Tuesday, 10 May 2011
You know, being a Monster Kid born in the 1960's, the fact that I have a Kinder Trauma involving The Exorcist might not be so unusual. I was 9 at the time the movie was released, and the fact is however, that I consider my initial Exorcist experience a life-changing tale akin to losing my virginity.
As far back as I can remember, I'd loved monsters, and my earliest movie memories all involve a horror movie trauma of one form or another: forcing my folks to leave my very first movie screening - Tom Thumb – because I was convinced the giant’s feet were going to crush me; having to sit up on the back of our sofa during a solo TV viewing of The Deadly Mantis because I was certain an oversized mantis (though smaller than the one featured in the flick I was watching) would grab my leg from its hiding place under the sofa. I went through the era-typical stages of burgeoning horror fandom too: Aurora model kits (up to and including the infamous Aurora Horror Scenes), Famous Monsters of Filmland, Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, The Monster Times, Universal classics, etc. But nothing had prepared me for the sights and sounds of The Exorcist.
I can’t remember where I first heard about this movie, but it must have been via press stories about the effect it was having on audiences. This was no normal horror movie; people were fainting, throwing up, calling clergy and mental health professionals after seeing it. In those days, pre-Star Wars, it took a while for movies to make their way around the country, and by the time The Exorcist hit my small town, I’d read the Exorcist parodies in Mad, Cracked and Crazy magazines, I’d somehow managed to get my hands on the novel (which I didn’t read until years later) as well as William Peter Blatty on The Exorcist from Novel to Screen, complete with a nerve-wracking centre spread of movie stills. I had the issue of Famous Monsters with its garish Exorcist cover story. I clipped and collected articles and ads for the movie. I somehow ended up with a knock-off album of “contemporary” movie themes on the Pickwick label that included Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, all NOT performed by the original artists. I tell you all this to give you an idea of the Exorcist frenzy that was building within me. Somehow, it needed release.
Finally, The Exorcist showed up at my local theatre. I begged my father to take me, but being sane, he refused. Instead, he went to a matinee screening of the movie by himself. As my mother and I picked him up at the theatre afterwards, I asked him how it was. Clearly, my father had just sat through something completely different. And NO WAY was he going to take me. The frenzy continued to build.
Three years later, The Exorcist showed up at the drive-in, playing a double bill with John Wayne’s Cahill. After much begging, unbelievably, my father finally agreed to take me!
Despite my eagerness for the main event to get started, we had to make it through the Oater first. Whatever Cahill is about, I can’t tell you; I’m sure the Duke must’ve cleaned up some mess or other in some little two-horse town, but I can’t recall.
The prologue in Iraq was unnerving. I wasn’t sure what some of it was about, but the images and sounds were making me uneasy. Back in the USA, we meet Chris MacNeil, an actress; her director; her staff; her daughter Regan; a troubled priest. I did okay despite the ominous feeling the movie was giving me, until Regan takes a leak on the carpet during her mom’s cocktail party. Oh-oh. The Frankenstein Monster never did that. A little while later, little Reagan, who is just a hair older than me, is suffering from a banging bed, a swelling throat, eyeballs rolling back into her head, and she’s making lewd suggestions to her doctors. By this time, I’m starting to realize that this movie is over my head. In other words: NOT INTENDED FOR CHILDREN. Though I couldn’t formulate the thought in these words, this was my introduction to adult horror, and it was blowing my mind! What was happening on-screen was literally beyond my comprehension. What I did know, however, was that there was a very good chance that I was never going to sleep again, even if we left AT THIS VERY MOMENT! Despite that, I had to make an attempt to save what was left of my sanity. I found my voice and asked my father if we could please go? He asked me if I was sure I wanted to leave. Yes. I was.
My dad starts the car, and we begin to drive away. As we turn from the screen and down the lane that will take us out of this evil place, my father says, “Look at the screen.” Knowing I shouldn’t, but unable to NOT do it, I turn just as this happens:
I was hooked/deflowered/twisted for all time. I can pinpoint the very moment.
Years later, The Exorcist remains one of my favourite movies. Whatever that first half-viewing may have contributed to my development, devolution, or psyche scarring, I’m not absolutely sure. What I do know is that The Exorcist popped my adult horror cherry, and for that, it will always hold a special place in my little black heart. I just wish it would call now and then.