Classics Corner: “The Exorcist”

31 10 2010

I know that the technical cutoff for classic movies is 1968, but I’m making an exception for 1973’s “The Exorcist” seeing as it’s Halloween and I’m still trying to atone for missing this column back in August.  I know I said that I never wanted to see this movie, but given the season, I was a little curious.  And as a movie buff, how could I not see a movie that was for a time the highest-grossing film ever?

I’m not a fan of horror, particularly the Satanic sub-genre.  I have just begun slowly introducing myself to these movies, largely because I feared them so much even into my teenage years.  At first, I discovered I wasn’t really that scared at all.  I thought it was a fluke, so I watched a few more.  Turns out, I’m really not that affected by horror unless something jumps out of nowhere and the volume shoots up.

“The Exorcist” is really no different.  It’s eerie and creepy, particularly Regan’s transformation from a sweet, innocent child to the Devil incarnate, complete with a tattered face and green vomit.  But on a scare level, it really isn’t very frightening.  The movie doesn’t give any indication that anyone we know could become the Devil at a moment’s notice, so what reason do I have to fear?

Perhaps I speak as the product of a dulled, jaded generation.  In my lifetime, horror has two camps: ultra-sadistic blood and guts to the point of excess, or subtle haunting.  There really is no middle ground, yet that is exactly where William Friedkin’s Oscar-nominated horror tale seems to fall.  The demonic child scenes are about as close to horror porn as I imagine the 1970s could produce, and everything else (including the exorcism) seems to be the movie’s subtler side.

I think my biggest issue with the movie was the enormous amount of exposition provided.  We get the characters set up and learn their situations for about an hour.  Usually the tacit contract between filmmakers and moviegoers states that if you give a lot of exposition, the movie needs to vamp up to a climax that much more.  “The Exorcist” doesn’t really build much, and for all we sit back and wait for the action to come, the payoff isn’t all that satisfying.

The movie all leads up to, you guessed it, the exorcism of the demonic child.  The word gets tossed around so much nowadays, and the ritual has certainly lost some of its mystical power with each haphazard exorcism movie thrown into production.  Regan’s exorcism, however, lasts for a disturbingly and unsettlingly long amount of time.  If it doesn’t affect you at first, it will after the ten millionth time the two priests shout out “the power of Christ compels you!”

As a a sort of origin for a lot of horror movies that have frightened audiences for the last 30 years, “The Exorcist” proves to be an interesting watch.  An Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, though, seems a little bit much.  This is a good movie, don’t get me wrong, but just because a horror movie has a plot, good performances, and a few chills doesn’t mean it deserves a shot at Hollywood’s highest honor.  Maybe it’s all the crummy rip-offs that the movie inspired that make feel so nonplussed by the movie, but according to Tim Dirks, “its tale of the devil came at a difficult and disordered time when the world had just experienced the end of the Vietnam War … and at the time of the coverup of the Watergate office break-in.”  Times have changed, and it could be a good sign that I can’t match the devil to any current events.


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One response

2 11 2010
Dan

I can’t fault The Exorcist. I think it’s so good on so many levels. That it is the only film I once refused to own because I didn’t want it in my house is reason enough to think of it above any other piece of cinema. For me, it is the most frightening and affecting movie ever made – the greatest horror film of all time.

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