It was 1973, I was fifteen and took a girl on our first date to see.......The Exorcist.
Need I go on? What was I thinking? I obviously wasn’t thinking much at all. There were reports in the newspaper that people had killed themselves after seeing this film. Do you think that might have made me pause and reconsider?? The film’s poster logline read “the scariest movie of all time”; do you think that might have made me stop and weigh things up?
The bus journey home, from downtown Portsmouth - we’d been to the ABC (or was it the Granada?) was usually my chance to slip up to the top deck with the young lady in question and break out my packet of 10 Gold Leaf (you could still smoke on buses then and still buy cigarettes in tens), inveigle my arm round my date’s shoulder, light up two ciggies and, I dunno, make like I was the suave Simon Templar from TV's The Saint.
Instead, this night, this journey home, was spent reassuring the young lady (and probably myself) that Lucifer the Prince of Darkness wasn’t going to get either of us between the bus stop and home (not a short walk). More than thirty years on (and some) and I must repeat: “what was I thinking”?!
All that said, how good was/is William Friedkin’s film of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay (I think he wrote the book as well)? With Ellen Burstyn as the mother, Max Von Sydow as Father Merrin; as for Linda Blair’s performance as Regan?! Linda Blair was never really seen much again after that
....surprise, surprise. Twenty bucks says that her agent was fending off disturbed teenager role after disturbed teenager role after that. It’s weird, but that’s how it works. You make a name for yourself in one particular role or one particular genre (actor, director, producer, writer) and the world thinks that’s what you want to make again and again and again? Was Linda Blair in much of anything after that? "Yes" comes the resounding cry, "...amongst other things, she was in The Exorcist II: The Heretic". Anyone remember that?
I’ve actually bought the re-mastered, digitised new DVD version of The Exorcist, which also carries a logline: “Brace yourself for the version you’ve never seen.” Do you think I’m hoping for another romantic night?
Horror is the perennial genre. Just when you think it’s dead, gone away and washed up, out comes the film that re-invents the category all over again. The Exorcist did it in 1973, The Amityville Horror (1979), The Shining in 1980, Blair Witch in 1999 and so on. Each is preceded by some scary, urban-myth hype where fiction and falsehoods blur with reality and each time the genre is reinvigorated for another ten years.
I’ve little or no expertise in this field, especially these days. A Horror film with something more, dare I say “substance” like The Exorcist or The Shining, I’m up for but gruesomeness just for the sake of gruesomeness is not my cup of slime or blood. It may well be your bag, don’t let me stop you. I’m old school I guess. the first two James Whale Frankenstein movies, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, Dracula, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde and I’m done, with one exception.....
It’s not a film, it was a TV series that screened in England when I was a kid and it was called The Singing Ringing Tree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Did I put enough exclamation marks behind that title to transmit the fright, the terror and the dread which crept, insidiously into my life from watching that European-made expressionistic piece that they put on during the children’s hour?? All I remember was that there was a dwarf (for some reason he calls to mind Bob in Twin Peaks) who scampered around and I think he was a hunchback too. I know, this all sounds very politically incorrect, but if you’re reading this and you saw that show (I daren’t even Youtube it) you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Regan spinning her head round was a walk through daisies in comparison.
Day #50 Tip: Look To What Scares Us
When I was back in the UK not so many years back, doing my writer’s stint at The Script Factory, I was earning some part-time shekels at a research company in Hammersmith (now we’re really talking Horror...Hammersmith Broadway on cold, grey, windy, March, Tuesday morning).
I was stuffing and sealing a mountain of envelopes, locked away in a room with une autre part-timer, a young woman who had just finished her university thesis/paper on the very subject of the Horror genre.
The point that her "paper" made was this: history showed us, that in the movies, whatever it was that attacked/scared/cursed society (in the film) was a metaphor for something (outside of the film) in life that we - the community at large - were afraid of and that we needed to demonise if we were to get some peace of mind and sleep dafely in our beds at night. The example used as the centre piece of her dissertation was the 1933 movie King Kong.
Her theory went (and I don’t think she was alone) that the film King Kong represented the white man’s fear of the black man in modern society. She drew reference to the giant ape coming from the jungle, the beast being “intimately” involved with a white woman, the climax taking place in the great metropolis of New York and so on. I’m paraphrasing here and drawing on the small bits that I can recall, but what I do remember was that her argument was compelling; does that have any reference to why we keep remaking it.....I hope not?
Before we finished stuffing our envelopes, I took the opportunity to ask my new-found Horror friend, that, if I was to write a horror film set today, what should I pick as the fearsome antagonistic force. She told me that I should pick whatever society fears today.
What do I fear today? For a while it could have been SARS, bird flu, swine flu...it was even AIDS for an hysterical moment there in the 80's, but the threat of those medical pandemics come and go.
No, what really scares me today, are: giant corporations and ‘benign’ dictators who get in the ear of our governments and pull the strings that run the world - media moguls, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, the mining industry, Monsanto, Rupert Murdoch.....even Oprah’s seeming omnipotence gives me the heebie-jeebies (books thrive or wither on her say-so as do American Presidents - sorry but it just doesn’t sit right with me). Of course I’m worried about the “rogue nations”, the extreme right wing of politics, the frenzied righteous mob whipped up by tabloid media and the oil companies; one day, I’ll talk here about Ken Saro-Wiwa, the NIgerian environmental campaigner executed in 1995. Shell Oil had a black hand in that episode; that’s real Horror for you.
But like Clarice Starling in The Silence Of The Lambs (Psycho-Thriller not Horror) the real fear lies within us.