Howdy, my horror lovin’ hooligans! Captain Howdy, that is! This Fiendish Flicks Friday we are going to look at the quintessential demon possession film, The Exorcist! One of, if not the first movie on the subject, The Exorcist set the standard for all religious based horror and few since have lived up to this malevolent masterpiece.
After the release of the film in 1972, to Parker Brother’s great glee, the sale of Ouiji Boards sky-rocketed; but because of this movie many a Mum, like mine, place a ban on bringing this game into the house. When I was a wee little weirdo, I was told that under no circumstances was I to play with Ouija Boards (did that stop a curious kidlette like me? No, no it didn’t). Being from a non-religious household, this came as a surprise, but even a non-believer can get the heebs from this horror flick.
Though The Exorcist doesn’t make the board a strong focus, it was a potential source of Linda Blair’s character Regan MacNeil’s demonic possession (in the movie they also give a nod to a menacing idol of Northern Iraqi origins). The scene with the Ouija board lasts but a minute, in which 12-year-old Regan explains that she’s made a fast friend with a spirit inside the board named Captain Howdy, who doesn’t much care for adults, like her mum; Actress Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn).
Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, the story is allegedly drawn from a true case of demon possession and exorcism that involved a young boy in 1949, taking place in Washington, DC. The fact about whether or not the accounts of levitating furniture and words appearing as welts on skin are real remains to be seen, but the book and flick are undoubtedly unsettling. One of the things that sets this film apart from the rest is the lead up to the exorcism itself. The set up of a non-religious family, a Priest that believes he is losing his faith (what has now become a cliche, started here), and the best part being a rational response to an irrational situation, which is skipped in so many flicks. Before seeking the help of the church, Chris MacNeil seeks answers from the medical community. When she finally does seek out heavenly help, even the Priest, Father Karras (played by Jason Miller) scoffs at the idea of the devil squatting in her daughter.
In most movies of this kind, the victim goes from zero to frothing at the mouth in a matter of seconds and the families jump to satanic influence way too quickly (She’s lookin’ a little peaked, must be the devil!), but The Exorcist takes its time, making the ending scenes of supernatural shenanigans all the more shocking. The moments showing doctors exhausting all other possibilities also serve to evoke more empathy for the girl than films that are high on cgi, blood and gore, but low on plot development. Too many horror flicks rely on gross out factor, instead of on a solid story line. Don’t get me wrong, schlocky cinema featuring buckets of blood is occasionally good for a laugh, but nothing takes the place of a good script.
If you are like me, and love movie trivia, this is one Fiendish Flick that you will want to research. The screenplay was originally pitched to Stanley Kubrick, who turned it down, saying that he didn’t think he could find a young female actress that could do it justice (which as a hardcore Kubrick fan, I find hard to believe). I wonder what his vision would have been like, but William Friedkin took on the task, making the ultimate horror classic that we know and love. Nearly every actor in The Exorcist has since commented on the traumatic methods of Director William Friedkin, who accepted nothing short of perfection when it came to genuine reactions; saying that he went so far as to shoot guns on the set and slap actors across the face to get realistic expressions of dismay.
The rigorous production cause Linda Blair to hurt her back and left Ellen Burstyn with a permanent spinal injury. Though in the end Friedkin’s persistence paid off. The Exorcist became the first horror film ever to be nominated for a ‘best picture’ Academy Award. Those, among other juicy tidbits, are what make this flick truly fiendish and a must see for any horror true fanatic.
That’s it for this week, my wicked little watchers. Hope your weekend is filled with diabolical delights! Until our next spooky rendesvous with the silver screen -Ruby