Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Exorcist

I love this image from the movie poster and later paperback tie-ins. You really gotta hand it to the marketing folks: genius. Me, I would have gone for the obvious, Linda Blair all pimply and vomit-laden, eyes blazing straight at the camera. That's what would be on the poster nowadays, I'm sure. But this image of a solitary man -- doctor? businessman? father? -- silhouetted in a blaze of light, hesitating, on the brink of something BIG, is so subtle, so abstract, just beautiful.

The movie was released around Christmastime 1973, but I didn't see it then. I was 13 and my momma said NO WAY, huh-uh, don't even think about it, missy. She also forbid me from reading the book, once she found out there WAS a book, but she was too late. My BFF Lisa had procured the book from her older brother Gary and I read it three times. Page 225 of the paperback version held a special interest -- that's the part where Regan defiles herself with the crucifix. Bloody fascinating. And sick. And a real turn-on.

I can't remember if, in the '70s, back before the days of the VCR, movie distributors had a habit of bringing popular movies back into theaters a few years after they were first run. But I definitely remember Lisa and I seeing The Exorcist in a theater in Victoria, TX in 1977. The movie grossed us both out and we laughed about it afterwards. But frankly, I was more traumatized by Carrie from the year before. To this day I still have nightmares about Piper Laurie in her Christ death-stance and (shudder) that hand coming out of the ground.

Cut to March of 2000. The 25th anniversary edition of The Exorcist premiered at the South by Southwest Film Fest at the Paramount Theater -- at midnight. I was surprised the theater was only half full, considering author William Peter Blatty was present for a Q&A afterwards. The lights went down and suddenly I realized this would be a whole new film experience for me.

Maybe it was the additional 23 years of film appreciation I brought to the screening. Maybe it was the fact I was now a mom and viewed it in a wholly different light. Or maybe it was the fact that the movie's sound had been updated for the 21st century, enveloping each and every one of us in that ice-cold theater with uneasy rumblings of what was to come from the very first frame. Whatever it was, it all added up to scaring me out of my freakin' mind! Definitely my favorite SXSW screening.

I was so pumped after seeing this new version, I told everybody I knew to go see it in the theater, while they could. Of course, nobody went. Us film freaks, we live in our own little world and have a hard time understanding why there are so few of us here.

Case in point: About a week later, I was in Houston with the other Girl Scout moms. We'd dropped our kids and our leader at NASA for a sleepover with about a thousand other girls, no moms allowed. Free for a few hours, we decided to go out to a nice adult Italian restaurant, drink some wine and stuff ourselves silly. After a couple of drinks I started gushing about the new and improved Exorcist and how cool and groovy it was and how we should all go sans kids just like now and wouldn't that be a fun time?

I looked up from my pasta and saw they were all staring at me, looks of shock on their faces. What? What did I say? Finally, one of them took a drink and said quietly, "We don't watch movies about the devil." I'm thinking, WE? What the -- then it hit me: they're all Catholic. I was getting tipsy with a table full of fine upstanding nice Catholic women who not only had never seen The Exorcist, but with every sip of wine decried The Exorcist and how evil it is and further implying I needed to take inventory of my moral character that I would even suggest seeing it.

Talk about knowing your audience. Sigh.

Anyway, one thing Mr. Blatty had mentioned at the Q&A was that he had based his book on newspaper accounts of an actual exorcism performed on a boy in a small town outside Washington, D.C. in 1949. Unbeknownst to me, there had been books written and "Unsolved Mysteries"-type TV shows produced about the real kid, who had never been found.

Well, the kid has been found -- by Strange Magazine! I happened to stumble across the online version recently. If it can be said there is a voice of reason out there amongst folks who research and are passionate about UFOs, Bigfoot, Nessie, Sasquatch, funny lights, etc., I'm pretty sure it would be Strange Magazine. Author Mark Opsasnick was obsessed with finding the possessed kid from 1949, and his five-part article details his search and largely debunks the original exorcism. It's a fascinating read.

But to me, it doesn't matter whether the story is true or not. It's movie magic that does it for me. This one is a classic. Greatness oozes from its pores -- writing, acting, directing, cinematography, sound. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards. A horror film! I wonder what got into the Academy that year? Could it be ... SATAN???


At September 18, 2005 3:58 PM, Blogger Kid Sis said...

Us film freaks, we live in our own little world and have a hard time understanding why there are so few of us here.

I know!!! Only one person I suggested Murderball to actually went and saw it. Sigh.

I have a great Excorcist story. This friend of our family's used to spend a lot of time hanging out at the priest seminary when he was an altar boy (scary in itself). This one priest, Father Bob (later accused of molestation by someone else), had him up to his room where they watched the Excorcist. At one point, Father Bob excused himself, snuck back in behind the couch and jumped up and scared the shit out of my friend. Isn't that horrifying on too many levels to count?

I'm going next Saturday to a screening of The Shining at Hollywood Forever, a cemetary next to Paramount. Looking forward to it.

At September 18, 2005 6:32 PM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

when I was in Grade 7 our class was going to do gymnastics for Phys Ed...sorry, but that is a no-no for me (reasons being I'd need 4 blog posts to explain), anyways, I went to my father's book shelf in the morning, chose The Excorcist randomly, said goodbye to my mother, walked out the door and went around the side of our house, into out tool shed where I proceeded to read the entire book...

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