Above: One of the most enduring and iconic images to come from film.
It is incredible what a film can do to you just through the weight of expectation. It has been around ten years since I first watched ‘The Exorcist’ and my mind has turned the film into a more horrific and intense experience than it ever was or shall be. Picture the scene; a 14 year old boy stays around his friend’s house and Channel 4 decide they are going to show the film for the first time on UK television. My Mum had always vowed never to allow the film into her house; despite not being overly religious she had felt some reason to not talk about the film nor to have it even in the same room. Add to that the rumours of people fainting and throwing up, the young actress who plays the devil incarnate having killed herself as a result of filming and that the whole film had been entirely cursed. Of course, only a few of them are true and most are ridiculously exaggerated, but to a 14 year old boy who has no idea what to expect except the worse, this was gold dust.
Bred on ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ I remember thinking how lack lustre ‘The Exorcist’ was upon first viewing, with the anticipation crushing it I remember thinking ‘this isn’t that bad’. We even went so far as to laugh at the special effects that did nothing to affect us, it felt like a largely forgettable experience. The problem was, it was anything but forgettable, it is a film that burrows in your mind with enduring images of horror and controversy for a long time after you have seen it and that is what it did for ten or so years with me. It is also a film that you can only appreciate when you are mature enough to see what it is actually about, a key dynamic that was missing from my first watch all those years ago.
Recently, I bought the film on Blu Ray and it took time for me to watch it again due to the fact I had once again built the horror up in my mind. Afraid of the sound of her voice, the excellent but horrifyingly spooky groan of nothing but an old radio actress in Mercedes McCambridge, add to this the fact that it didnt matter that i knew the rumours werent true, it didnt matter that i knew all there was to know about the effects and how they were achieved, this film simply terrified me, and all the images I had remembered in the last 10 years before a second watch, had now been amplified in my brain to be much worse than reality presents. Regan’s horrific face, the quick, subliminal flashes of Pazuzu, the head turning scene, all looking slightly dated now, but they still pack a huge punch once you stop watching.
The Exorcist is very much a film that lives with you beyond the credits, the images stay burnt on your retinas and the feeling you get from it boils down to your attitude towards your own life. Without going to deep here, taking a cynical stance towards religion is not a good idea with this film, whether you have any faith or not is seemingly irrelevant, but disrespecting it can be hugely detrimental to the viewing pleasure that comes with this film. You will simply laugh at the silent repetition of ‘the power of Christ compels you’ or at the claims that Karras’ mother ‘sucks cocks in hell’ if you have no time or reason for people who believe in such things.
This film is the greatest horror film ever made, there is no doubt there. It does more than ‘The Shining’ can ever do, it questions forces around us, and it disjoints our perception of good, evil, death and life. ‘The Shining’ is great in its own right, but Jack Nicholson never really frightens as you know its Jack Nicholson, whereas Regan could be any child on any street with any mother. You will get the best out of this film if you watch it with a complete open mind, you will be rewarded with nothing if you watch it thinking about the controversy, or mocking its sometimes tired look (an effect you don’t get so much with the Blu Ray version).
The film is the best example on a cinema screen of the triumph of good over evil. It has the most extreme version of evil that has ever captured on film, this isn’t Dracula or Frankenstein this is much purer, this is God vs. The Devil, life vs. death, and even if you are not one of faith, surely you cannot fault such a beautiful thing.
By Shaun Lappin