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

Max von Sydow as Father Merrin in 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

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