31 Days of Halloween 29 – The Exorcist attacks

exorcist1There has been no other horror film that has received as much attention as The Exorcist (1973).  It riled up almost everyone upon release, including the Church, the media, and movie goers, of course.  It is based on the novel written by William Peter Blatty, whose work is based on a true account of an exorcism performed in 1949.  This “true” account and the controversial aura surrounding the movie hit movie goers like a ton of bricks in the 70s, and everyone turned out to see what the fuss was about.  It was a great success.

I wish I could have been around during the 1970s golden age of horror.  It must have been something to see The Exorcist for the first time on the big screen, without the internet spoiling everything in sight.  Whether you believe it is based on a true story or not is not really important, because the true story gives a movie a good background to use, in the same way The Amityville Horror works well with its material.  

exorcist2This movie is very misogynistic.  Many of the medical scenes are invasive and the doctors attack her budding adolescence like a disease.  Of course, they fail.  The priests however, try to free her innocence from maturing into an adolescent evil.  They succeed for the most part, and we’re left with an innocent Regan at the end.

The movie can also be interpreted as having many other metaphors and allegories.  It is a deep film.  It plays with 1970s morals and social topics, showcases a single mother, and lets loose with a troubled young girl.  Just about everything works well together in this film.  The film can even be seen as a metaphor for feminism and fears of divorce or simply as a horror movie.

Director William Friedkin took his cameras to Iraq for the opening shots.  These scenes are strange and atmospheric, somehow initiating a dark tone without being related to much of the real plot of the movie.   Friedkin got most of the shots at dusk, because the filming location would be 130 degrees during the day.  The mythology is slowly revealed, showing Father Merrin working as a Jesuit priest and archeologist.  Father Merrin is a man of experience.  And also a badass.

Many people don’t like the opening because it is very different from the rest of the film.  It is a little funny actually.  People digging in Iraq?  What’s with the moaning music?  Who’s that old guy?  The scene is important because it gives Father Merrin a premonition that he’ll be facing a demon later on in the film.  The problem is that he’s a troubled guy, and he has weaknesses.  The pills he takes are nitroglycerin pills.  They work by sorta exploding in the blood stream and fixing any problems before a heart-attack gets serious.

Sound is an important factor in this movie.  Blacksmiths at the beginning pound on a piece of metal parallel the tubular music at the end.  There are other parts of the movie where silence helps build the scene and no soundtrack is needed.  The music drones and scratches in other parts.  The medical scenes click and groan silently.  It is disturbing.

exorcist9Chris McNeil is a strong female character, a matriarch of her family, but she is divorced.  William Friedkin took this character point and used it to represent Regan’s troubles.  She manifests someone called Captain Howdy, who targets all the males in a cry for her father.  I couldn’t tell you what all these female problems and metaphors mean, but it is interesting how these things sneak into little bits of dialogue or in images.  Regan attacks and cusses out nearly every male person she meets in the movie, even the Doctors.  Her family is loving at first, but it descends into violence and madness.

Father Karras is the perfect guide for the audience and the exorcism.  He is going through a spiritual crisis, and is losing his faith.  Audiences can identify with Father Karras.  His lines of dialogue are what reality is, but what the audience knows isn’t true.  It is perfect.  Karras tells Chris that Regan’s problems are psychological.  As a hard suffering priest, he wonders why there is suffering in the world.  He wonders why there are so many poor and homeless on the streets.  Why does God do the things he does?  Chris knows Regan needs his help, but he’s still reluctant, until his sacrifice and his death.

exorcist8All of the supporting cast do a great job, which is pretty rare in large movies.  Even Lee J. Cobb does some good work as a police detective investigating Burt Denning’s murder, trying to connect the dots back to the Church.  He can’t though, because the reality is more complicated.  Lee J Cobb’s best role was in 12 Angry Men (1957), but he has had a long career in dozens of others.

Often, metaphors and symbols are thrown around each scene and represent deeper themes.  This is what makes the movie work religiously.  The crucifix obviously works as a huge symbol.  Mostly, I can’t explain these things, but the images give the movie more context and more meaning.  It’s almost as if it is drifting in and out of reality.  Horror often snaps to the forefront, such as when Regan comes down the stairs upside down spitting blood.

exorcist11Lastly, the climax to the film is perfectly done.  Father Merrin and Father Karras band together like pals and try to ward off evil with their religious doctrine.  Father Karras is somewhat put off by Merrin’s experience, but that’s just the old guy being a stiff badass.  He fights to the last breath, like any good selfless hero.

 All in all, this is the best horror movie ever made.  It has striking visuals and is littered with metaphors wherever you look.  At its core, the movie is the basic fight of good versus evil.  The themes are a plenty.  The cast does an excellent job, and the supporting characters really fit in well with the story.  The aura of something sinister and the tone of something truly evil comes out as Regan cusses out the priests and fills the screen with horror.

To conclude, this link to HistoryToday provides some background on the movie.  It is a great read and it talks about the movie’s production and release.

This link is to Roger Ebert’s 1973 four star review, but he wonders why people will see this movie.  It might be curiosity, because it certainly isn’t for enjoyment.  It might be for the thrills, for the high of fighting evil alongside servants of God himself.




31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon

1 – Frankenstein and the Monster from HELL (1974)
2 – Dracula has risen from the grave (1968)
3 – The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
4 – Evil Dead II (1987)
5 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
6 – Les Diaboliques (1955)
7 – The Howling (1981)
8 – Friday the 13th (1980)
9 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
10 – Hellraiser (1987)
11 – Let the Right One in (2008)
12 – Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1984)
13 – House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
14 – The Strangers (2008)
15 – The House of the Devil (2009)
16 – Psycho (1960)
17 – The Orphanage (2007)
18 – The Amityville Horror (1979)
19 – The Raven (1963)
20 – Blue Velvet (1986)
21 – Repulsion (1965)
22 – Dementia 13 (1963)
23 – The Vanishing (2008)
24 – Halloween (1978)
25 – Shaun of the Dead (2004)
26 – The Silence of the Lambs (1988)
27 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
28 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
29 – The Exorcist (1973)
30 – The Ring (2002)
31 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)