This is it. My last movie. The 31 Days of Horror are coming to an end. I still have another couple of posts coming in the next week or so, a couple of wrap ups if you will, but this is it for the daily movie post.
Until maybe December. A few friends have suggested I do something for holiday movies. Like, the twelve days of Christmas or something. I don’t know… maybe…
Thanks for joining me in this! It’s been a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll do it again next year.
You can also hear me briefly on the final of Wrong Opinions About Movies series of Halloween podcast. If you wanna. I might recommend it.
And now it’s time, here’s the last of my 31 movies. One of my favorites and maybe of the scariest movies out there.
The Exorcist – USA, 1973. Dir. William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair, Jason Miller.
I’ve mentioned throughout this month the four movies that TERRIFIED ME AS A CHILD. It seemed appropriate to end this month writing about the last of those four, The Exorcist. If you missed them, the other three on the list are Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Alien. These are the movies that left an impression before I even watched them, the images haunting my dreams if I managed to sleep. Hey mom, remember the time I almost started a fire in my room by leaving the light on too close to the wallpaper? Yeah…
The Exorcist is often counted as one of the scariest movies of all time, it frequently finds itself in top lists and was nominated for a handful of Academy Awards, winning two. In 2000 it was re-released as an extended director’s cut with the now infamous “Spider Walk” scene. While people may argue as to whether it holds up, whether or not it’s as scary as it’s reputation suggests, no one can argue that it is influential and a classic of the genre.
While I’ve seen the extended version and there are certain things that are okay (i.e. the extended scenes with Reagan visiting various doctors), most of it feels unnecessary and my preference is still for the original cut. If nothing else, this is the version that terrified me, the one I grew up with.
Well, sort of grew up with. If watching it in high school counts. I mean, I still had a lot of growing to do at that point in my life. I think it counts.
In any case, I’m writing now about the original 1973 release not the 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen.”
I’ve included it in my Top Ten Horror Movies List and I think with good reason. I mean, it scares me! Maybe a little less now that I’ve seen it so many times. The effect now is less immediate, less paralyzing, than it was when I first watched it. Still, something about it gets into your head even after you’ve watched it a dozen times. Like Alien, this film leaves me tense and on edge no matter how many times I’ve watched it.
What makes this movie so terrifying? The story is a good start. Reagan is an intrepid teenager, a sweet kid, who finds herself possessed by a demon after innocently playing with a Ouija board. As her mother grows concerned over the strange occurrences in the house and her daughter’s odd and increasingly violent behavior, she looks first to doctors and finally to the Catholic Church for help. The last 45 minutes of the film are an intense battle of wills between two priests and the demon possessing Reagan.
I was talking to a friend the other day about my top ten list and my choice to include The Exorcist on the list. He made the point that if you’re not Catholic or are an atheist, there’s nothing in The Exorcist to scare you, it becomes simply a story of a mentally disturbed girl. It’s not a bad point but not one I necessarily agree with.
I’m not going to turn this into a discussion of my religious beliefs, but I think that there’s something in this film that’s disturbing no matter what your feelings towards the existence of a higher power may be. I mean, in the strictest sense even mental disorders can be scary. It’s more than that though.
Knowing that I’m not in a spaceship floating through deep space doesn’t make Alien any less scary. Knowing Freddy isn’t real didn’t keep me from having nightmares. Whether or not you believe in demons doesn’t mean the movie can’t still scare the crap out of you.
Once again, it’s all about the ideas. It’s about the idea of a sweet little girl being invaded, taken over by a malevolent force. It’s the idea of your own body becoming a trap, of losing control over yourself.
We watch the people around Reagan, her mother Chris, Father Karras, Burke, we see them all battling their own demons. Literal and figurative. Their battles are not always with the devil or whatever it is possessing Reagan. It’s as much about the battles their fighting with themselves – the alcoholic, the workaholic, the crisis of faith. Regardless of what supernatural forces may be at play, they face other more mundane problems that we can all relate to.
This serves to ground the fantastical story in a realistic world. If we can believe the problems these characters have, if we can relate to them, then the terror they face becomes something we feel as well.
The atmosphere in this film is thick. Even before anything happens, it is filled with a sense of menace and threat. The sound design here is superb. The music cues, the clock ticking, dogs barking… there’s an aural repetition that leaves us with a sense of dread.
The first five minutes of this film scared the crap out of me as a kid. And nothing even really happens.
What makes this film so effective aren’t the big scares or the crazy effects, it’s the little, subtle things. It’s the sound, it’s the pacing, it’s the things that go bump in the night. This film plays on more than the big scares, even though those happen. It plays on the things that go deeper, on the fears we all harbor. It’s not the only scary movie I’ve watched this month that does so but it is one of those most effective. Which is why it is counted by so many people as the scariest movie they’ve ever seen.
And okay, once we get into the actual possession craziness, the special effects, the make-up and head turning and pea soup vomit, don’t hurt. They serve to drive the terror home.