Controversial Films: The Exorcist (1973)

Video Nasties:Draconian Days (Monday July 14th) is now out on DVD, but in the run up to its release. I have been taking a trip down memory lane to the films that are featured in the documentary.

Tonights film is The Exorcist.


In 1973, when I was only 2 years old. The Exorcist hit theatres with a bang.

Directed by William Friedkin and based on the 1971 book by William Peter Blatty. The film was a huge hit and a huge controversy.

Upon its initial December 26, 1973 release, the film received mixed reviews from critics, “ranging from ‘classic’ to ‘claptrap. Ranging from people who liked the film to people who ran screaming from the theatre.


Star Linda Blair received death threats from religious zealots who believed the film “glorified Satan”, forcing the studio Warner Bros to have bodyguards protecting Linda for six months after the film’s 1973 release.

When originally released in Britain a number of town councils imposed a complete ban on the showing of The Exorcist which led to the bizarre  “Exorcist Bus Trips” where enterprising travel companies organised buses to take groups to the nearest town where the film was showing.

But that was nothing.


1981 Warner released the film on video as one of their first UK releases.

At the time, there was no requirement that videos should be classified by the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) so the video was simply released on the strength of its existing cinematic ‘X’ certificate.

In 1988, after the Video Recording Act was introduced, the video was withdrawn from shelves.

Some say this was due to the film being ‘banned’ which it never was, It was more that Warner Brothers didnt want to pay for the film to be submitted to the BBFC for certification.

I remember seeing perfect VHS tapes of The Exorcist changing hands for up to £400 and copies of the film changing hands for far less but still far mroe than a brand new Blu Ray costs today.

It was not until 1999 that it finally received that classification and was re-released for home viewing to lukewarm and sometimes negative reviews from newcomers, but happy smiles from those who had seen the film many years before.

I purchased a couple of VHS (and DVDs) for the rental store that I owned and whilst the film didnt make me a fortune. It did reasonable business over the next couple of years.

I first saw The Exorcist on a grainy VHS in the year 1984, during the UK miners strike whilst being shipped out to some friends of my parents to stay over the school summer holidays.

One night they placed their VHS of The Exorcist into their VCR and everyone in the living room was treated to the viewing of the film.

My memories of it are vague. It took me a few years to learn to appreciate the entire film although who can fail to be freaked out as a child, watching Regan (played by Linda Blair) growling at Max Von Sydow and spitting green pea soup in every direction.


The film has always been a wonderful film for me although I can appreciate why many people dislike the film or fail to see its power.

I feel the films power is in its nostalgia. 1973 saw The Exorcist hit people right between the eyes. Before then there was Psycho, there was Romeros Night Of The Living Dead and very little else.  The Exorcist made one hell of an impact. Its here to stay.



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