Considered one of the scariest movies of all time, The Exorcist still proves why it is a horror classic years later and a perfect Halloween movie.

The Exorcist

As fans look for horror classics to watch this Halloween season, many will likely turn to The Exorcist. William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning hit is viewed as one of the scariest movies of all time and served as an inspiration for countless horror movies that followed.

Despite the movie being nearly 50 years old at this point, it still packs a powerful punch. Whether fans are revisiting the movie after seeing it before, or if it is their first viewing, there are distinct aspects that cement The Exorcist as one of the greatest movies of the horror genre.

10 – The Score

The Exorcist

Though there are many iconic horror movie theme songs from the 20th century, once audiences have heard The Exorcist’s score, it is hard to ever forget. Viewers might expect a loud and powerful score for such a movie, but Friedkin actively chose to go in a different direction.

The result is a simple yet haunting score that is never overwhelming but adds to the foreboding nature of the movie. As it plays over the early scenes, it feels like a quiet threat that puts the audience on edge.

9 – The Opening Sequence

The Exorcist

For those who know the movie’s general premise of a young ordinary girl who is possessed by the devil, the opening sequence of The Exorcist may be quite surprising. It opens in Iraq in the midst of an archaeological dig. There, audiences are introduced to Father Merrin who uncovers some strange artifacts.

The scene brings audiences into the slow-burn approach of the first half of the movie while also serving as a warning of what is to come. It is the kind of sequence that doesn’t feed the audience too much information and instead lets them feel the danger that is lurking ahead.

8 – The Dinner Party Scene

While things certainly get intense later in the movie, there is no rush within the storytelling to make the terror explicit. For the first act of the movie, young Regan is seen gradually acting stranger and talking about an imaginary friend. However, it is the infamous dinner party scene that really gets things going.

As Chris MacNeil hosts a dinner party with her colleagues, Regan comes downstairs seeming despondent. She then makes threatening remarks to some of the guests before urinating on the rug. This is when the grounded aspects of the story begin to crack and a more disturbing presence comes through.

7 – Ellen Burstyn’s Powerful Performance

It is very rare for the Academy Awards to recognize performances in horror movies, but there was no overlooking Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil in this movie. The Oscar-nominated role from Burstyn is so effective in making this movie truly terrifying.

Burstyn plays the part of a loving mother with so much realism and heart. So when bizarre things start to happen, Burstyn is the one who grounds it and makes it seem like it is really happening. The terror and heartbreak she experiences throughout the movie give audiences that emotional anchor as the scares come.

6 – Regan As The Victim Of Possession

The Exorcist

There have been many creepy children throughout the horror genre, but there are few as disturbing as Regan. The possessed child is truly unsettling and terrifying, but it is made all the more impactful as the audience saw her as a sweet and innocent young girl in the beginning.

Linda Blair delivers an iconic horror movie performance by a child actor and Regan makes for a sympathetic victim in this story. It is a brilliant balance of making fans terrified of this little girl while remembering there is an innocent child underneath who needs to be saved.

5 – The Subliminal Images

Horror movie fans may feel The Exorcist is quite tame in terms of its scares compared to modern movies in the genre. But it is a movie that fills the audience with dread through atmosphere rather than jump scares which is perhaps more effective. But there is an added unease throughout the movie with subliminal flashes of terror.

Various times in the movie, the screen will quickly flash an image of a ghastly and terrifying demon creature. Rather than functioning as a cheap scare, it feels like a reminder of an evil presence lurking over everything.

4 – Father Karras Meets Regan

It is quite late in the movie when the hero comes face-to-face with the villain. But it is worth the wait as the meeting between Father Karras and Regan is chilling. Making Father Karras a priest who is losing touch with his faith is very effective as it allows him to approach the situation as a skeptic of the demonic possession taking place.

But even though the audience knows there is something evil at work here, it still sends a chill up the spine as Karras gradually comes to the same realization. It delivers the movie into its final act in a gripping way.

3 – Max Von Sydow As The Aged Yet Determined Hero

The Exorcist

After being introduced in the opening sequence, Father Merrin disappears from the movie. But there is the promise that he will face off with Pazuzu again. The moment he arrives at the house in the third act is one of the most iconic images in horror movie history while also properly introducing this complex and interesting character.

The movie does not give much detail about who Merrin is or his history, but it all comes through in Max von Sydow’s commanding performance. He is a man who has battled evil a long time and there is a sense that he will not survive this next encounter, but it makes his determination to save Regan all the more heroic.

2 – The Climactic Exorcism

The Exorcist

The slow-burn approach early in the movie builds wonderfully to the intense and wild climax. As Merrin and Karras come together to save Regan, the terror really sets in and can almost feel overwhelming.

With the practical effects and the intense performances from the actors, it really sells this sequence. There is a sense that anything could happen and there are plenty of surprises. The sequence is so effective it apparently convinced some audiences The Exorcist was real.

1 – Karras’ Sacrifice

The Exorcist

The Exorcist is filled with so many great characters and terrific performances that its most complex character can often be overlooked. Father Karras is a more understated character than some of the others as he seems passive to the story for a long time, but he is very much the central figure of the movie.

His conflict between psychology and religion is a major theme of the movie and it makes him such a compelling hero. It also makes his final sacrifice so much more powerful as he fully embraces his belief in order to defeat the villain through a selfless and compassionate act.

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