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Why is The Exorcist Still So Scary?
A friend of mine, who is just as crazy about horror movies as I am, once challenged me to find a movie scarier than The Exorcist. I accepted the challenge. For the next two months, we would watch two horror movies every Wednesday, until the final event, which would be a viewing of The Exorcist on a huge screen.
We watched everything, from the newest movies, to the oldest movies. And in the end, my friend was right. The Exorcist is the most disturbing and frightening movie of all time.
Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist of 1973 still haunts and disturbs people. Here is a list of ingredients that make this the ultimate horror classic.
- Seemingly harmless, but repetitive soundtrack that stays in your head forever
- A Lot of Catholicism (people who are very religious have a hard time with this film and take possession very seriously)
- Innocent Pubescent Girl Playing With Ouija Board (who ends up paying for it big time)
- Jesuit Priest With Eternal Guilt Complex
- Horrible Mesopotamian Demon Named Pazuzu Who Calls Himself the Devil
- Another Jesuit Priest Who Has Battled the Same Demon Before
- The Same Innocent Pubescent Girl Getting Possessed by Pazuzu
- Possessed Girl Speaking in Various Demonic Voices
- Possessed Girl Hurling Vomit
- Possessed Girl Uttering Unspeakable Obcenties
- Possessed Girl Raping Herself With A Crucifix
- Possessed Girl Crawling Backwards Down The Stairs
- Possessed Girl's Head Turning Around 360 Degrees
- Possessed Girl Levitating and The Priest's Prayers Lowering Her Back to the Bed
- Priests killed as a result of the exorcism
- Girl, now unpossessed, who will never be the same again and who will thank every priest she will ever see for as long as she lives
There Is Nothing Funny About The Exorcist
I had seen the Freddie Kruger movies, and Halloween and Friday the 13th. And the thing they all shared was a certain humor. They have teenagers having sex and getting slashed, and for some reason you don't care, but in the Exorcist, something crawls under your skin and continues to haunt you.
The religious aspect of the movie is frankly why it is so terrifying. There have been many so-called documented cases of possession, and this story capitalizes on some of the most sensational stories ever recorded on the topic. Many possessed people, so the stories say, have been very religious people who were tested by demons. In this film, the demon haunts a vulnerable soul and tortures it almost to death out of convenience and in the hope of vanquishing its last foe. It centers on an innocent girl who is suddenly speaking in unearthly voices and torturing her own body by flailing violently and refusing to take nourishment.
The movie has very few special effects, and relies on a certain amount of scepticism and then reliance on religion to deliver it from its seemingly inevitable bad ending. And by the end, it's only the priests who seem to have a chance of saving the girl, but even then, you're not so sure.
In the movie, a single mother, who happens to be a movie star, moves with her daughter to a rented house in Georgetown while filming a movie. When the movie opens and you are in Georgetown, you are treated to noises coming out of the attic which are dismissed as 'rats'. We are next introduced to the loving mother and daughter. The scene is a picture of warmth. Next, the daughter shows the mother the ouijia board she found in the basement and explains how it works.
Then the mom has a party and among the guests is an astronaut. As the hostess, guests and local priest are singing around the piano, the daughter comes downstairs, tells the astronaut, "Your'e gonna die up there", and urinates on the carpet.
After this event, the girl descends into odd behavior, punctuated by a shaking bed, sleeplessness and lots of extreme profanity.
The doctors do every test they can think of. And in fact, it is pretty obvious that the tests are at times so invasive (think of the spinal tap scene) that the girl is already being tortured before the demon has taken complete hold of her.
After weeks of this, the mother takes the hint from a doctor that tells her there is no more they can do to cure her of her demon voices, horrible smells and preternatural strength, except to restrain her in bed and feed her with a tube. And that maybe in this case, they should consider getting an Exorcism.
When To Know That You Are Possessed
The baffled mother reaches out to Father Damian Karras, the nearest Jesuit priest who hears her out, but initially refuses to do anything until she reveals the bruises she's received from her daughter and he discerns the utter fear and despair in her voice. He willingly goes to their house to try to dismiss the idea.
When he gets there the girl is obviously ill and disturbed. She is restrained, her skin is green and her voice has a deep, animalistic tone. Worse, the possessed girl says things to the priest of a personal nature that nobody else would know. In fact, he is pretty convinced at this point that there is a case of possession.
He takes the case to his superiors, who are also sceptical. One of the things they want to know is if the girl is speaking in strange languages. In the course of his investigation into the matter, Father Karras had taken a recording of his session with the girl and when he listened to it backwards, discovered that the girl was speaking English in reverse, and that she was calling out the name Merrin. The higher - up priests, upon hearing this, reveal that this Merrin is a priest who also used to perform exorcisms.
Meanwhile, back in Georgetown, the girl's behavior becomes even more disturbing. Her speechless mother watches her possessed daughter stab herself over and over again in the vagina with a crucifix, and is horrified when the daughter suddenly crawls down the stairs in a contorted way, much like an upside down crab. While the mother and the babysitter are out, a family friend is pushed out the window, falling to a violent death, and the mother is positive that it's her daughter who is responsible.
When father Karras hears this, he knows that it's time for an excorism.
What An Excellent Day For An Exorcism
During the most iconic moment of the film, father we see Father Lancester Merrin (played by Max von Sydow), arrive at the house on a foggy night. You know that he means business.
Father Karras attempts to explain the situation to him, but it's clear that Merrin knows what he is up against. He warns Karras that the demon will do what it can to confuse them and they must not listen to it.
The demon seems pleased to see father Merrin. Merrin gets right to work preparing for the Holy Ritual, ignoring the demon's gleeful attempts to distract the priest. This includes being vomited upon most violently by the possessed girl. Father Karras helps out Merrin, who is quickly worn out by the exorcism and this meeting with the familiar foe.
The exorcism becomes so antagonistic, that Merrin orders Karras out of the room. When Karras comes back to check on Merrin, he discovers that Merrin has dropped dead of a heart attack from his efforts.
Karras becomes enraged. He attacks the demon/possessed girl and shakes it violently. In the process, he tells the demon to take him instead. The demon obliges and as soon as we see Karras inhabited by the demon (because his eyes suddenly change), he jumps out of the window, (the same window that killed the family friend) and plummets down the stairs to his death outside of the window. Karras lies there alive long enough for another priest to get there and say his last rites.
The girl, meanwhile is discovered soon after, relieved of the demonic possession and crying in the corner of the room.
The Exorcist Extended Edition (The Version You've Never Seen)
Scary For Many Reasons
If you were raised with any sort of religion, it would explain why the movie may be scary to you. I was born and raised Catholic, and because of that, the premise of a demon inhabiting the flesh of a person, no matter how far-fetched, is still within the realm of possibility.
Most people have at least seen, or maybe even played with a ouija board at some point or another, and there are many of us who may be intrigued by some aspect of the occult.
The demon is not just some crazy demon from nowhere. We are introduced to the demon Pazuzu in the beginning of the movie. Pazuzu is a Mesoptamian demon, and when the movie first opens, Father Merrin is in the middle of an archaeological dig in Iraq, which is smack in the middle of where ancient Mesopotamia used to be. He finds a small statue of the demon, and this sets the stage for what is to come. This is actually spelled out much more clearly in the book.
Another reason why the movie is so scary is the attention William Friedkin, the director, places on detail. When the girl is at her possessed worst, her bedroom is as cold as a freezer, and everyone who walks in must don a winter coat, and you can see the vapor come out of their mouths when they speak. If you read about the making of the movie, one of the things you learn is that the film set was an actual freezer and there was no reliance on special effects.
And there is something so inherently frightening about a twelve year-old girl hurling the kind of obcenities that come out of her mouth.
Although this film was made in the seventies and is devoid of vampires, and crazed men in hockey masks who run around slashing everyone, the premise of this poor, victimized girl and the havoc raised by this demon has stayed with me forever. This is why The Exorcist is still so scary.