, there's a little blood left I'm afraid. BUT, regardless, the overall effect is astonishing! And isn't that REALLY what counts in the end? Yes, of course, GOOD SHOW BIZ, Lieutenant, the EFFECT! And then, off comes the head without spilling one single drop of blood. Now I call that SHOWMANSHIP, Lieutenant!

Kinderman: Yes, I believe... I believe in death. I believe in disease'. I believe in injustice and inhumanity and torture and anger and hate... I believe in murder. I BELIEVE IN PAIN. I believe in cruelty and infidelity. I believe in slime and stink and every crawling, putrid thing... every possible ugliness and corruption, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH! I BELIEVE... in you.

    • Meanwhile, Brad Dourif's The Gemini Killer lampshades this after an outburst ("But the main thing is the torment of your friend Father Karras as he watches while I rip and cut and mutilate the innocent, his friends, and again, and again, on and on! HE'S INSIDE WITH US! HE'LL NEVER GET AWAY! HIS PAIN WON'T END!) he sheepishly apologizes: "Gracious me. Was I raving? Please forgive me. I'm mad."
  • Little Dead Riding Hood
  • Mercy Kill

Patient X: We won, me.

  • Nothing Is Scarier: Most of The Exorcist III derives its horror from implication and verbal speeches. And it works.
  • The Nth Doctor: The Gemini Killer switches actors depending on whether the audience is seeing things from Kinderman's perspective (in which he's played by Jason Miller) or from the "eyes of faith" perspective (where he's played by Brad Dourif).
  • Posthumous Character: Thomas is killed either before the movie even starts or right after the opening credits (depending on how much of the credits sequence was just Patient X's dream), but is a big reason for Kinderman's personal interest in the case, actually shows up in Kinderman's nightmare, and don't get started on how he plays into the climatic showdown.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Father Dyer.
  • Serial Killer: The Gemini Killer.
  • Shout-Out: The nurse Lisa in Silent Hill is based off of a scene with a nurse in a red sweater.
  • Shut UP, Hannibal: Kinderman, after The Gemini Killer gets a little too graphic.

Gemini Killer: (after Kinderman breaks his nose, mockingly) Oooh, a few boos from the peanut gallery.

  • Surreal Horror:
    • The opening credits
    • Kinderman's nightmare
    • Brad Dourif's voice changing pitch throughout each of his scenes.

Exorcist: The Beginning

  • Genre Savvy: Merrin's guide expresses apprehension about going into the recently unearthed Byzantine Church because the locals say it is cursed by evil spirits. He dismisses them as superstitious, but when Merrin questions him he says he's "not superstitious. Smart."
  • Gorn