We watched The Exorcist last night. It was part of AMC’s MonsterFest so, being on AMC, it was a bit cut up and it was the original version, the one without the Regan spider walk, without some of the Captain Howdy flashes.
I saw The Exorcist in the theater when I was 11 years old. When I say I was raised on horror movies, I’m not exaggerating. My mother saw nothing wrong with taking a little kid to see a movie in which a young girl turns her head around, vomits on a priest and, oh yea, fucks herself with a crucifix. If someone took their 11 year old to see that film now, they’d be charged with child abuse, thanks to the pussification of our society.
I had already been through thousands of horror movies with my mother before that. Not much scared me. Scary movies entertain me, they don’t really frighten me. I’m more scared of movies where the antagonist is a real human, where the premise is a possibility, even if a remote one (see Last House on the Left), and I’m more creeped out by psychological mind fucks (see Session 9) than I am by gore and demons. But I love horror movies. I love the gore, I love the blood, I love the ridiculous demons (see Hellraiser). They just don’t scare me, per se.
I hadn’t seen The Exorcist since that the original release. It would show up on tv every once in a while, but I never sat down to watch it again, because I remember it as one of the only horror movie that gave me a real fright. Just one scene; one quick, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene that is almost inconsequential to the film and has nothing to do with Linda Blair’s histrionics. It’s about an hour into the film, where Father Karras is dreaming about his dead mother. She comes up out of a subway station and for about half a second the demonic face of Captain Howdy flashes on the screen:
Out of everything that happened in the movie, this is what frightened me. It was sudden and unexpected and it was so fast, such a quick burst of that image, that if it weren’t for the gasps from people around me, I would have doubted that the image existed at all.
According to this Exorcist fan site, there were several subliminal images like this inserted into the film which, for whatever reason, were taken out of the theatrical release but later inserted back into the film for one of the gazillion DVD versions that were put out. There’s a list of them here, most of them from the Version You’ve Never Seen DVD.
I wanted to watch the movie last night just to see if that scene still scared me, and to really watch the film with an understanding that I did not possess at 11 years old. With fresh eyes, so to speak.
Unfortunately, those “fresh eyes” have been jaded by nearly 40 years of horror movie watching. What was fresh and daring in 1973 seemed simplistic and predictable to me now. The movie seemed slow and tedious, with the character development and atmospheric build up making me feel restless and impatient. Maybe because I knew there were better parts (or so my memory thought) coming, maybe because I was waiting for that one particular scene. I thought a lot of the story was disjointed and messy; the unearthing of the artifacts in Iraq really didn’t play a very important part in the movie. It could have been done to the same degree without that background. I felt like a lot of the imagery was forced in order to make connections between everyone in the film. And what was the deal with the Homicide detective? He was an extraneous character that seemed to exist only to fill up time. What was never really explained was, why Regan? Why did the demon that was presumably unleashed in Iraq possess this little child in Georgetown? Was it the Ouija board? Were they trying to tell us what my grandmother insisted back in the 70′s, that playing with an Ouija board is an open invitation to let demons into your home?
Well, the scene finally came up with Father Karrass’s dream. There’s the subway, there’s his mother, there he is running for her, there…………oh damn it all to hell, I blinked. I literally blinked and missed it. My sole reason for watching – to see if that scene still scared me – was null and void.
We continued watching anyhow. I did see Captain Howdy at some other point in the movie, and I was disappointed, though not shocked, that they cut the scene with Regan and the crucifix. There were also typical AMC edits here and there and they cut out the entire “your mother sucks cocks in hell” dialogue instead of editing it. Which is fine, as AMC is notorious for bad editing.
The viewing wasn’t a total waste, however. There’s always unintended lessons to be learned from horror movies. For instance, when the priest tells the demon inside Regan that if he is really the devil, he can make her restraints disappear, it says “That’s much too vulgar a display of power….” So, I figured out where Pantera got an album title from.
And I also realized that I am still more frightened by the absolute depravity of a movie like Last House on the Left than I am by things that go bump in the night.
For your viewing pleasure, the deleted-from-the-original spider walk scene:
Some time before Halloween, I’ll tell you a story that involves some drunken teenagers, a “haunted” graveyard and the theme to the Exorcist.