The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The Exorcist made me giggle a little – but it’s still a good horror movie

with 14 comments

I’ve promised myself to stop talking so much about Mark Kermode.

I’ve told you before that this British film critic is a favourite of mine – passionate, articulated, knowledgeable, funny and a little bit provocative to make sure I’ll stay alert. But if I keep referring to his views all the time it will make me appear as if I’m just a silly fan girl, completely void confidence and ideas of my own.

However I couldn’t possibly write about The Exorcist without mentioning his name, so you have to excuse me for dragging him into my blog once again. Mark Kermode basically is “Mr Exorcist” after writing an entire book and numerous articles on the topic, time after time appointing it to the best film ever made.

Last time I heard him talking about it, he said he’d watched it 200 times, and by now I’m sure it’s even more. And he claims that every time he watches it, he discovers something new.

It’s the same sort of obsession as a friend of mine has with The Third Man and I’m a bit on the fence on how to react it. Should you pity those nutty people who spend so much time re-watching something they should know by heart by now when they could watch something new instead? (There has been a standing joke for months on the podcast where Kermode dwells about how he’s been unable to find a time slot to watch The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which he claims that he really would love to see but for some reason never get around to.)

Or should we envy them, for having a somewhat quirky feature in their personality that makes them appear more interesting than the rest of us? They know something that we don’t and if we just were smart enough we too would see why The Exorcist is worth 200 viewings.

Revisit after 20 years
Given that I often, although not always, agree with Kermode’s takes on films, I had fairly high expectations when I watched it recently in a theatre as it appeared in the programme of my local film club.

The first time I watched it was over 20 years ago, and all I could remember was that there was a possessed girl lying in a bed and that she could spin her head, which looked scary, and then there was a bad-ass priest, Max von Sydow who tried to cure her by the means of exorcism.

The question was: would a revisit make me notice something more? And how well would it hold up after all those years considering the development in the special effects department and the increasing amount of gore we’ve been exposed to and learned to expect from horror movies? Would it be that scary masterpiece I imagined or could it be that people hold it so high out of pure nostalgia for their first truly upsetting experiences of movie watching in their lost youth?

As far as the plot goes I’d say that my recollection was pretty accurate; it’s a simple and straightforward story.  If you need a refresher, the 30 second bunny version wraps it up perfectly. 

I haven’t read Kermodes book but I’m a little bit puzzled at the idea of writing an entire book about it. How could you possibly have that much to say? There must have been a lot of hidden layers that I didn’t spot.

Giggling at The Devil
This said: I was positively surprised at how modern it felt. There was no CGI, no motion caption technique, no 3d, and yet the special effects left nothing to complain about.

I particularly liked how they didn’t overuse cheap silly scare effects, you know when they fire off a sudden sound or light effect and you get an automatic jump reaction in your chair and then you see that you’ve been tricked because it wasn’t a “real” horror this time, only a cat or some other natural explanation. I only noticed one use in the entire movie, and that’s a level I can live with. Too much of it and I feel transported to an amusement park, rather than engaging myself in a story.

Most of the time I felt pretty much involved in the events o the screen and if not frightened, at least sufficiently uncomfortable, which is what I expect from a horror movie.

Oddly enough I had a far worse time watching her going through medical examinations of her brain at a hospital than watching her hovering in the air, shouting with a man’s voice that she was the devil. Even if they were technically well made, there was something about the possessed-girl-in-a-bed scenes that occasionally made me giggle rather than shiver.

I guess The Devil is a little bit hard to take seriously when you’re a firm believer in his non-existence. (The final scene in Rosemary’s Baby had a similar effect on me for the same reason.) I also think it didn’t help that I went to see it on my own. Horror movies are pretty much like rollercoaster rides: you’re more likely to scream if you’re in company with someone who is freaked out. The fear is contagious.

Rosemary’s Baby vs The Exorcist
Finally I owe you a verdict. As I watched Rosemary’s Baby earlier this autumn I promised to match it against The Exorcist. Which one did I like best?

I struggled to make up my mind since they’re so different to each other and therefore hard to compare.

Where Rosemary’s Baby is about a creepy, increasing suspension, The Exorcist is about shock and terror. Both managed to scare me, but also gave me a few involuntary laughs. Both look great, both are well crafted, both have good actors.

Usually I prefer psychology to gore in horror movies, which should give Rosemary’s baby an advantage. However, while it’s a close call I’ll go for The Exorcist.

The tipping point? Max von Sydow, who not only is a fellow Swede, but also one of my favourite actors.

I asked myself which of the two movies I’d rather watch again and came to the conclusion that it would be The Exorcist, since it would give me the chance to see von Sydow again.

However I’d firmly say no thank you to watching it 200 times. Mark Kermode may be a good film critic, but he clearly IS a bit nutty.

The Exorcist (William Friedkin, US, 1973) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

November 30, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in The Exorcist

14 Responses

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  1. Like you, I didn’t find this film particularly frightening, although I see how many people think it could be. Like you, I have no belief in Old Pitch, so I sort of wonder what the fuss is about. In fact, my main thought while watching was concern for Linda Blair. I can’s say that, as a parent of a 13-year-old and an 8-year-old, that I would subject either of my daughter to that sort of experience.

    Good comparison with Rosemary’s Baby, which I give the nod only because it relies almost entirely on mood and leaves virtually everything to the viewer’s imagination.

    And, I agree on horror movies being akin to rollercoasters (in fact, I’ve said that before). They’re lots more fun with other people.

    SJHoneywell

    November 30, 2011 at 1:31 am

    • I don’t know anything about Linda Blair and the making of the film, but yeah, if there isn’t any stand-in involved and she was very young… it must have been pretty daunting. Would be interesting to learn more about it; i guess it’s in Kermode’s book.

      Jessica

      November 30, 2011 at 9:53 am

  2. I read Exorcist the book before watching the movie and it scared the hell out of me. I watched the movie for the first time many years ago, and I remember loving it. However, recently I re-watched it with few friends to scare one of us.However, Netflix ruined it for me. They edited so much of it that it only remained repulsive. I guess I need to find an uncut version somewhere. But, it still remains to be my favorite Horror movie.

    SDG

    November 30, 2011 at 1:59 am

    • Edited? Ouch. For what reason? I don’t know what version I watched, but I can’t imagine my film club would go for a censored one. I didn’t have any feeling of that it had gone through a massacre.

      Jessica

      November 30, 2011 at 9:54 am

      • Yup. For one I remember, they cut the scene where she walks down the stairs in that arc. Maybe, there were more that I don’t remember.

        I haven’t have the faintest of clues why would they do that. I mean how stupid ca you be??

        SDG

        November 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm

  3. teehee I am the same as you when it come to Kermode… He is god.

    I havent seen this for ages and I remember wondering what the fuss was about. It was silly ad not scary at all.

    Great write up as ever my friend

    Scott Lawlor

    November 30, 2011 at 8:43 am

    • Thanks Scott. I think you might want to pay it a re-visit, if nothing else for 70s nostalgia… I enjoyed my watching. And again: if nothing else, see it for the sake of Max von Sydow.

      Jessica

      November 30, 2011 at 9:54 am

  4. I still find it shocking and can’t begin to imagine the impact it had on a 70s audience! Even to an agnostic like me, it left me fearing oiuja boards and posession like no other movie has since. The voice, the make up and the script add up to Regan becoming one of cinema’s greatest monsters! Not sure 200 viewings are needed but love all the stuff that’s been written about the film. I think it deserves the attention.

    Pete

    November 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    • Yay, a fan! I certainly think it had an impact and even though I’m not an expert in horror movies I reckon thare must have been quite a few followers.

      Jessica

      November 30, 2011 at 10:19 pm

  5. The Exorcist has to be one of the most powerful films horror films ever – the scariest without a doubt. The effect it had on audiences is proof positive the film has something most films, horror or otherwise, do not. Not once, during the many times I’ve watched the film, have I found it in the slightest bit amusing. In the same way as those that think it’s funny can’t understand what all the fuss is about when people say it is the scariest thing they’ve ever seen, I can’t understand why people think it is funny.

    For me there is nothing funny about a religious man of the church struggling with his own faith, regretting the final days he had with his mother, and a mother who cannot begin to contemplate how she can protect her only child from an unimaginable evil. And, then there’s the girl – seemingly lost to something that cannot be understood, that cannot be defeated, that will not go away. It is very powerful stuff.

    Dan

    December 1, 2011 at 12:44 am

    • I agree about the seriousness of the story. Basically not much to laugh at. What made me giggle though was seeing the little girl pulling out her bluish tongue and such things. I couldn’t keep a completely straight face. It’s not a reaction I wished for, it was involountary. What can I say? It looked funny. Maybe I wasn’t immersed enough. I can’t say that I’ve watched too many horror movies, because I haven’t, basically horror is not my preferred genre and I tend to avoid them. But there was something funny about HOW devilish the devil possessed girl looked. It didn’t spoil the movie for me though. I enjoyed it throughly, which I hope is evident from my review.

      Jessica

      December 1, 2011 at 8:05 am

      • Yeah, your passion for the film is evident in the review…a great read by the way.

        Have you seen Scary Movie 2 or Repossessed? Both films spoof Regan’s character and do it really well. I think the bit you say is one of those instances when the demon is showing off his ability to play Regan’s body like a puppet. In some ways it is amusing I suppose but also very scary.

        Dan

        December 5, 2011 at 4:53 pm

        • Nope, I’ve seen none of those. To be honest I’m not all that much into horror movies, alhtough I make a few exceptions. In this case I got a push to watch a couple of horror movies since it was one of the themes this year at my local film club.

          Jessica

          December 5, 2011 at 11:51 pm

  6. […] Jessica at The Velvet Cafe is the yin to my yang. That movie that still freaks me out? It gave her a laugh. […]


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