Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fun Size

Year 7, Day 304 - 10/31/15 - Movie #2,189

BEFORE: Now that the scary movies are out of the way, and the horror section of my list contains zero films, there's nothing left to do but hand out the candy.  I bought four jumbo-sized bags a month ago, I just hope that I bought enough.  

I taped this off cable to fill up the DVD with "Trick 'r Treat" and tomorrow's film.  So sometimes I have to put two movies next to each other thematically, and hope that there's an actor link between them.  And there is, Leslie Bibb from "Trick 'r Treat" was also in "Movie 43" with Johnny Knoxville (last seen in "The Dukes of Hazzard"). 

THE PLOT: A teen's Halloween plans go awry when she's made to babysit her brother, who disappears into a sea of trick-or-treaters.  With her best friend and two nerds, she needs to find her brother before her mom finds out he's missing.

AFTER: This film raises one of those philosophical question, like "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" or "If a tree falls in a forest, and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Can you call something a comedy if it is not remotely funny?  Jeez, it's not for lack of trying, someone tried really hard to make a funny film, but every joke or funny situation feels forced, or misguided in some way.  And if I have to explain humor to someone, I just end up killing it.  Maybe I'm just old and cynical, maybe there's a group of young kids out there somewhere who would find this funny, but I just don't know.

The intent was clearly to copy other films that depict nights that go horribly, horribly wrong - like "Date Night" or "Adventures in Babysitting", or any number of Christmas or Valentine's Day-themed comedies.  But humor has to start somewhere real, and then produce something unexpected.  Like, say, "Super Troopers", which probably started with an improv situation of a cop pulling someone over, and then devising ways to make that scene funny.  The same people produced "Beerfest", which is also a funny film, but it suffers from a weak premise, since there are no real underground drinking competitions, at least I don't think so.  Then they made "The Slammin' Salmon", a slightly less funny film with an impossible premise - customers just don't come in to restaurants, order a beverage, and then tip really really well - it just. doesn't. happen.  And waiters don't compete for $10,000 cash prizes offered by their employers.  

That's the common thread running through all of the gags in this film - there had to be a way to depict the potential chaos of Halloween night without constantly, consistently slipping into situations that would never, never happen.  Just beyond farce and slapstick lies complete improbability - and I say this as someone who enjoys films with superheroes flying around, and people battling space aliens.  But if you set your film on Halloween night in the real, practical universe, I'm going to be bothered by unlikely situations, apparently.  

OK, I can believe that a teen girl might misplace her younger brother - a lot of kids might be wearing the same Spider-Man costume, for example.  But why would she approach a (presumably) really short man and take his mask off, assuming that he's her brother?  Even if he were a dwarf-sized man, he wouldn't have the same body type as her brother.  (We'll never know, because they apparently couldn't afford a dwarf actor, they only shot the man from the neck up, ruining the joke.)  Anyway, it doesn't even make sense, because her brother for some reason wanted to be "Spider-Man missing an arm" (which isn't even a thing), so why would she think that this two-armed, stocky man who looked nothing like her brother might have been him?  

Her brother goes on his own Halloween adventure, with a lovelorn convenience-store clerk, then a woman dressed as "Galaxy Scout" going to a party, and then the tough-guy boyfriend of the clerk's ex-girlfriend.  (Already, this situation is over-complicated.)  But why would the convenience store clerk leave his post, on the busiest candy-buying night of the year, no less, to suddenly get revenge on his ex-girlfriend with a kid who he doesn't even know?  For that matter, why would he TP his girlfriend's house, when it's not even a house, it's an apartment building?  That message wouldn't even be clear.  Similarly, why would this 20-something girl take time out of her Halloween night to help out this Spider-Kid that she doesn't even know?  100% of people seeing a random kid on Halloween would just keep going.  

There are, like, a thousand other mistakes and sloppy occurences.  How can a man drive a convertible away and not realize there's a kid in the back seat, who isn't even crouched down?  Who lets a kid into an adult Halloween dance?  Are there nerdy kids anywhere who idolize Aaron Burr and have access to muskets?  Would someone really pretend to have a duel with a chicken leg, instead of throwing a punch, which would be much, much easier?  Does any parent speak ancient Greek with their kid?

No, no, no - it's all forced contrivances, and the end does not justify the means.  I'll bet some writer made the boy mute just so he wouldn't have to write believable dialogue for a kid.  I think the romantic dialogue is the worst, because we all know that the lead girl is going to have a revelation at some point during the night, and will realize that the nerd-friend who helped her is a better love interest than the hot guy at the party.  Sure, nerds are people too, and there's a lid for every pot, but come on, most girls that look like that don't figure this sort of thing out until much later in life.  

I'm going to try and be kind today, because it's a holiday, and giving this film a "2" would put it on a level with "Eraserhead", and this film makes slightly more sense than that one.  The only redeeming message here is that whatever your age, there's a Halloween for you - if you're a kid you can go out and get candy (though, honestly, kids, with less money than you spent on your costume, you can go to the drugstore and get EXACTLY the kind of candy you want, not a mixed bag) or if you're a young adult you can go to a happening party, or if you're a parent, you can watch your kids have fun.  I'm none of those things, so I'm just going to answer the doorbell when it rings.

Also starring Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler (last seen in "This Means War"), Jackson Nicoll (last seen in "The Fighter"), Jane Levy, Thomas Mann (last seen in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), Thomas Middleditch (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Kerri Kinney-Silver (last seen in "Wanderlust"), Ana Gasteyer (last seen in "Rapture-Palooza"), Riki Lindhome, Abby Elliott (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), Thomas McDonell, Josh Pence, Holmes Osborne (last seen in "Larry Crowne").

RATING: 3 out of 10 prank phone calls

Friday, October 30, 2015

Trick 'r Treat

Year 7, Day 303 - 10/30/15 - Movie #2,188

BEFORE: An actor named C. Ernst Harth carries over from "Dreamcatcher", and that reminds me why I put my films in this order.   But I think things worked out well, "Dreamcatcher" being the last straight horror film that sort of tied a lot of themes together, and it's left me with three films directly related to Halloween itself, focusing on the celebration of the holiday, that is.  

Now I just need to apply this same organizational technique to my January list, which is still only half full.  I've got 13 films lined up in front of February's romance chain, and 31 after - so maybe I'll flip the whole chain around, and make those 31 films a solid tight January, or no, wait, I think I see a way to cut between the two chains and make something really interesting.  Damn, it all depends on what the first film in January is going to be, and right now I have no idea what that's going to be.  I also need to factor in films I might acquire in the next 2 months, and there's no way to predict that either.  Gah, this is maddening.  It's enough to drive me crazy.  OK, more crazy.

THE PLOT:  Four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life; a college virgin might have just met the one guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; and a mean old man meets his match.

AFTER: Full disclosure, the director of this film, Michael Dougherty, is an ex-co-worker of mine.  He went to NYU a few years after I did, and came up through the animation program, and this film is loosely based on an animated short that he made in college called "Season's Greetings".  That's where this character with the burlap scarecrow head and the orange pajamas first appeared.  "Sam" is his name, as it turns out, which is short for "Samhain", get it?  

And Sam is sort of the unifying element in these four (or is it 5?) little Halloween stories.  Sam also enforces the "rules" of Halloween - and there ARE rules.  Like, don't extinguish a jack o'lantern before Halloween is over, never go out alone, don't chase kids away from your door without giving them candy, and try not to kill too many people.  You know, don't be a dick, be excellent to each other. 

Wait, what was that about killing people?  Well, you should really only kill people who deserve to die, and that's where the scary part comes in.  You would like to think that karma's a bitch, and what comes around goes around, and tends to come knocking on your door on Halloween night.  

I tried watching parts of this once before, but I found it a little confusing.  Since the film jumps around liberally in time (you know, that old pet peeve of mine) and the movie sort of ends right where it began, the chronology takes a little effort to sort it all out.  But this may be one of the rare cases where it's worth the effort.  Yes, cause should come before effect, but suspense also needs to be maintained.  With repeated viewings this film could easily become the "Pulp Fiction" of Halloween. (Plus I think after you learn the twists the first time, the second time there will probably be a lot of inside jokes that you'll pick up on.)

You might see a character in distress in some way, or someone notable walking by in the background of one scene, and then a later story thread might pick up on who that background person is, and why they were in trouble, or about to be.  Everything is important, so watch carefully, and follow the rules.  Remember, TREAT people the way you want to be TREATED, and then maybe you won't deserve to get TRICKED.

Also starring Dylan Baker (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Anna Paquin (last seen in "Amistad"), Brian Cox (last heard in "Her"), Leslie Bibb (last seen in "Zookeeper"), Tahmoh Penikett (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Lauren Lee Smith (last seen in "Get Carter"), Rochelle Aytes, Moneca Delain, Quinn Lord, Brett Kelly, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Samm Todd.

RATING: 6 out of 10 urban legends

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Year 7, Day 302 - 10/29/15 - Movie #2,187

BEFORE: I've spent a few Octobers catching up on the horror films based on the books of Stephen King, but this one seemed to slip through the cracks. Last year I did some clean-up work with "Cujo", "Cat's Eye", and "Pet Sematary", but I wasn't done.  And even after I watch this one, I still won't be done - even if I disallow miniseries based on his work, like "The Stand" and "The Tommyknockers", that still leaves "Salem's Lot", "Creepshow", "Graveyard Shift", "The Mist" and "Children of the Corn".  Well, there's always next year, I'd at least like to get to "Salem's Lot", put that together with "The Lost Boys" (another vampire film) and maybe I've got the start of next October's chain.

Linking from "Body Snatchers", Terry Kinney was also in "Devil in a Blue Dress" with Tom Sizemore (last seen in "Play It to the Bone").  Other linkings are possible, but that one seems to be the most prominent.  

THE PLOT: Friends on a camping trip discover that the town they're vacationing near is being plagued by parasitic aliens from outer space. 

AFTER: That plotline doesn't really do this film justice, because this story is somewhat complicated.  But interestingly, and this might be a result of watching too many horror films in a row, I saw a lot of repeated themes from other films I programmed this month.  Yes, this is somewhat intentional and perhaps even ideal, but not at this level - this makes me start to wonder if every horror film is just a mishmash of tropes and themes taken from other films.  Here we've got a crashed alien spaceship (as in "The Thing") with aliens that can take over human hosts ("The Thing", "Body Snatchers") and replicate themselves in all kinds of ways ("Gremlins" and "The Thing" again) and in some forms the aliens look like eels, or little worms that hatch from eggs ("Eraserhead") and sometimes they look like vaginas with teeth (yet again, "The Thing").  Then there's military involvement ("Body Snatchers") and a quarantined zone ("28 Days Later").  Plus the action all takes place in a winter scene and there's an anti-bullying statement ("Let the Right One In") - jeez, it's like old home week.

Not just that, but this film also sort of feels like a mishmash of other Stephen King storylines.  The flashbacks to when the heroes were kids are reminiscent of both "Stand By Me" and "It", and some of the characters seem to have psychic powers, like in "Carrie" and "Hearts in Atlantis".  I'm sure there are more connections, but I suppose that after writing so many novels, it's only natural that such a prolific writer in this genre would find the need to repeat certain themes. 

Anyway, let's consider this story.  If we take the flashback scenes first (which I wish this film had done, there really was no reason to withhold all that information for so long), then the story really begins with four childhood friends, who defend a mentally handicapped boy who's being tormented by older high-school kids.  (I try to avoid the use of the "R" word, even though I grew up using it, and it seemed like an OK word at the time.  Now I just save it for describing really dumb films.)  This kid Douglas (or "Duddits") is more than he seems, since he gifts the four friends with various telepathic powers.  Umm, I think.  It's a little unclear.  

The "why" of it all seems to be connected to the alien invasion 25 or so years later.  The implication may be that Duddits gave the kids powers so that when they grew up, they'd be prepared to battle the aliens.  But how did he know that the aliens were coming, and how did he know that these four kids (now men) would be in the proper position to do anything about it?  Also, I'm not sure what this says about mentally handicapped people, if one of them is like a precog and has some kind of transferrable psychic abilities, I'm not sure if that's disrespectful to people with that condition.   

There's also a problem similar to "Body Snatchers", in that there are so many main characters, there's not really much for each of them to do, or really any way to distinguish among the four.  I take that back, one of them gets to do some interesting acting, but only after he gets corrupted.  He gets to indulge in one of those Gollum-like split personality acting sequences, fighting with himself inside his own mind, or something like that.  The inside of his mind is depicted as a library-like storehouse for his memories, and he has the ability to file memories away in certain places, to protect them from being read by others.  

I've got a few NITPICK POINTS, such as wondering why one character was involved in a car accident, because this didn't seem to add anything to the story.  This story was written around the time that Stephen King was hit by a van, so there's an obvious reason for this plot point being there, but I didn't see how this character being hit by a car brought about the result of bringing the four men in contact with the aliens.  Maybe if he hadn't been injured, they would have gone camping 6 months earlier, which would have been at the wrong time?  Again, this needed some more clarity.  

I'm also unclear on the meaning of the title - obviously there was a dreamcatcher hanging in the cabin, and in one scene the kids make dreamcatchers with Duddits, but then they said that "Duddits was our dreamcatcher".  What did this mean?  The kid with Down Syndrome somehow filtered out bad dreams, keeping them away from our heroes?  He was their friend, sure, and he gave them powers, but I don't see how that's similar to the function of the Native American craft object.

Also starring Thomas Jane (last seen in "The Thin Red Line"), Jason Lee (last seen in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"), Timothy Olyphant (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Damian Lewis (last seen in "Your Highness"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Amistad"), Donnie Wahlberg (last seen in "Zookeeper"), Joel Palmer, Giacomo Baessato, Reece Thompson, Mikey Holekamp, Andrew Robb, Michael O'Neill (last seen in "Dallas Buyers Club"), Eric Keenkeyside, C. Ernst Harth.  

RATING: 5 out of 10 toothpicks

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Body Snatchers

Year 7, Day 301 - 10/28/15 - Movie #2,186

BEFORE: Again, not much point in trying to link from a Swedish film to a Hollywood one.  There is a trail that goes from Peter Carlberg through "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" but I won't bore you with the details.  

There are 65 days left in the year, and just 15 films left to watch, which seems like a great deal - so I'll be taking 50 days off, which should allow me some extra time to catch up on Star Wars-related novels and also do some Christmas shopping.  But my fear is that once the cable channels stop showing horror films, they'll start up with some new films from 2014 and 2015 that I'll need to add to the list.  And I'm trying to get my watchlist down to 130 films, but with all that time off it could balloon back up to 170 or 180 films before January 1.  I don't want to let that happen, or I'll never finish the project during 2016, either.

THE PLOT:   A teenage girl and her father discover alien clones are replacing humans on a remote U.S. military base in Alabama.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (Movie #1,203)

AFTER: Well, the plant-based pod people are at it again, which ties in nicely with my theme this week of aliens and other nasties taking control over people's bodies and minds.  They first tried taking over the planet back in 1956, and then I guess when that failed, they tried again in San Francisco back in 1978.  Which I assumed also failed, because they targeted people like restaurant health inspectors, and that probably put them in touch with a lot of vegetarians and people who like to compost, and when you're primarily plant-based, that's not a recipe for success.

This time, they tried taking over a military base, which seems like a much better strategy.  This gave them access to weapons, supplies, and transportation to take them to other army bases around the country, so they could better spread the message of the pod people, which is basically to surrender and get yourself duplicated so we can all move forward together.  Umm, except you, that is, because you'll be dead.  

(I realize they re-made this film again, in 2007 under the title "The Invasion", but I don't have a copy of that.  Maybe next year.)

Unfortunately, this is all old hat by now.  And there are several actors and actresses in this film who come across as complete blanks - the general's daughter, for example, and nearly every one of the soldiers.  There was simply nothing done to help distinguish one character from another, which means that becoming expressionless pod people is something of an improvement for most of the cast.  It's the only thing that makes them somewhat interesting, but we're supposed to consider the alien takeover as a BAD thing.  

If the pod people take over and replace humans while they sleep, then the whole audience for this film was at risk, if you ask me.

Starring Terry Kinney (last seen in "The Last of the Mohicans"), Meg Tilly (last seen in "The Big Chill"), Gabrielle Anwar (last seen in "The Three Musketeers" (1993)), Billy Wirth, R. Lee Ermey (last seen in "The Watch"), Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Stakeout"), Christine Elise, Kathleen Doyle, Reilly Murphy.

RATING: 3 out of 10 soil samples

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Let the Right One In

Year 7, Day 300 - 10/27/15 - Movie #2,185

BEFORE: My BFF Andy recommended this film to me a few years back, so I'm watching it tonight to prove that I do take suggestions, but it just takes me 3 or 4 years to get around to them.  OK, maybe 7.  Anyway, this is the 4th film in a row from that notorious "Before You Die" list, so it's recommended by  several sources - and the original Swedish version, not the American remake "Let Me In".

In fact, there's been a notable Scandinavian theme running this week, with the Norwegian actors seen in "The Thing", and then Swedish actor Max von Sydow in "The Exorcist".  But this goes toward making my linking nearly impossible - even if I link back from Jack Nance to Max von Sydow, I'd have to point out that von Sydow was in the film "Skammen" with Axel Düberg, who also appeared in "Kärleken" with Per Ragnar. (or if you prefer, von Sydow was in "Made in Sweden" with Gösta Bredefeldt, who was also in "Män som hatat kvinnor" with Pale Olofsson)  It's ridiculous, I won't do it.  I guess I should have known that watching a foreign horror film would more or less bring my linking chain to a dead stop.

THE PLOT:  Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl.

AFTER: In fact, I had two choices on how to watch this film - I had put the subtitled version on a DVD with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", but the dubbed version was also available on Starz on Demand.  I chose the latter for the sake of convenience (so I wouldn't have to get up from the chair and put the right DVD in the player) but chances are that I may have chosen poorly.  Sure, subtitles are sometimes hard to watch and demand my full concentration, but dubbed voices allow for improper translation and non-synched mouth movements.  

But the basic story is still the same - a young Swedish boy is befriended by what appears to be a young woman, but she's not what she appears to be.  So this fits right in with my overarching theme this week, which is all about evil horrible things taking over or corrupting human bodies.  There was the alien creature in "The Thing", then the demon Pazuzu taking over Regan MacNeil, then we had whatever that "Eraserhead" baby was.  Tonight it's a modern take on the classic vampire story.  

In a way, this also riffs off of Kirsten Dunst's character from "Interview With a Vampire", who had been bitten when she was a young girl, so since vampires don't age, she was destined to be a little girl for a very long time.  Our young vampire child here also isn't really sure how old she is, she just know that she's no longer a child, but a very blood-hungry creature.  But just because she feasts on human blood, that doesn't mean that she can't have friends, right?  Or do vampires just naturally regard all humans the way we normally think of cows and chickens?  

This film also proves what I was saying about zombie films last week - it's possible to tell a good story while still respecting all the rules about movie monsters.  Vampires can fly, they can't be seen reflected in mirrors, and they can't enter someone's house unless they're invited in - hence the enigmatic title.  But there's also a double meaning in it, since Oskar needs to be very careful about who he lets in to his life, when so many other kids in his class seem to be out to humiliate him.  

Eli, the young girl with a secret, also has someone looking out for her, a man acting as her father, though he may not really be that, who kills people out in the woods and drains them of their blood so that his (adopted?) daughter can feed without doing the killing herself.  This seems well-intentioned at first glance, but really, is that any different in the end?  Meanwhile there's a quartet of local friends who are left wondering why they're not a trio.  Wait, make that a duo.  Oh, this can't end well.  

The more modern aspects of the tale consist of a strong statement against bullying, and possibly some gender identity issues as well.  But that's cool, Sweden's a pretty liberal country, right?  And if you can't be androgynous or a vampire and be accepted in Sweden, where else are you going to go?  I guess maybe Brooklyn, NY or Portland, Oregon.

Also starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Ika Nord, Pale Olofsson, Peter Carlberg, Mikael Rahm. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 attack cats

Monday, October 26, 2015


Year 7, Day 299 - 10/26/15 - Movie #2,184

BEFORE: Here's another film I've had on the list for quite some time, and I can never really find the right place to watch it, because it links to almost nothing else.  And is it really a Halloween film?  I'm not sure.  But since I can engineer a link from "The Exorcist" - Max von Sydow was also in "Dune" with Jack Nance (last seen in "Wild at Heart") - that makes this as good a place as any.

THE PLOT:  Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child.

AFTER: Ugh, another film that I just don't know what to do with.  As I pointed out yesterday, it's on that list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die" (OK, I watched it, can I die now?) and Wikipedia says it's usually regarded as a surrealist masterpiece, and it's even on the National Film Registry as a work of art that needs to be preserved, because of its cultural significance.

But none of that helps me enjoy it, in the end.  Or understand it, because it is truly bizarre.  Am I supposed to take what happens in the film at face value, no matter how odd, or disgusting, or non-sensical it all is?  How am I supposed to tell the difference between a surreal masterpiece and a film that just represents a failed narrative?  I have a feeling that some people make the second and then try to pass it off as the first.

Don't get me wrong, I like David Lynch, I think.  Take "Dune" off the table and I think that "Blue Velvet" was a good film, and nobody appreciated "Twin Peaks" more than I did.  And there were some really hard-to-understand parts of "Twin Peaks" (both the TV show and the movie) like a lady that gets messages from logs, a midget in a mystical room talking backwards, and a kid in a hotel room with his cupped hands full of creamed corn.  Taken individually, they seem absurdist, but they come together to form a creepy and bizarre American town.

But "Eraserhead" - geez, what am I supposed to do with this plot?  A man is told by his girlfriend's parents that she's given birth, and the "child" is probably his, even though they haven't been dating all that long.  And the "child" has no limbs, it looks more like an insect or a baby farm animal without its skin - or perhaps a puppet version of that.  And it cries all the time, it seems to be sick - screw that, it doesn't even seem to be human, so WTF is it? 

Furthermore, I didn't know what constitutes the reality of the film and what's supposed to be a dream - which seems like another narrative cop-out.  Part of the film seems to take place inside the main character's head, as he imagines a woman singing on a tiny stage inside his radiator, and he imagines his wife giving birth to more spermatazoa-like creatures during the night, and him throwing them against the wall to kill them.  

And this is all watched over by the "man inside the planet" - some deity who lives in the sky in a similar industrial setting, but he pulls on levers, presumably controlling people's fates?  I don't know, this was all so unclear, and if I find that I have to rush to Wikipedia right after watching a film just to determined what I just saw happen and what it all means, then I generally regard that film as a failure.  Sorry, I know that horror movies aren't my thing, but a abstract surrealist dreamscape is REALLY not my thing. 

Also starring Charlotte Stewart (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Allen Joseph (last seen in "Marathon Man"), Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts (last seen in "Stardust Memories"), Laurel Near, Jack Fisk, Hal Landon Jr. (last seen in "The Artist").

RATING: 2 out of 10 man-made chickens

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