Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Exorcist Movie Review

36 years ago this week, the world was introduced to “The Exorcist,” a film that is considered to be arguably the scariest movie of all time.

The film (directed by William Friedkin) is adapted from the novel, written by William Peter Blatty when he was a college student at Georgetown University in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had been reading in the local newspapers about a young boy from Mount Rainier, Maryland who was allegedly “haunted” and “held in Satan’s grip.” The family of the boy enlisted the help of Jesuit priests to cure him of his possession.

Blatty’s fascination for the story became an idea for the movie.

The Exorcist plot centers on three different stories involving the characters. The first is that of Father Lankester Merrin (played by Max Von Sydow) who we meet in the opening of the film. He is digging at an archaeological site in Iraq when he uncovers a statue of a demon.

Next we are introduced to Chris and Regan MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair) a mother and daughter who are currently living in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. (Notice the connection Blatty made with the location) Regan, 12, plays with a Ouija board and soon after exhibits bizarre and aggressively violent behavior. Her mother takes her to countless doctors, all of whom cannot conclusively diagnose Regan.

The doctors tell the MacNeils to seek a priest for help, since they obviously have no answers to Regan’s health problem. They meet with Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) the University’s psychiatrist and a man who is questioning his own faith and belief in the Church after his mother passed away.

Merrin and Karras are summoned to perform the exorcism on Regan to rid her of the demon inhabiting her body. This powerful scene is probably the most nerve-racking and terrifying act in movie history. As the priests proclaim the words of God from the Roman Ritual in order to cast out the evil spirit, Regan shouts obscenities while screaming in pain as she demands the priests to stop.

I saw “The Exorcist” for the first time in September of 2000, when it was re-released into theaters with scenes cut from the original version. No pun intended, it scared the hell out of me. When you think about demons and possession, and the fact that the film is based on a true story, it’s enough to scare anybody.

The one scene (aside from the exorcism) that made me absolutely cringe was the infamous, sacrilegious, “crucifix scene.” Regan, in her possessed state, takes the most holy icon of the Catholic faith and abuses herself with it while screaming obscenities directed at the Son of God.

“Let Jesus (expletive) you! Let Him (expletive) you!” she screams as she mercilessly shoves the crucifix into her private area.

Blatty and Friedkin were at the receiving end of a lot of criticism for leaving this particular footage in the finished product of the film. Despite being under heavy fire for keeping the scene in the movie, they defended its nature.

“When I was writing the novel, I decided that I had come to the point where this woman (MacNeil), this non-believer, in desperation is going to go to priests,” Blatty stated in a documentary. “What on earth could drive her to that? What is the worst possible thing I could think of?”

The answer: have her possessed, 12 year-old daughter masturbate with a crucifix.

Father William O’Malley, a real-life Jesuit priest and actor in “The Exorcist,” also defended the scene. O’Malley said that the scene served a purpose, but was also one of the most vicious things he had ever seen.

As for me: I was never a huge fan of the crucifix scene. I agree with Blatty and O’Malley that it served a purpose and it was meant to be powerful. It showed what kind of power the devil can have over mankind. But I also feel it was done for shock value and to scare audiences into belief in Heaven and Hell, which is certainly understandable and logical.

Along with being terrified of that one certain scene in the film, I can safely say it took a long time for me to fully comprehend what was actually happening in the movie. When Regan first meets Father Karras, she tells him that she is the devil. Karras then pulls out a small vile of water and tells Regan that it contains holy water.

He sprinkles it on her and she reacts very violently. Karras leaves the room and tells Mrs. MacNeil of his experiment; he did not sprinkle holy water on her, in reality it was tap water. Her reaction did not help support a case for an exorcism, and neither did her introduction.

Generally when a person becomes possessed, they are inhabited by an evil spirit, not the devil. Regan introduced herself to the priest as the devil. Karras explained that her admitting she is the devil would be the same as him admitting he is Napoleon Bonaparte. His argument was that Regan was simply out of her mind, not possessed.

Karras even suggested that Regan be institutionalized in a mental hospital.

Keep in mind Karras was questioning his own faith at the time, so in reality he did not want to believe Regan was possessed. Yet also bear in mind the demon was toying with Karras, psychologically attacking him to the point where he did not believe the possession was authentic. Even when he approached the Bishop to request an exorcism, he was not totally convinced the case was authentic.

Karras’s struggle was such a strong, internal conflict.

It turns out Regan was possessed by the same demon Father Merrin encountered at the beginning of the film, an ancient king of wind demons in Assyrian and Babylonian mythology known as Pazuzu. Merrin is called upon to do battle with Pazuzu, as (we later find out) he had earlier in his life when he studied in Africa.

Unlike Karras, Merrin’s conflict is visibly external. His mission is to once and for all crush the demon that has tormented him for years and years.

When it was originally released in 1973, “The Exorcist” had audiences in tears and some of those who went to the theaters to see it even fainted in shock before the film’s end. I didn’t faint as a result of the film’s nature, but I can say I was stupefied by its aura. It is one of those films you have to see at least once in your life, even if you are not a fan of the horror genre.

It was once said that it did so much good, because it scared Catholics and other non-believers into belief; those who had not been to Church in years suddenly found themselves praying to God once again in the comfort of His house.

In that regard, the film did a lot of good, although depicting some of the most evil actions ever captured on film to date.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Year's Eve, 1996: How I Got Duped

At one point in your life, I’m sure you were suckered into something.

Maybe it was something that looked amusing at a store and you wanted to buy it, and then three days later you realized you had no use for it. You could only regret buying it after watching it collect dust.

Maybe it was somebody telling you to go see a movie and after you watched it you felt like you had wasted two hours of your time and life. The story was not captivating, the acting was horrible, and the entire movie was hardly credible.

With New Year’s Eve right around the corner and the idea of being suckered after Christmas fresh in everyone’s minds, I can remember being suckered on New Year’s Eve, 1996.

Oh, it’s a sad yet funny tale.

I was 9 years old and really had nothing to do. My parents went across the street to attend a party at the neighbor’s house while my sisters and I stayed at home. My sisters, God love them, took control of the big, 36’’ television downstairs, forcing me to entertain myself for the evening upstairs on the smaller TV set.

Yes, when you’re the only boy sibling, you can be outnumbered.

At any rate, I skimmed the channels trying to find something to watch. Wouldn’t I know it, my favorite channel at the time, Nickelodeon, was airing a marathon of my favorite shows; I’m talking the classics right now: Doug, Rocko’s Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, and Rugrats.

While all these brain-rotting cartoons were playing, I noticed something during the commercial breaks. Every time a show went to break, some Nickelodeon personality would come on and talk about their “secret plan” for midnight. Apparently they had a “huge surprise planned for the New Year, which had never been done before and was supposed to shock everyone.”

“Wow,” I thought in my naiveté. “This could be something really awesome!!”

It got to be around 11:00 and I’ll admit, I was dying of anticipation. What were they going to do? How was it going to affect me? Is it going to be something outrageous? All of these thoughts swirled in my head.

As midnight approached and we were about to kiss 1996 goodbye, one of the Nick personalities came on to reveal the much anticipated surprise. I was ready for it, I was excited, and I was leaning toward the TV with a huge grin on my face…

Only to be incredibly and utterly disappointed.

The so-called “big surprise” was that Nickelodeon was going to slime Josh Server.

Who is Josh Server, you might ask? Exactly.

He was one of the worst actors on Nickelodeon’s kiddy, rip-off version of Saturday Night Live, a show called All That. He had (maybe) one good skit he was involved in on the show, but other than that he was considered to be one of the more downplayed and not-so-good actors on All That.

I couldn’t believe it. A whole night of anticipation…for that???!! More like a whole night of my life wasted away and robbed of what could have been an awesome surprise.

Maybe if Nickelodeon had said the big surprise is, “we are giving away a million dollars” it would have been kind of good. Better yet, if they had told us “the cast of All That will be making a surprise appearance at your house to give you a million dollars” it would have been better.

Looking back, I’m not sure what exactly I had expected. There’s only so much Nickelodeon can do to make a few kids happy, but I’ll admit, they sure were great at suckering me that night. I fell into their trap, as did others.

The next day, one my best friends called me on Nickelodeon’s “surprise.” He expressed his disgust at what they did and said how miserable he was when they revealed what they were going to do.

“I didn’t care,” he told me. “Why should I care if Josh Server gets slimed? I thought it was going to be epic, but it was just really dumb.”

He was right. I mean, it wouldn’t have been so bad if they didn’t make it sound like the greatest thing; the way the described it made it sound like they had the biggest, coolest, most amazing thing planned for midnight and it wound up being absolutely nothing.

I can’t really say I was completely robbed that night, however. I mean, I was able to relax and enjoy a fine night of cartoons, something every 9 year-old boy is entitled to. But looking at the situation overall, it was a bust.

New Year’s Eve, 1996 basically severed my trust ties with Nickelodeon. They built me up to knock me down. How could they do that to such an innocent young boy?

They suckered me that night. Really hard.