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The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s latest film Killer Joe is released this week so it seems like a good time to open the BBFC files for another of Friedkin’s films, and it’s the one that would prove to be particularly notable for the BBFC – The Exorcist.

Submitted to the BBFC in January 1974 this tale of demonic possession was one of a number of controversial films to be seen by Stephen Murphy, BBFC Secretary 1971-1975. The BBFC passed The Exorcist ‘X’, without cuts, and in the letter published here Murphy explains to a concerned local council the reasons why the BBFC did this, stressing that “the film is much less a problem of censorship than a social phenomenon”.

Warner Home Video released The Exorcist on video in 1981, using the ‘X’ certificate from 1974, but the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984 meant that the BBFC had to determine whether the film was suitable for a video classification bearing in mind the risk of children being able to access the film at home. It was this concern about the risk of underage viewing in the home which led to the decision not to issue a video certificate and therefore the film was withdrawn from sale. James Ferman, BBFC Director 1975-1999, reiterates this argument in his response to a member of the public in 1993, also published here, and he states “since we recognise the quality of the film, we have concluded that, for the time being, its place is in the cinema rather than the home.” It would not be until 1999 that an ’18′ certificate was granted for video/DVD release.

Originally posted June 28th, 2012.

 

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