Traumafessions :: Gregg Holtgrewe: Writer/Director of Dawning on The Exorcist

“”If your bed starts shaking, just come and get me as quickly as you can,” those were the words my mother spoke after watching THE EXORCIST for the first time. Needless to say, I shared a bed with my sister that night so I wouldn’t have to be alone. It was after that when the images started to come. Night after night I would try and fall asleep and I would see the images of Regan’s face coming at me in a continual loop. My parents thought about taking me in to a psychologist for it but I figured I could fight through it by continually watching the film and facing the horror which is, THE EXORCIST, the single greatest horror film ever made.

As much as I tried I couldn’t get the film out of my head as a youngster…I even went so far as to tear out the picture of Regan’s head which was on the inside of early Fangoria covers and put it on my wall…but I think it only made things worse. What really got to me was the randomness of the event and the fact that there really didn’t seem to be any logical explanation. Watching the mother go through the torment of trying to figure out what’s wrong with her daughter was terrifying enough (especially watching her be put into the machine for catscans), but the things which happen to her in her room and the way it slowly builds is filmmaking at its best, in fact, I didn’t learn to sleep with the lights off until I went to college and had a freshman roommate, I was 19. My dad would always come to the top of the stairs and tell me to turn my light off before going to be because of the electric bill but I would only turn it off for a moment and just as quickly get the lights back on, it was too much lying in the dark, in the basement, thinking about being possessed and trying to justify to God why I was a good kid and shouldn’t be possessed by the Devil or whatever evil spirit it was.

The last few years of high-school saw the release of ‘THE EXORCIST 3 and I bought the poster and hung it above my bed…maybe I was trying to torture myself, I’m not sure, but again, I think it just added to the tension which went along with sleeping each night. As I got older and would revisit the film, I started to notice what truly separated THE EXORCIST from almost all other horror movies…the drama. No other horror film before or since, in my opinion, has done such a remarkable job at exploring the depth of each character and their own personal demons. Once the ’80s hit horror movies became a consistent barrage of chase scenes where paper-thin characters run around screaming and it means nothing to me. Granted, there might be some good moments but a great horror film should stick in the audiences brain and make them think and wonder and put them in a place which isn’t safe…not just a series of “look, a monster, run” and then some arbitrary moment where they figure out how to kill the creature, it’s ridiculous. The simple fact that horror films place characters in a situation where, more often than not the audience wants them to die, just leaves empty movie-goers and feeds into a society which already lacks compassion.

There is really nothing “safe” about THE EXORCIST – even when we know that it’s a demon of some sort and she’s possessed it still feels as if we’re involved in a helpless situation where not only is there something “evil” happening, there is also a deterioration within the characters themselves and that hasn’t really been done since. Hell, the film was nominated for Best Picture alongside a Bergman film, that’s incredible to me and at the time, it was one of the biggest box-office successes of all-time…now it’s just a big marketing gimmick to get people into the theater for the first weekend and after that it doesn’t matter. I have a problem with that and THE EXORCIST is where I look for inspiration as a filmmaker, especially when it came to making DAWNING. Imagine if horror films could’ve kept developing after the 1970’s instead of being sucked into the world of Reaganomics and the need for more and more wealth…a time in which horror and action films merged…we might have more horror films up for major awards and crossing the line between horror and drama. Horror movies are so safe now-a-days that I’ve actually been out of the horror loop for almost a decade if not more.

To me it comes down to one thing: “Horror can be dramatic and drama can be horrific” and THE EXORCIST is a shining example of this.”

UNK SEZ: Thanks Gregg for the powerful traumafession! Folks, Gregg’s film DAWNING has quite the buzz surrounding it, it’s won multiple awards and you can check out the official website HERE. Those who’ve caught it are happy to sing its praises; check out these smitten reviews from our blogging brethren:

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Michael Edits
12 years ago

THE EXORCIST definitely stands out for these reasons, but I was already an “adult” when I saw it.  I didn’t have the same reaction to EXORCIST 3, in which (trivia for the day) Daddy made it rain.

In my late teens/early twenties, the movie that scared the heck out of me was THE FLY, Jeff Goldblum version. Not just for the amazing gross-outs, but the character issues. And I was wondering, “Why don’t you do something good with those powers instead of breaking a biker’s arm and getting laid?” Yeah, like what?

Finally a buddy taped that one off TV on the good old-fashioned VCR, and I watched it something like 8 times straight over a weekend to desensitize myself.

I can laugh at some of the other horror entries — “roaches got your tongue?” still gets to me — but basically I have abandoned the genre for the reasons you named.

Great article!