Movies & TV

From Under A Rock: The Exorcist

October 8, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: The Exorcist  


Every so often, we get to do one of these columns that I consider to be a “big” one. This week’s pick is iconic. It’s a classic. Everyone has heard of this film. Most people have seen it. I actually hadn’t seen it until last year, where I decided I was going to watch a horror movie every day in October. I was in love with the story, the execution of it, and there is some very unsettling horror in it, so it was only fair that I brought it for this column so Aaron could give it a watch.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron brought Snowpiercer to the table. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock and twists his head around with The Exorcist.

The Exorcist
Released: December 26th, 1973
Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: William Peter Blatty
Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil
Max Van Sydow as Father Lankester Merrin
Jason Miller as Dr. Damian Karras
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil
Mercedes McCambridge as Pazuzu

Michael Ornelas: Since I really started diving into the genre in 2012, horror has quickly become one of my favorite forms of entertainment to consume. There’s something about a good horror movie that you just can’t find anywhere else, and I love that thrill. This pick is full of good horror moments, but also it has a fantastic story.

Aaron Hubbard: I am more a fan of psychological thrillers than horror films, but find that most of the best ones work as both. A film that gets in my head and haunts me for a long time is usually going to be more memorable than meaningless jump scares. The Exorcist works on that level.
The Embodiment of Evil
Michael: This film was very divisive at the time it was released, and a lot of that is because of the vulgarity spewed by Pazuzu while inhabiting a little girl’s body. So we’re giving this filthy lines to Linda Blair, and that didn’t sit well with society. But isn’t that the point? Seeing Regan’s innocence before the possession is crucial in making the audience want to see the demon cast out. I’m a big fan of the idea that nothing is taboo if it serves the project well, and this is easily a masterpiece in doing just that in the early(ish) days of film.

Aaron: Early? Heh. Okay. But yeah, I tend to side with you on this one. Kids are rarely as innocent as people would like them to be, and I feel that as long as no serious psychological or physical harm comes to them, this sort of thing is fine. I think about a film like The Babadook or The Shining and I don’t think those films would work as well without kids. In some ways, children actually have an easier time coping with this than adults; they are used to playing pretend.

Michael: It really effectively adds to the creep factor this movie, and also raises the stakes brilliantly. We lose the lives of two priests who are performing the exorcism, yet somehow, we (as an audience) feel like we won in the end because the little girl survived. While almost an unfair trump card, the use of children in horror will always feel like a natural pairing.
Superstition Reigns Supreme
Aaron: While I overall like The Exorcist, I find myself reserved about loving it because of its big idea. Intentional or not, the message of this movie is that the only way to deal with supernatural conflict is to rely on God and our spiritual leaders. Yes, it gives lip service to the advances in medicine and psychology, but at the end of the day, Regan is possessed and the only solution is an exorcism. Does that make The Exorcist a bad movie? No. But it does make me roll my eyes a bit.

Michael: I think we get from a movie that which we bring to it. As someone who’s not exactly the most religious guy, I personally didn’t view this as a recruiting tool to Catholicism. Karras expressed that he felt he may be losing the faith, and his stalwart resolve to not abandon it ultimately got him killed in the end. Sure, it was self-sacrifice in a way that is reminiscent of Christ, but for someone like me, where that message doesn’t exactly resonate, I feel it has a completely different message. It’s also set in a time where turning to religion was the norm, and so nothing feels out of place. I’d argue that religion and horror go together just as much as children and horror. Even as recently as this year’s The Witch, we’re seeing religious extremes portrayed on-screen in the genre. I know that you personally don’t enjoy seeing religion as the “answer” to the problems presented in horror, and I get that, but The Conjuring did that, and that movie kicked all sorts of ass.

Aaron: I’m glad you brought up The Witch, because I appreciate how it subverts expectations by making Christian piety the real horror of the film. And yes, The Exorcist is a product of its time, but I also watch it and think about how backwards those times were on this front. I’m not against people having faith, but having these supernatural Boogeymen and pretending that Wiccans or Dungeons and Dragons or a Ouija board actually summons demons just annoys me on a personal level. The Exorcist largely gets a pass for being the Ur Text of this genre, but I wish more films found creative ways to approach killing demons. The fact that it’s 2016 and The Conjuring 2 is still following this formula is pretty damning, in my opinion.
How’d They Do That?
Michael: I think this film’s true legacy comes down to just how amazing the effects are done. When you look at some of the things they accomplished, and they year they filmed this…it’s truly amazing. It’s a technical marvel in practical effects, from the bed violently tossing Regan about, to her floating in the air, the spider walk, and of course the head twist. Everyone knows of these before they even see the film and that shows just how iconic this movie has been in pop culture and the horror genre specifically.

Aaron: “Iconic” is definitely an apt phrase. I alluded to it earlier, but people are still ripping off this movie today. Very few movies have that kind of influence. I was impressed by all of this stuff even today, though the makeup could have been a little better. But all the things you mentioned really stand out as great moments. And fortunately the performances and story around it help make those moments resonate beyond simply being “cool”.

Michael: Cool effects without context or good performances are wasted, so you’re absolutely right about the rest of the movie really selling these moments. And the makeup was alright, in the sense that I fear if it had been done today, it would look ridiculous or over-the-top. I think that the perfect storm of time (and its available effects), creativity, and performance came together to make this movie work on all visual fronts.

Aaron: While I have my reservations about the themes of this movie, I won’t hold that against it. This movie is a wonderfully executed drama and has iconic scares with fantastic makeup and visual effects for the time. I am definitely glad I saw it.


Michael: It almost feels blasphemous to give this movie anything but the top grade, but I actually have to agree with Aaron’s rating, albeit for different reasons. I love this movie, and think it’s so effective at pretty much everything it sets out to do…with the exception of the pacing of the first act. The first time I watched it, I was glued to the screen simply because of the movie’s reputation as one of the greats (which it is), but upon my rewatch, I felt that it dragged a bit until the possession occurred, and I’m pretty sure Aaron had a similar feeling about that. But the cinematography, acting, direction, special effects…everything else was truly perfect.


Aaron: I have to agree. That said, we both watched the extended cut, and I wonder how the theatrical edition holds up.

Michael: Oh yeah. Good thing to note. From what I’ve read, it feels a little bit better, but we watched what we had available to us.

What’s your favorite religious horror film?

Next week:

Aaron: Well, a Halloween theme isn’t going to keep me from picking superhero movies. Nothing will! But this one is certainly different.
Michael: I’m pumped for this. Del Toro movies are visual treats, and I expect this to be no different!

Aaron: This certainly has that going for it; the makeup in this movie and its sequel is some of my favorite in film.

What is your favorite comic book movie not featuring DC or Marvel?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist

Michael’s Still Doing His Web Series!
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellent! He even dusted off his classical percussion training and put it to good use in order to really make this one work!

Aaron Has Another Column!
October is dedicated to a four part list, The Top 52 DC Heroes. From Deadman to Superboy, from Hawkgirl to Guy Gardner, some of the most unsung heroes in comics get their due here.

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for almost 600 films. I will steadily be adding reviews for them as well as creating various lists that anonymous internet commenters can vehemently disagree with!

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
The Exorcist is one of the most famous and influential films we've covered in this column. If you're a fan of horror, this is a must-see landmark film, and it actually lives up to the hype. Disturbing and scary, well written and well acted, and featuring impressive practical effects, it will continue to leave an impact on audiences and on the movie industry for a long time yet.