Wednesday, 19 June 2013
The Exorcist. What makes it so scary?
I cannot believe that it has been forty years since The Exorcist made it's debut in New York city, New York. Still to this day, many consider it the scariest movie ever made. To celebrate the Anniversary of its premier, I thought I would take a look at what makes The Exorcist so scary, and give a few of my own thoughts about the movie.
I am sure The Exorcists reputation is well deserved. I have read stories, and have been told of people fainting and going into hysterics while watching the movie, and that screenings were attended by the Saint Johns Ambulance Brigade in case anyone would fall under the spell of fear. Whether or not this piece of information is true or just a way to increase publicity is a moot point. The Exorcist really does bring out a primal fear that no other movie does. It depicts a great evil attacking pure innocence, twisting and violating the body of it's victim until it is unrecognizable, and shows how the characters faith no matter how much it is tested, always triumphs over evil.
Loosely based on a true story, The Exorcist really is a movie every horror fan should experience. It features an incredibly sinister atmosphere throughout, and the tension is greatly applied through each scene. The FX, the cast and the direction is all there to scare the audience. That was the prime intention of William Friedkin, and it worked better than anyone could have ever imagined. The movie attracted a great deal of attention from Christian's and the Catholic church. Preacher (and a name I heard my parents talking about an awful lot when I was young) Billy Graham went as far as to claim that there was a demonic presence living in the reels of the movie. It is rather strange that most of the contention that religious people hold The Exorcist in, is totally unfounded. They say it focuses on blasphemy, where in fact, the movie shows the power of faith, and that good will always overcome evil. This didn't stop the controversy though, and for six long months after the movie was made, star Linda Blair received death threats from people who believed the movie glorified Satan (if only they had taken the time to sit down and watch the movie).
I think one thing that goes towards the movie being so scary is the vocal performance of Mercedes McCambridge as the demon. The voice is seething with malevolence, spite and pure evil. To hear this voice coming from the lips of a young girl is all the more disturbing. Not only was the voice incredibly menacing, but the words which the demon spoke were vulgar and blasphemous, so much so in fact that apparently while filming the exorcism, star Max Von Sydow was so disturbed by the language being used that he forgot his lines. Just hearing the voice manages to send shivers down the spines of viewers of the film.
The religious aspect in another reason people find this movie scary. I have heard many people say "I am not religious, so the movie does not bother me". I really do believe the overall theme of The Exorcist is to show the triumph of good over evil, but how are you going to depict a tremendous battle of good against evil without first showing just how evil something can be. Not only is the language the demon uses blasphemous, cursing god any way it can, but there are also a few visual scenes which incite rage amongst the religious. The masturbation with the crucifix with young Reagan proclaiming "Let Jesus fuck you" is probably the most profoundly blasphemous statement in the entire movie, and accompanied with the visual horror, has a great impact on the audience.
The movie also manages to make us confront things we have no understanding of, and brings up many questions about our own lives. What if there were demons? How would we rid ourselves of them if we do not follow religion? Even though many of the movies viewers do not believe in the religious side of things, the movie really does manage to raise many a good point about faith and just how powerful it can be. Our fear of the unknown is probably the greatest fear humanity still has.
The Exorcist shows how a loss of faith affects someone with a belief in religion. Farther Karras' faith is tested many times, first by seeing his mother falling into dementia and him not being able to do anything about it. Of course, the demon uses this against Father Karras, creating an overwhelming sense of the priest not being able to triumph over the evil which holds the little girl in it's diabolical grip. In contrast to this, it does show faith being found once more, and empowering the person, giving them strength through their faith.
It could be that the movie does not give anything away and only drips information slowly over the near two hour running time. Everything is played so straight, and with such a force of power that the things happening in the movie become believable. We involve ourselves so deeply with the characters. We go through so much with them, and see a young girl change from a sweet and innocent person into a vessel of pure evil. I am sure that goes a long way to scaring the viewer too, the loss of control. This horror film offers no security, no safety net. It's intention is to scare you.
In my opinion, the only way you can find The Exorcist scary, is if you give yourself over to it. Revel in the supernatural goings on, believe that what is happening on screen can happen in real life, and you will experience one of the greatest horror films of all time. The Exorcist really is "A vulgar display of power".