I am forever fascinated with both the visceral and psychological frights of this brilliant feat of filmmaking, writes Marshall Ward
I’ve heard it said that somewhere between science and superstition, there is another world — a world of darkness.
It’s a world that haunted my dreams as a child, from the first time I saw The Exorcist on television in 1980.
My scary movie collection is now vast, with hundreds of titles and personal favourites like Psycho, The Shining, The Evil Dead, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The Changeling, The Mist, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, It, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Conjuring.
50 years on from its initial theatrical release in 1973, I still consider The Exorcist the scariest film of all time as it continues to astonish and unsettle me like no other movie.
The artwork on the original VHS cover still captivates me. Evocatively photographed, it portrays the late-night arrival of Father Merrin outside the MacNeil home enshrouded in fog and eerily silhouetted, reminiscent of Rene Magritte’s famously atmospheric painting L’Empire des Lumieres.
Then there’s the stomach-churning geysers of pea soup, along with the gruesome scene of Regan stabbing herself with the cross.
Remarkably, The Exorcist is hauntingly beautiful and elegant and yet, at the same time, extremely vulgar and crass.
And it’s this paradox, between the terrors we observe on screen and the imperceptible ones we don’t, that left an indelible impact on me as a child, leaving me forever fascinated with both the visceral and psychological frights of this brilliant feat of filmmaking.
Regardless of how many times I’ve seen the film, I’m amazed by Linda Blair’s nightmarish levitation over the bed, the infamous 360-degree head spinning scene, and my favourite, the bone-chilling crab-walk down the stairs.
In the special features of the digitally re-mastered Blu-ray edition of The Exorcist, director William Friedkin reflects: “Over the years, I think most people take out of The Exorcist what they bring in. If you believe that the world is a dark and evil place, then The Exorcist will reinforce that. But if you believe there is a force of good that combats and eventually triumphs over evil, then you will be taking out of the film what we tried to put in.”
In honor of the film’s 50th anniversary, I highly recommend turning down the lights, turning up the sound, and enjoying The Exorcist, an unparalleled and ageless classic.
Check out Episode #101 of Bonn Park Podcast where Sara and I get ghoulish and talk horror movies and all things frightful with special guests Lina Shamoun and Vincent Marcone.