Most horror flicks are satisfied with the humble goal of tossing about a few chills. The more ostentatious may even try to snatch a good night’s sleep from the viewer. This Titanic beast wants the whole bag of marbles and it’s not going to rest until every inch of peaceful space in your brain is demolished. THE EXORCIST has extracted not nights, but years of sleep deprivation from its ill prepared audience. It has given rise to vomiting, fainting and perhaps most frighteningly, church attendance. Who can explain the mystery of its power? It’s indisputable that all involved, director, writer and cast were all at the top of their game, but it almost seems as if the film built its own damn self with bricks forcibly pried from our collective unconscious.
It’s about a little girl who’s possessed by the devil, a scary idea for sure, but many other films have attempted this plot and delivered nothing. (I’m looking at YOU, many other films!) Why won’t this movie step down? Why won’t it behave? After decades you’d think it’s power would have waned some or at least by now we could laugh at it like so many other bugaboos from our past and say, “I was scared of that? What was I thinking?” No such luck. This baby won’t budge.
It may be because it’s about so much more then just that little girl. It never flinches juggling ideas about good, evil, guilt, morality, life, death, and the simple truths about human existence that most popular entertainment beats back with a stick. Above all else though, this shit is scary. The enemy is not the begrudged victim of a prank gone wrong but evil itself. I’m talking old as time, famine, cancer, Auschwitz, JENNA ELFMAN type evil. I have heard atheists claim to be immune to the horrors found here. If that’s the case, then that’s their best selling point and it should be used more often as a recruitment tool.
Director WILLIAM FRIEDKIN and writer PETER BLATTY are often busy trying to convince us that the film closes on a happy ending that reveals good’s triumph over evil. I’ll allow that the book does succeed at making this point, but as far as the film goes I’m not buying that haunted swamp land. I get that Father Karras (a supernaturally natural JASON MILLER) sacrifices himself to save Reagan (irreplaceable traumagod LINDA BLAIR) and that’s no small shakes or anything, but for this viewer’s psyche, it’s too little too late. Evil can levitate, spew pea soup, twist it’s head fully around and make aspersions towards good’s mother’s recreational time in hell, and good’s snappy comeback is jumping out a window? It doesn’t comfort me. It doesn’t comfort me one bit.
God, do I really have to bother? Head spinning, pea soup upchuck, the staircase, MAX VON SYDOW’s Magritte inspired arrival, frickin’ Captain Howdy all over the place. Pazzuzu waltzing around, Karras’s freaked out dream about his mom. That horrible hospital head machine. Masturbation with a crucifix? “The sow is mine!“…the whole damn thing. The whole damn thing is indelible.