Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Exorcist

Year 7, Day 298 - 10/25/15 - Movie #2,183

BEFORE: OK, so the 1982 movie "The Thing" is on that list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", and since we're deep into Halloween season, maybe that should be the "1,001 Movies to See...and THEN YOU DIE!"  Tonight's film is also on that list, and so are my next two movies after this.  Again, I'm not really a horror movie person, but I suspect that whoever put together that list is a fan of the genre, which I suspect represents a biased view.  

But, how could I be deep into my 7th Halloween movie chain in as many years, and still not have watched "The Exorcist"?  Honestly, I've been kind of avoiding it, since it says right on the DVD cover that it is "The scariest movie ever made".  I think I bought a copy two or three years ago at the $5 DVD store, and have intentionally not been getting around to it.  But my wife has promised to watch this one with me, and if I won't be viewing it alone at night, that should help.  Maybe she can even help me goof on it to relieve the tension.  

Linking from "The Thing", Keith David was also in "Requiem for a Dream" with Ellen Burstyn (last seen in "Interstellar".  Another reason to finally get to this one, and I should be able to clear the whole horror category off my list this month.  I don't know what I'm going to watch next October, if I do another Big Year.

THE PLOT:  When a teenage girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.

AFTER: Eh, after watching "the scariest movie ever made", I'm less than impressed.  That might have been true at the time of its release, 1973, but I don't necessarily think it's held on to the title.  When I saw "Poltergeist" in 1982 I had nightmares for a week, but I was 13 years old then, and I didn't know very much about movie special effects, or how they're made.  I've seen the Linda Blair model in museum exhibits, so I know that her head didn't really spin around, it was just a dummy head made to look like her.  

The film's story seems to have some structural problems, most notably the extended opening sequence in Iraq, where Fr. Merrin (he'll be important later) is assisting with an archaeological expedition.  But why is a priest involved in archaeology?  OK, I guess you can speculate that perhaps the dig has some religious significance, but if it's in Iraq, wouldn't the ruins be important to Muslims, and not to a Catholic priest?  And they do dig up a small demon icon, which, according to the laws of cause and effect, made me think that the excavation had unearthed the demon himself.  This would seem to lead to a NITPICK POINT, namely why would the demon travel halfway around the world to possess a teen girl in the Washington DC area, when there are so many souls to possess closer to where he was buried?  

But no, a little background reading on the plot tells me that the demon icon is merely to be seen as an omen, its appearance merely tells Fr. Merrin to expect a demonic possession to happen soon.  But if there's no direct connection between the archaeology and the exorcism, then why show them in sequence?  Or, for that matter, if digging up the demon icon predicts the appearance of the demon, then maybe DON'T DIG IT UP!  No matter how you slice it, this is the strangest and most oblique opening sequence since the apeman scenes in "2001: A Space Odyssey".  

What really causes the girl, Regan, to be possessed would then seem to be the ouija board - she uses it to speak to a spirit guide named "Capt. Howdy", which seems like the name of a children's TV show host, but it's really an alias of the demon Pazuzu.  He's not mentioned by name in the film, again, I did some research.  And he was apparently bumping around this attic in a DC suburb until he saw his chance to get inside a little girl's head.  

At first, her fever, night-shaking and sudden love of cursing is diagnosed as "a nervous condition", which sounds like a bullshit diagnosis, and the doctors prescribe her some ritalin.  Oh, great, what if the demon has ADHD and could really benefit from being able to concentrate better?  Then the doctors assume she's got a lesion on one of her brain lobes, but nothing shows up on the x-rays.  Yeah, by all means, send some radiation into her brain, the demon probably loves it. 

Her mother is a famous actress, and she gets very upset when the doctors can't diagnose her daughter's condition - but I didn't find this believable, because of how she kept denying every possible condition that the doctors suggested.  Then when someone suggests demonic possession, she doesn't want to believe that either.  I suppose I'd find it much more likely if an actress with no medical knowledge quickly picked one possible cause for her daughter's condition, like vaccines, and focused on that despite all medical evidence to the contrary.  

Eventually, there's no denying that something supernatural is at work - the girl is floating several feet over her covers, her bed is shaking out of control, and a demon's face keeps appearing on the bedroom door and on the appliances, and no amount of Windex Multi-Surface is going to get that out.  So she's put in touch with Father Karras, who's still getting over the loss of his stereotypically Greek mother, and feeling all the guilt associated with that.  

Fr. Karras and Mrs. MacNeil did encounter each other near the start of the film, he happened to be near the set of a movie she was making, and she happened to notice him outside a church, and she asked her friend, who's also a priest (but he loves show tunes!) about him.  I felt this was quite contrived, there was simply no need for these characters to encounter each other before they needed to.  For that matter, why did she need to contact Fr. Karras when she already had a friend who was a priest?  I guess since Karras was also a psychiatrist, that's his reason for being there - but that in itself is another contrivance.  How many priests are also psychiatrists?  The two schools of thought, religion and science, seem to be at odds.  

Meanwhile, there's a cop who's investigating the death of Mrs. MacNeil's friend, the director of the film-within-the-film.  Supposedly the evidence shows he fell from Regan's window, but we never see this happen, and we never see the body.  We only hear people talking about it after, and this violates the "show, don't tell" rule, but since the actor playing that role died during the production, it's possible that they weren't able to film this.  Still, a stuntman could have been used.  To me it's a major NITPICK POINT that the window in question doesn't seem like it could have been opened - it's one of those windows with a lot of small panes, and it doesn't seem like it will open very far.  Plus, why does the detective wait a day or two to come knocking on the door to check out the crime scene, why didn't he come and check out where the man fell from, like right away? 

Also starring Linda Blair (last seen in "Airport 1975"), Max Von Sydow (last seen in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Jason Miller (last seen in "Rudy"), Lee J. Cobb (last seen in "Call Northside 777"), Jack MacGowran (last seen in "Doctor Zhivago"), William O'Malley, Kitty Winn. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 backwards messages

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