The last time I saw The Exorcist in the theater (for its re-release in 2010) I got so anxious that I made myself physically sick, and I had to leave before it had even ended. That’s not a thing that happens to this avid horror fan very often (I can think of only one other example off the top of my head, which is Cujo, and I was 15 when that happened) but I don’t think I’m particularly unique when it comes to William Friedkin’s classic, one that changed the game for good — here was a big-budget prestige studio flick, one directed by a director who’d just won an Oscar and starring an actress who’d just been nominated for one the year before, that had a little girl masturbating with a crucifix before shoving her mother’s face into the bloody wound. The Exorcist was made to make people sick.
Or was it? That’s a question for its author, and thankfully there’s an entertaining and enlightening new documentary out on Shudder this Thursday called Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist that asks just that to just them. And as the doc’s subtitle makes clear when I just said “author” I meant its “director” — book author William Peter Blatty is not interviewed here. Neither are the film’s stars Ellen Burstyn or Linda Blair interviewed. Not Owen Roizman who did the icily gorgeous cinematography, not Jean-Louis Decarme who designed the all-time-best sound, and not Mike Oldfield whose “Tubular Bells” has become as iconic as any horror music ever. And sadly I must report that Leap of Faith does not resurrect Mercedes McCambridge from the grave so she can detail to us her process of gargling eggs just right to get that perfect demon intonation. Boo!
No, Leap of Faith is presented by director Alexandre O. Philippe, the cineaste-scavenger who recently gave us the movie-specific studies 78/52 (on the shower scene in Psycho) and Memory: The Origins Of Alien, as a 103-minute sit-down with Friedkin and Friedkin alone — Friedkin talks, we watch clips and listen. It brings to mind Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s 2015 doc on Brian De Palma — you might remember it, it was called De Palma — just with far less of a free-wheeling focus, narrowing itself down to a single film instead of that wide-ranging career retrospective.
Leap of Faith is available to stream exclusively on Shudder beginning November 19.