Saturday, 21 October 2017

Thirteen Nights of Halloween Horror | Night Three - The Exorcist (1973)

image credit: warner bros.

I am blessed with a short attention span. Having spent three years as a film student, some days my inability to focus would seriously hamper me trying to study a film that just didn’t hold my interest. Now that I’m reviewing films rather than writing analytical essays, this short attention span is finally becoming useful. If a film doesn’t captivate me within the first hour, I’m constantly looking at the runtime and I don’t end up wanting to talk about it for hours afterwards, then I know I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. 

The Exorcist sure as hell captivated me. 

This is a film that I have stayed away from for years, mainly because of my Mum’s innate fear of it. She decided it would be a great idea to watch The Exorcist on her own in her first apartment, and only managed to get through the first half hour before becoming terrified of her attic. Her Dad literally had to come over to show her that her attic wasn’t attached to the next apartment and that there wasn’t a demon up there. When I told her that the film for tonight was The Exorcist, all I got was a ‘Good luck!’ with a grimace. 

The Exorcist wasn’t frightening in the way I expected it to be. I was sure that I would be freaked out by the demonic possession scenes, but it was more so the tense build-up and hospital visits surrounding Regan’s (Linda Blair) slow possession that absolutely terrified me. Sure, the demon jabbing a crucifix into Regan’s vagina and consistently turning her head all the way around is brutally disturbing (to say the least), but those medical procedure scenes. I have never wanted to curl into the sofa even more so through those sequences. The phenomena surrounding demonic possession is as real as it can be – especially in the 1970s -- but witnessing a child suffer through rigorous testing to find out that she didn’t even need to go through with it was absolutely horrifying to watch.

 gifset source:

Talking of watching twelve-year-old Regan suffer, Blair’s acting ability is astonishing. For a thirteen-year-old Blair to go through what she had to fully portray a demonic possession is as petrifying as the ‘possession’ itself. Watching an innocent Regan/Blair slowly transform into this monster is truly hideously unnerving yet incredible.

Back to my inability to focus during films, William Friedkin splits the film perfectly between the demonic inhabitance of Regan and the heart-breaking narrative concerning Damien Karras (Jason Miller) and his crisis of faith … who I may have developed a strange crush on (I can’t be the only one?). For a film with a run-time of nearly two hours, Friedkin benefits from this split as it produces an unnerving tension as to whether Regan will receive an exorcism and survive this ordeal. 

All I wish is to have watched this in 1973 to witness the shock in audiences. The Exorcist was the first of its kind, and become the perfect psychological horror film in the process. 

As the demon Pazuzu tells Karras, “What an excellent day for an exorcism”.

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