Posted: 10/11/2000

 

The Exorcist

(1973)

by Hank Yuloff



How do you review “The Scariest Movie Ever Made”?


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How do you review “the Scariest Movie Ever Made?”

Do you look at it through 1973 eyes? When I was 13 and it scared the bejezeeus out of me, causing me to be afraid of the dark for months. Or do I look at it through Year 2000 eyes? After all, director William Friedkin (Rules of Engagement, Blue Chips) re-mastered it, added scenes and sent it out to the world to be seen… and therefore judged.

A difficult call. And I will cop out and use a little of all of it.

I didn’t have to keep reminding myself: It’s ONLY a movie. Probably because I knew what was coming. All the scary stuff:

Here’s where Regan pees on the floor.

Here’s where the Quiji board thingie jumps into Regan’s hands.

Here’s where her head twists around for the first time.

Here’s where she WALKS DOWN THE STAIRWAY UPSIDE DOWN, SPITTING BLOOD!

(I only knew about that because of interviews with the director. I’m sorry I knew it was coming.)

Here’s where we keep seeing images of the devil etc. behind the characters. Was that new? I didn’t remember it. And it is SPOOKY.

Oh yea, the story: C’mon, you haven’t heard about The Exorcist? Sigh.

An 11-year-old girl (Regan MacNeil, played by Linda Blair) is possessed.

By the devil? By a lesion in her brain? By her mind? That’s what her mother (Chris MacNeil, played by Ellen Burstyn) is trying to find out. When regular medicine and psychiatry throw up their hands, Burstyn turns to the Catholic church. I guess you could say the devil made her do it. (sorry… couldn’t resist the homage to Flip Wilson).

The Exorcist does a good job of scaring you, but I kept thinking that I was given too much time to prepare myself for the scary stuff that was coming. The movie telegraphs the punch as we continually get close-ups of Regan’s mom who gets a scared OH MY GOD look on her face. In 1973, first time viewing… I jump. In 2000, it’s oh yea, I vaguely remember this.

What did make me jump this time was the remastered sound track. There are a good half dozen times when the sheer volume of the sound track startled me: Loud music in a bar, a phone ringing. But some times that remastered track distracts: During a party at the MacNeil household, it sounds like an early stereo sound track where there is a definite left and right, but the balance is not quite right—in other words the background noise is too loud.

And, as long as I admit to seeing this through Year 2000 eyes, I’ll admit I also had a few challenges: If I was Sharon Spenser (Burstyn’s assistant) and my boss’ kid starts spinning around and spewing Nickelodeon green stuff on everybody, I AM OUT OF THERE. I’m not putting a radio ear piece in my ear to block out the sound. And I am certainly not getting close enough to the child/beast to read the words ‘HELP ME’ on her chest. Not even a remote possibility.

Same thing with the butler, Max. And with the housekeeper. There have got to be better places to clean and “butle.” And why did the Catholic church send just two priests into battle. Hey—If I’m going into a battle with the “King of Evil,” I’m sending in more than an aged, heart- failing priest along with a shrink who thinks he is losing his faith. It’s like sending a Triple-A line up against Pedro Martinez. How ‘bout a couple of Bishops or Cardinals, at least (If you’re Catholic and take offense to this, I apologize… I speak from the ignorance of logic in movies).

And how did Regan go from being tied up, to untied, to being tied up again? If you see the movie, watch the progression of this, especially during the exorcism.

If the story didn’t quite keep me scared, the special effects did generally hold up well from 1973. Also the dialog is very conversational and believable. But there are some things which date the movie which will jump out at you: A doctor smoking during a consultation. Or a reel to reel tape player. But those were the standard of the day and allowances must be made.

“Scariest Movie Ever Made”? For its time, yes.

For a first time viewer now? Maybe. Except for The Omen—whose music was much more haunting.

For a viewer who saw it when it was new? Probably not, but it was kind of fun to hear that haunting music again… and remember being afraid of the dark.

Boo.

Hank Yuloff is a writer and entertainment entrepreneur living in Los Angeles.



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