Toto Miranda is new to horror.
Or, at least horror as you and I know it. He’s a film buff (and musician – as a member of The Octopus Project he’s one of the loudest drummers on the planet) and has a huge amount of respect for the horror genre, but is just now getting around to seeing a few movies that some of us less-well-adjusted folks call “classics”.
Remember the thrill you got when you first realized you were a true horror fan? Remember the excitement of realizing just how many awesome movies you hadn’t seen yet? We’re hoping to recapture some of that excitement through Toto’s eyes as he watches some of our favorite horror movies for the very first time.
Head inside to check out his thoughts on William Friedkin’s The Exorcist! Just in time for Killer Joe hitting today!
I’m not sure how I’d managed not to have seen The Exorcist prior to this. So when the chance to write this piece coincided with a screening at a historic theater (Austin’s Paramount) it seemed like the perfect time to take the plunge. Guess what, it was great. Even with the movie’s reputation loudly preceding it, all my expectations were surpassed. It’s the definition of horror (or at least a definition), but also so much more than that – just a f*cking awesome movie. Such a powerful mix of visceral scares, straight-up shocking material, and an overall sense of fear and dread that comes from some of the biggest underlying themes you could ask for.
I will say that I wasn’t sure how intense a nearly 40-year-old movie could be. Suffice it to say pretty intense. Actually that won’t suffice, let’s discuss. The things they had that kid say! About that man’s mother! The visual effects match the intensity of the demon’s dialogue – raw and powerfully effective. The self-mutilation (to leave it at that) with the crucifix is so vicious I could barely believe it was happening. It felt extreme even from a 2012 perspective to have a (possessed) child say and do the things she does, making total sense that people flipped out over it in 1973. I wouldn’t call it gratuitous, though – it raises the emotional stakes in an unequivocal way that feels like the bottom dropping out of the characters’ world. However graphic things become, the movie never lingers, only giving you enough to think “wait, what?!” before moving on.
The movie I saw, I have since discovered, was the 2000 “Version You’ve Never Seen.” Researching the differences on iMDb’s alternate versions page, I was a little relieved to discover that the “subliminal” demon-face flashes were a new addition, which felt like one of the very few missteps in the otherwise stunning visual effects. If that was the price to pay for the spider-walk scene I’ll take the trade – that sh*t blew my mind. Still, I’m excited to watch the original version and see how that feels.
The story initially places us on the side of the skeptics – the arguments over whether or not Regan is truly possessed are surprisingly gripping for a movie whose subsequent possession scenes are so famous. I love that it follows the characters through increasingly severe explanations for the girl’s behavior until it gets all the way to actually being a Satan vs. God situation, which seems about as far as one can go. At some point in this escalation the movie becomes a little like a police procedural, only set in a world where the authorities are dealing with souls rather than criminals. This is where the non-fiction elements of the story’s setting get really interesting – the actual Catholic Church has actual rites for dealing with actual demons, which is just too fascinating for me to adequately express. Even if this is a kind of sensationalized churchsploitation, using these real settings to tell a supernatural story proves to be a powerful device, really bringing the demon into our world just as it comes into the world of the characters. (Yes, maybe I did write an almost identical sentence about [REC] last time – juxtaposing the real and the fantastic is just something I love about movies. And in my guise as genre outsider, I think an element of realism is my main entry point for a horror movie. Or so I am discovering.)
Any really effective movie makes itself open to interpretation, thematically, and it would seem that a really effective horror movie is asking what you’re really afraid of beyond whatever is being perpetrated on screen. Not that The Exorcist of all movies lacks in the impact of its primary events, but I think it has stuck with me because of all the other things it suggests. Making the central conflict as top-level as it can be (spiritual) really leaves a lot of room for reading-in: it could be science vs. spirituality, faith vs. skepticism, ancient vs. modern…looking around the Internet while writing this I found some perspectives in which the possessed Regan represents the demonization (quite literally) of female sexuality. The movie is way too godd*mn scary to consider any of this openness while you’re watching it, but the feeling it left me with was less of a check-the-basement fear and more, I dunno, existential dread? I didn’t feel much relief that Regan had been freed of the demon, but was thinking instead of Father Karras, whose reward for struggling with his faith was being tossed out a window. He is the title character after all, or at least he could be, and the structure he stood for had been overwhelmed by a malicious chaos. Kind of a downer, but I guess they call that tragedy.
So, to sum up – the movie absolutely freaked me out from inside my brain, and I had to go home and watch Adventure Time for a while to calm down. Crazy film. Eight stars!