Wednesday, 2 October 2013

My Favourite Horror Movies, Alphabetically:
The Exorcist

The Exorcist
Dir: William Friedkin. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, and Jack MacGowran. 1973

"Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house."

In a sense, The Exorcist is the hardest of my favourite horror films to write about. It has been so thoroughly discussed and it looms so large in my horror history that it’s difficult to know where to start. I truly love this movie, however, so what I feel I can add to the writing about it is this – The Exorcist was the first movie I encountered that I knew was beyond my understanding. As a 12 or 13-year old, I knew that what I was seeing was introducing me to things for which I had neither a reference nor a compass to navigate, and that quite possibly what I was seeing could have a lasting negative effect on me. That is to say that in the short term I feared nightmares; in the long term I feared scarring my psyche. My response was not unlike that of many adults at the time of The Exorcist's release. It’s this kind of reaction that most horror movies reach for, but too few achieve. Today, some complain that the absolutely necessary and beautiful prologue in Iraq is too slow moving. Today, some laugh at the film’s horrific sequences or deride them with a “that’s no big deal” attitude. Make no mistake - laughter was a response the film sometimes earned on its initial release too, sometimes as a result of its extreme imagery, sometimes as a relief after making it through another onscreen challenge, and sometimes, I suppose, because some people just don't buy into the film at all. Despite that, I'm willing to bet that each time the film is screened for a crowd today there is someone who is being terrified by The Exorcist, someone who can feel the impact of watching helplessly as a person they love is brutalized, of watching that person become someone else, of losing the people they love as Karras loses his mother and Chris McNeil loses her daughter.

To get a glimpse of audience reaction to The Exorcist in 1973, click here. For an account of my first half-viewing of The Exorcist, click here.

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