Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I Don't Think I Can Watch "The Exorcist" Again


A friend and I got on the subject of The Exorcist at a recent gathering. A movie night to rewatch the film was discussed. I admitted I'd been interested in seeing the film again, but I'd need some serious company.

I started thinking again about what I like so much, what obsesses me so much, about the film. It is the story, not the shock. It is the struggle with the loss of faith and the unexpected opportunity to renew that faith by facing evil. The existence of evil would provide strong evidence if not proof of the supernatural. The character Father Karras enters the situation as a sceptic, a position strengthened by his weakened faith, so in order for him to be convinced he was facing true evil, and not just a young girl with mental problems, he would need to be faced with an incredibly extreme experience.

Regan MacNeil, the possessed girl, is then simply a catalyst, a vehicle for evil to act on the lives of the characters. Comments I've read on a few blogs reveal that people think the horror is laughable, that Regan's antics are crude and silly. They're missing the true story.

Actor and playwright Jason Miller played Father Damian Karras. Miller began his career writing the play That Championship Season for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.

Miller was so wonderfully intense as Karras. He conveyed the gravity of his struggle without appearing ridiculous. His face effortlessly conveys the burden he carries: guilt, grief, loss.

Despite my obsession with the character of Father Karras, the other main characters in the film, Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), Lt. William Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb), also experience evil, although their story doesn't feel as compelling to me as Karras'.

For Karras and the other characters, the menacing presence of the demon is only partially visual. The voice performance and sound editing, mixing a melange of sounds with the voice of Mercedes McCambridge is astounding. The demon speaking with Linda Blair's voice might not have convinced anyone of his existence. Without McCambridge, the scenes would certainly lack impact as heard in these cool clips comparing the voices of Blair with McCambridge.

These thoughts lead to what I fear about the film. With a clear head, in the clear light of day, the film is intense and fascinating, but at night time, when I seem to be psychically vulnerable and my rational brain is half asleep, I can't stop seeing frightening images in my head. I can't stop my brain from obsessing on the danger (mental danger more than physical) of things outside the realm of the rational. My struggle is with my "lizard brain" (my emotional brain). I realize real people and real situations (illness, accidents) are the true threat, but my emotional brain is still haunted by what is not real. I don't believe in ghosts rationally, but I still expect one to be standing in the hallway when I round the corner in the dark.

This image of Karras' mother, who suddenly appears in place of Regan and the chaos of the room, is powerful. The image is simultaneously frightening, eerie, and melancholy.

I am also vulnerable to images pop into my brain and refuse to leave at night, in the dark; images like those in The Exorcist. When it came to memorable images, these people knew what they were doing.

Holy crap! Look at that. Don't tell me you're not compelled to turn away. If all you see is an actor in makeup, I envy you. Truly, I envy you.

Here is Eileen Dietz, the face behind the make-up. What a nice-looking lady. But seeing her photo doesn't reduce the impact of the image of her in scary make up...for me.

The more I considered these thoughts, I realized that while I love talking about the film, I am not interested in seeing it again. I want to contemplate the story and the drama without refreshing the frightening images that will play through my head when I least want them (i.e. heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night). So I think I'll continue to reminisce on my memories of the film and be satisfied with the half a dozen viewings. They're enough to last me a lifetime.


  1. Yikes! You've nailed it, Aimee. For some people (and I count myself as one of them), scary films are overwhelming. I agree with you that the story is amazing, and I enjoy contemplating it, but the images are what keep me huddled under my covers at night when I need to get up to pee. Even the ones you posted triggered the memories of having watched the movie fifteen years or so ago--I think I'll need to troll for some funny cat videos now, so I can relax.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! I completely agree. I find this movie terrifying; I saw it when I was very young at first and couldn't articulate why, but when it was re-released (15 years ago?) with extra scenes I started to feel similar to you.
    Also, I completely had a crush on Father Karras. Because I'm a weirdo. Also: Tubular Bells.