I’m not huge on horror movies. But The Exorcist is brilliant, and easily one of my all-time favorite films in any genre. This movie actually kind of scares me, every time I watch any portion of it, no matter the time of day. It certainly gets under my skin; it’s relentlessly thrilling and so ruthless in its force and skill that it’s become one of those films that I study in terms of the nuts and bolts of its construction. I’m not a believer in the idea of real-world demonic possession, but, the scenario certainly has made for more than a few memorable cinematic experiences, but William Friedkin’s beyond intense vision is truly the stuff of nightmares. Owen Roizman’s carefully measured cinematography puts you on edge immediately, as the nearly wordless opening 20 minutes plunges the viewer into an exotic world with very little context, as Max von Sydow’s priest character unearths something terrible out in the desert. Ellen Burstyn was sensational as the actress/mother struggling with almost every facet of her life, with her biggest problem being that her young daughter Regan, the show-stopping Linda Blair, has caught the eye of the Pazuzu, an ancient demon. Jason Miller’s tortured performance as Father Karras is some of the most emotionally affecting work in this genre that I’ve come across; admittedly I’m no aficionado of the horror world, but Miller’s acting in this film has always resonated with me, and has always seemed to be a cut above for this sort of fare, which can tend to be overplayed for big, obvious moments. There’s a reason this movie has endured as long as it has – it’s truly horrific in all the right ways, vulgar and nasty, never afraid to go to some truly dark and disturbing places, while still paying respect to classic genre tropes. The Exorcist feels perfect from scene to scene, with each performance totally nailed by the incredible ensemble, and all of the craft elements aligning to create one of the most visceral and truly horrifying visions of cinematic terror that’s ever been presented.
Lethal, cold, smart, and totally gripping, Sydney Pollack’s classic spy film Three Days of the Condor is a top-class genre entry, benefitting from its post-Watergate, paranoia induced atmosphere, with a charismatic star turn by Robert Redford as CIA codebreaker Joe Turner, an unassuming worker-bee who comes to the office one morning and finds all of his co-workers executed. Totally alarmed by the situation, Turner flees the scene, and reports the incident to his duplicitous bosses, who then set a menacing hitman, played by the legendary Max von Sydow in a silently ruthless bit of acting, to dispatch of him. Who, if anyone, can Turner trust, and will it be possible to escape the nefarious clutches of crooked government agents? Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel’s lean and graceful screenplay cut away any sense of narrative fat in favor of forward moving plotting with credible dialogue and exciting bursts of violent action. The supporting cast, including a gorgeous Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Addison Powell, and John Houseman, all provided excellent counterpoints to Redford’s leading-man heroics, which never end up going over the top, which keeps the film relatively grounded for the genre. Dave Grusin’s moody score provided an ominous tone right from the start, and as usual, Owen Roizman’s crisp and clean cinematography exerted a clarity and visceral force that kept everything in the moment and tension-filled, while Don Guidice’s expert editing made terrific use of jump-cutting, while also demonstrating a clear understanding of how long to keep any given scene going; this film feels needle-point precise. This is a film that has aged like a fine wine, and one that’s always worth a revisit.