I’ve mentioned before that I grew up Mormon. A majority of my adult life has been about doing all the things that I was warned away from when I was younger. Those rebellious choices range from the typical combo of swearing-boozing-smoking to, among other things, getting a tattoo, developing a rabid appetite for coffee, and reading as much Stephen King or listening to as much Marilyn Manson as I can stomach. (Due to their varying talents, turns out I can only stand so much.)
This past Halloween weekend, I knocked down another milestone: seeing The Exorcist. The director’s cut was playing at Mt. Pony in Culpeper & I went with friends. Since 2010, when the Library of Congress added the film to their film registry, I had joked about “saving myself” for a big screen showing. To steal a line from That 70s Show, we can’t all have our first time be in a castle in Ireland or at Disney World, but you can try to make it as special as you can.
Now, don’t be fooled, I’m not a complete innocent where The Exorcist is concerned. I read books & watch TV. I watched the E! True Hollywood Story. The movie is mentioned in my favorite David Foster Wallace stories. I’ve walked up & down the real stairs in Georgetown (as my Flickr feed shows). But despite thinking I was a big tough girl who was prepared for the worst, I found myself jumping at the sound of the pickaxes in the first 5 minutes of the movie.
Friedkin is that good at setting up the slow burn tension. His ability to make a stopped clock or an ungloved hand reaching into a hole inspire knuckle-biting dread without a single monster or creepy-crawly on the screen played havoc on my nerves. One of my friends who had come with me also hadn’t seen the movie & we were clutching each other the entire time.
I think the reason The Exorcist is still so effective after all these years is that despite what you know about the movie, the best & scariest parts involve turning something innocuous inside out. Not only is Chris & Regan’s Hallmark card relationship torn apart, but the idea of “curing” Regan with medical science becomes as barbaric as anything the demon puts her through. The actual exorcism is nothing next to Regan having her jugular punctured as prep to a scan. (Gag gag gag cough!)
Once the movie was over, I was genuinely glad I had finally experienced this icon of horror. The Exorcist is a truly creepy film that plays on what we still don’t know or understand as humankind. (One of my friends & I kept quoting the Ritalin line the rest of the night. “How is the Ritalin supposed to help?” “Well, we don’t really know.”) With that said, I probably won’t go out of my way to see it again. Call me a chicken, but I now think that sometimes you don’t have to rush out to experience everything you’ve been denied.