Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fear the Priest: The Exorcist.

Directed by William Friedkin, based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty.

I'm guessing I don't need to include a synopsis on this one, but just in case, The Devil possesses one twelve year old Reagan Teresa MacNeil. Two priests drive him out. Lots of roaring and green vomit.

1. This is an extremely cinematic horror film. The opening scenes in Iraq and the long shots of Georgetown are beautiful. Friedkin seems to have that inner ability to take his time telling a story, but to also leave us with enough (events, images, anticipation) to keep us waiting for more. The pacing was delightfully drawn out; slow build ups + beautiful cinematography? Was this guy a buddy of Kubrick's? Sometimes I wish I would have been born in the sixties just so I could have been in film school during the seventies. This isn't just a great horror film but a great film in itself.

2. A great director (and screenwriter) also has the ability to pepper a film with little bits of randomness that are just cool and interesting (like maybe the shots of raindrops seen from above or the gently falling slow-motion bullets in The Matrix? As images, they weren't vital to the story but they added a lot). Reagan's art in the basement, the argument between Carl the butler and Burke the filmmaker over Nazis, Karras's Chivas-stealing priest friend, and the close up on Merrin's dangling crucifix are all beautiful little touches, and good writing.

The dialogues are also cool, mostly what comes out of Devil-Reagan's mouth ("A fine day for an exorcism!" "You'd like that?" "INTENSELY.") I read this book when I was in junior high, and the only thing I remember from it were in fact the dialogues between Reagan and Karras.

Reagan: "You're a LIAR!"
Karras: "But The Devil likes liars!"
Reagan (grinning): "Only the good ones, Karras, only the good ones."

3. Is this film scary? Yes, it is. We're talking about The Devil, after all, and if you believe in that sort of thing then it's probably terrifying to think that any one of us is fair game for possession. I of course rejoiced in the similarities and roots this drew from The Twilight Zone (The Howling Man: like Father Merrin, David Ellington also travels the world searching for The Devil) and later lent to Lost (passing of the torch from one "guardian" to the next, sacrificing one's self, etc.) "It's a liar, but it mixes lies with the truth. Do not listen to it!" ("Don't let him speak to you; if he says one word it will already be too late!")

I watched the re-mastered edition with the new scenes, and I liked the superimposed images of demons, they were random and jarring. The crab-walk down the stairs didn't hold as much shock factor as it did in the theater, but it's a good scene. The scariest, most troubling part for me this time around was actually Mother Karras in the mental hospital, I think I'd take pretty much anything over that place. I also had the subtitles on this time (as not to wake and terrify the kids) and I learned quite a lot. For instance, when Karras listens to the tape recording of possessed-Reagan, the "I am no one" is pretty clear audio-wise. What I never knew was that it was also shrieking "Fear the Priest, Merrin!" that part is a little bit more muddled-sounding. This is actually vital to the story, this reveal that Merrin, the Iraq digging, pill-popping old priest from the opening, follows The Devil around and has the skills to fight him! (And I never knew it until last night!) Wow. I think I should probably start watching all films with the subtitles, who knows how much I've been missing over the years?

As for nightmares, I was all right, slept with the lights off, even. I still had creepy dreams though, first it was magenta snakes in water, sneaking up to gobble things and swallow them whole and then a haunted house where every square inch of the floor was covered in spiders the size of cue balls. Usually I dream about snakes when I'm too hot. I wake up overheated and realize I've been running away from snakes, usually always on grass. Gag. At least it wasn't Damien's mother. . .

The film? Watch it, it's very much a masterpiece.


Donald said...

My favorite moment in the Exorcist is when the two doctors run into the room while the girl is flying around on the bed, and they both just freeze and stare at her. I don't know why that moment always stays with me, but I found it to be one of the most effective moments where science and the supernatural met and completely butt heads.

Oh, and Max Von Sydow is amazing. He has always looked like he was about 100 years old, and he's still making movies! Skip the second film, but the third wasn't that bad. George C. Scott plays the role originated by Lee J Cobb, and he's almost as good. But I'm a big Lee J Cobb fan. The only one you'll ever meet probably.

Donald said...

Oh yeah, and good review.

Anonymous said...

I really liked your point about all the little subtle plots going on as well which are just as depressing and dark. All of which seemed to happen at that party. The drunk film director working on a motion picture that's sure to fail and picking fights with a damned nazi. The astronaut who gets told by Regan he's going to die in space. That damned priest who is obviously gay and playing the piano totally goes into this story about touring the world or some such nonsense and becoming a famous singer only to be stuck in the priesthood. And another thing that creeped me out was all the random house keepers and the personal assistant being around for everything, including a fucking phone tantrum with an operator as she's trying to get in touch with her ex-husband overseas. Such great disfunction. I love it.

Anna said...

donald, YES! that scene was crazy-good. I'll have to check out the sequels.
and ANONYMOUS, whoever you are, I agree. there were like 100 servants in that place!

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Anonymous said...

FYI...the old priest isn't a "pill popper". He took nitroglycerin for his heart.