Monday, May 3, 2010

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is a movie which has evoked the fears of every child and young adult (and even some adults) for the past nearly 40 years now. My dad often told me that this movie is one of the few to truly scare the crap out of him. The description of the movie on Netflix says something to the extent that if you aren’t scared by this movie, then there is something wrong with you mentally. What’s my point? My point is that this movie has become such a cultural icon, its scenes, lines, and actions are well known to just about every American (I mean, who hasn’t heard of the projectile vomit, or the head spin thing?). The Exorcist is a cultural icon, and moreover, a highly effective horror film.

The plot of this film is extremely simple. A single mother actress is raising her daughter when suddenly the daughter begins to exhibit strange symptoms. After being paraded through a series of doctors, whose treatments are each more irrational than the last, it’s revealed that the girl has been possessed by a demon. It is up to an unsure (almost unreligious) Catholic priest, along with another, more experienced exorcist priest to save the girl from the demon who possesses her. That’s the story. In reality, however, it’s a series of cool shots, each getting more outrageous than the last. It starts with the bed shaking, to the girl turning a shade of green, screaming profanities, spinning her head around, and spitting vomit on people.

What this movie really does well is build suspense. This is one of those films where you really know what’s coming. It’s right there in the title, and the filmmaker is well aware of this. The whole film just screws with you. From the very beginning, with a shot (which at the time seems totally unrelated) of an Indiana Jones type character in the middle of the desert, the whole movie the audience is waiting for weird things to start happening, and by the time they do start happening, nearly an hour into the film, you are ready to urinate on yourself in anticipation. Personally, I did not find this film particularly scary. I attribute this more to an ability to separate myself from a connection with the character, and the fact that I find psychotic characters like the possessed girl to be absolutely hilarious (you’ll find more of this when I talk about The Shining on Wednesday), than any sort of comment on the quality of the film. I did find it very suspenseful, and the end scene is absolutely well done and exciting. The acting of this film is stupendous. The show stealer was definitely Linda Blair, who gives an absolutely jaw dropping performance as the girl/demon. Max von Sydow, who plays The Exorcist also gives a rather memorable performance, with the memorable line being, of course, “The Power of Christ Compels You!”. One aspect of this film I really like, is its focus on a particular item. This is done similarly to Dirty Harry. In Dirty Harry, Eastwood carries around a Six Shooter, so at the end you find yourself counting his shots, similarly in The Exorcist, the demon is not unleashing havoc because she is strapped down, so by the time you reach the actual exorcism, you find yourself keeping an eye on the straps. Another thing I like about this film is its emphasis on the supernatural. The movie states that there are some things which science simply cannot explain. I absolutely love the scenes where the girl is being consistently barraged by a slew of doctors, and in the end, the answer turns out to be a simple priest.

This film is an absolute masterpiece. Through its camerawork, superb writing, and excellent performances, the film deals out a great amount of suspense. The other great part of this film is how far it goes. The film features a very young girl spewing all manner of profanities, and all manner of lewd acts, the most notable of which being the girl impaling her vagina with a crucifix, and then forcing her mother to drink the blood from it. The other thing I find particularly interesting is that the film achieves a believably horrifying monster, without it being particularly imposing, nor impressive. Sure, it spews vomit, but it never inflicts serious harm on anybody (well, not exactly), and yet the demon is absolutely terrifying, and has been the subject of nightmares for thousands of people. The film is on the list for the suspense, and for its cultural pervasiveness. There are so many things in this film that are copied by so many people. I still remember watching the cartoon “Courage the Cowardly Dog Show” parody this film, and never quite understanding it (but still knowing what it was from). All in all, this film is a must see, but don’t bother coming if you have a weak stomach (also, if you can’t tell yet, definitely not a film for the kiddies). My final piece of advice, as with any horror film, is to not bring along someone whose seen the film before. The suspense and mystery will always get to be such that you cannot resist asking your fried questions pertinent to the plot, and it will always ruin it for you at least a little bit.

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