A while ago I read one of the most horrifying and controversial works of the literatary world. No, it isn’t Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand (but you were close if you guessed it!), but The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty.
The novel, though written in short, sharp sentences that string together to create some of the weirdest structured paragraphs I’ve ever seen in my life, is hands down one of the most immersing reads I’ve had in a while (first up being The Omen, by David Seltzer, and last being Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer — and yes, I am serious. Shut up).
However, there’s one aspect about the book that was rather baffling to me. The Exorcist is toted as a horror genre novel. Yeah, that makes sense, but … well, I found myself laughing more times than I was probably supposed to during my readthrough; the dialogue is just so cleverly penned. That, and never once during the novel was I frightened or remotely disturbed (and if you want disturbing, get the book from your public library and read page 215. I warned you).
So, upon constantly hearing that the film adaptation of The Exorcist is a heavy-handed blow to the horror genre, with claims by many that the film is “the scariest movie of all time”, I had to check it out.
A good three or four years ago I tried to watch The Exorcist when it was on TV one Halloween night. I flicked the TV on just as Chris McNeil was passing through the kitchen, and the face of Pazuzu, the demon, showed up against the stove’s range hood. I jumped. Pretty high. And went to flick the light on just as the Pazuzu’s statue face appeared on screen for a quick flash, sending me flying for the TV remote.
I don’t do well with things that pop up without warning. I think “jump” scares in horror movies are cheap low blows to make up for dodgy writing and directing, and I think the internet “Screamers” you see on Ebaum’s World (wow I’m old) are about the same.
I had a copy of “The Version You’ve Never Seen” edition of The Exorcist, which I picked up at the Hock Shop a while back, but was too afraid to watch it, based on the experience I had trying to watch it on TV. But I felt compelled to fight off my inner demons (no pun intended), grab my goat, and get some courage. It was a movie, afterall. A thirty year old movie, and — afterall — I loved the book. I owed it to myself to see the movie, right?
So, swallowing down my fear, I took the DVD out of its flimsy cardboard case, set it into the DVD player, and sat back to watch the inevitable horror that this movie was so notoriously known for.
The opening credits roll…
BASED ON THE NOVEL BY
WILLIAM PETER BLATTY
And then two hours later, the end credits roll.
I blink, turn off the DVD player, recline against the couch, and think to myself, “What the hell was I so worried about?”
The movie left the exact impression the book did. I was thoroughly entertained, but not at all frightened.
Now, I realize that horror movies don’t age very well unless you were around when they were first released, but something like The Exorcist, which to this day leaves a mark on people, even generations younger than me, should have at least left me just a little disturbed, right? I mean, I’m a devout, God-loving Christian. Shouldn’t I be scared out of my mind because according to my faith, I believe in stuff like this?
Whether I’m desensitized or not, it’s still obvious that movies of this nature have a very strong effect on people, and I think the reason The Exorcist is so frightening for many is because of the film makers’ use of toying with the audiences’ minds, and the fact that exorcisms and possession are actual documented events.
And I think for that, I’m glad I have stuff like The Exorcist to keep me in tune with what at least used to scare the wits out of people without the needlessly heavy reliance on CGI that movies of the now thrive on so much (lol cg blood).
There have been a handful of exorcism-related movies over the past few years, including a couple really shoddy sequels to The Exorcist. For my generation, at least, I think The Exorcism of Emily Rose (starring Jennifer Carpenter, of “Dexter” fame) is a great companion piece to The Exorcist, especially in how to play off of people’s fears to create a genuinely haunting film (despite the fact that the movie is a courtroom drama, for the most part).
Thinking about it, horror movies have more of an impact in the theatre in any case — it’s a proven fact: you’re trapped in a dark room, surrounded by strangers for the most part, forced to stare ahead at a screen of horror that takes up your entire point of vision, and there’s nothing you can do about it but stare ahead or cover your eyes — but that doesn’t stop the deafening terrors that scream in your ears.
I saw the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in theatre, and it scared the hell out of me. However, when I bought it on home video and watched it on a smaller screen with pathetic mono sound, the effect was lost on me; it wasn’t the same.
But … there have been movies that have absolutely kept me up at night when I’ve seen them on the small screen. People can debate from sun up to sun rise about the credibility of the paranormal and extra terrestrials, but the fact remains: the mere idea, regardless, scares people.
And that’s why I think Japanese horror movies, especially modern ones like Ju-On and Ringu, work so well. Not only do they pit the viewers against this world of paranormal activity (that could or could not be real), but amplifies it to the max due to the lack of CGI effects.
Not to make accusations of “Man, the modern age sucks compared to when I was a kid,” but when it comes to movies, I think the point is actually valid. Yes, we can do so many great things with CGI technology, but it’s to the point where film makers don’t even need sets anymore; they just plop the actors in front of a green screen, ala Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
I’m going off-track, but I need to say it: Nothing is better than the real deal. Tom Savini, mastermind behind such special effects feats such as Friday the 13th and Day of the Dead, once said the use of visual effects in films is a lot like a magic show: It’s all an elaborate and organic illusion that leaves the audience both in awe and wanting more.
In any case, if you haven’t read The Exorcist, I highly recommend it — it’s easily one of the best novels I’ve read, both in terms of story and writing skill. Its sequel, Legion, is also very good (as well as the film adaption, The Exorcist 3).