Demonic possession is a terrifying event to witness for any human. It is when the supernatural and the religious world collide and butt heads over the merit of what exactly is going on. Sadly, the ones that get the worst of the possession our those in their youth from the infant Rosemary bore in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby to the son of the dark lord in the form of Damian in Richard Donner’s The Omen. The most well known of these cases still carries its weight four decades after its first appearance. Young Regan, played by Linda Blair, was taken control of Pazuzu aka the Devil himself leading to an exorcism that shocked the horror world and tested the temporal lobe of audiences. Witness the sheer terror of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.
Regan MacNeil of Georgetown comes under the possession of a spirit called Captain Howdy, an imaginary friend to Regan. Known as Pazuzu to Father Lankester Merrin, played by Max von Sydow, he realizes the he may come back for revenge after discovering a statue of the demonic spirit in Iraq. Back in Georgetown, Chris MacNeil, played by Ellen Burstyn, notices Regan is not herself after reliving herself on the floor and the bed shaking violently. Chris takes Regan to the doctor to help find the cause, yet the mere and simple minds of the healthcare industry are no match for the power of the occult.
With the events occurring and Regan killing Chris’ love interest, Detective William Kinderman, played by Lee J. Cobb, calls upon Father Damien Karras to help investigate the crime at hand. Karras has his own trouble to deal with after losing his faith in God and the church due to the passing of his mother. Karras decides to face the terror head on in some of the most terrifying sequences captured on celluloid.
Karras comes face to face with Pazuzu within Regan alongside Father Merrin helps him face his fears to realize that even the most sane of people can be taken advantage of to lose their faith not only in a higher calling, but within themselves. Karras gets pestered and chastise by Pazuzu to the point he exits the room and leave Father Merrin alone to die at Regan’s hands. Karras, knowing the dangers that Pazuzu can cause to the world, takes down Regan and has Pazuzu enter him. Sadly, in order to defeat the beast from within, Karras kills himself to end the madness and, god-willing, stop Pazuzu from enacting his revenge. Regan is freed in the ending that is bittersweet, but beware, for just because the demon is gone from the body of another does not mean the spirit will never return.
Sitting through the film declared by Warner Bros. the ‘scariest movie of all time’ and tempting fate of skeptics of the statement, The Exorcist is surprisingly a terrifying film still, but not for the reasons many viewers would have you believe. The exorcism scenes have been desensitized for me due to years of parodies in the media, yet it is the slow burn the movie has leading to that causes a true terror. With the face of Pazuzu constantly appearing and the fears engulfing the minds of Chris and Karras of how such an innocent person can go mad is pure horror in itself.
It is made clear when Merrin says to Karras that Pazuzu is using Regan to show that humans can be animal in nature and that those we think love us, such as God, cannot protect us. Chris cannot protect Regan from the being and the fear grows when she realizes the problem is not a medical issue, but rather one she cannot explain. Karras loses his mother and the fear that he can no longer get a hold on reality or himself terrifies him that in the end, he becomes the animal in order to rid the beast of the world. The movie plays on these fear to make the possession of Regan not only a scary experience, but one that viewers can relate to by hitting close to our most vulnerable points. the film succeeds more as a thriller than a typical horror movie riddled with cliches.
As for the film itself, Friedkin does a hell of a job directing the actors in scenes that would be hell for some otherwise including freezing Regan’s room in order to capture the cold nature of the sequences and delivering a greater payoff. Hell, he slapped Father William O’Malley just to get a great performance out of him in the end of the film. Someone who slaps a real life man of the cloth for a scene has to be great. The acting is great with Blair selling her scenes along with the voiceover of Mercades McCambridge as the demon helping fuel the intense nature. The score stuns bringing an unsettling backdrop for the film with the famous ‘Tubular Bells’ being the highlight.
The film has had its share of controversy from the subliminal imagery within the film to the urban legends corresponding with the deaths of two actors and the sets, but that is secondary to the true testament of this film. After forty years of terrifying the world, The Exorcist remains a delightful scare for ages and a powerhouse of the thriller and horror genres.
This Saturday, Film A Week gets massacred. With the help of new writer & fellow horror fan Diego Olivares, FAW heads to 1974 Texas to take down Leatherface and witness a horror like no one can believe. It’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Film A Week 41: The Spooktaculr Seventies- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
with Special Guest Writer Diego Olivares
Saturday, October 19th/Sunday, October 20th