The Classics of Horror #8 – The Exorcist (1973)

I knew when I started my blog that, sooner or later, I would have gotten the chance to review this genre masterpiece. And now I feel like I’m not ready to do it.

What can you say about an exceptional product that has been disected over and over throughout the years by the best critics in history? How do you approach the “scariest movie ever made” and make it justice? What smart comment can you add to what has been said millions of times before?

Reviewing The Exorcist is simply an impossible task.

However, I’ll try my best to pinpoint some of the incredible features that made this film so great and influential.

Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, the first game-winning decision by Warner Brothers in the making of the film was to hire the author himself as screenwriter and put William Friedkin at the helm.

The involvement of the author of the novel guarantees a substantial loyalty to the source material and its themes, whereas Friedkin’s direction adds the gritty realism and shocking value required for a movie like that.

We all know the plot of The Exorcist: a little girl, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), in Georgetown is possessed by an insidious demon. Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), a famous actress, takes Regan to several doctors, experts and psychiatrists, whose attempts to cure the girl are utterly useless.

Close-up of a bruised Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil sitting in chair.Despite being a devout atheist, Chris then clutches for the last straw and summons a priest to help her: Father Karras (Jason Miller), who himself is dealing with grief and anger due to his mother’s death, is however unable to provide the proper support, so that he uses expert exorcist Father Merrin to perform the exorcism and backs him up throughout the process.

Running for about two hours, The Exorcist never has a single dull moment. The build up to the climactic battle between good and evil, God and Devil, the two priests and Pazuzu is as compelling as the ritual itself.

The Exorcist 1The story, unheard back then in a first-class drama, is compelling because there are no disposable characters. Every single cast member is on point in their performance: the doctors are not just oblivious paper-thin figures; instead they cleverly try every way to improve Regan’s conditions, convinced they derive from some form of disease or mental illness that could be treated medically.

The accuracy with which Friedkin approaches the medical exams and attempts is mesmerising. From the machinery to the hospital procedures, every single scene involving a scientific feature is spotless.

The audience is, therefore, compelled to the story because it looks extremely realistic (even though the subject matter might seem absurd to the sceptics) and emotionally attached to the characters.

Ellen Burstyn’s performance, in particular, is truly Oscar-worthy: the viewer feels for her as a mother, mostly because her acting is top-notch and her love for Regan overcomes her fear and desperation even in the darkest (and scariest) moments.

Linda Blair, as Regan MacNeil, is also perfectly cast. Starting off as a sweet, innocent girl, she soon turns into one of the most iconic and scariest characters in cinema history.

The Exorcist 3The practicality of the effects, combined with Blair’s acting skills, make for gut-wrenching possession scenes. Although a couple of them were clearly sped up in the editing room, The Exorcist holds up better than 95% of the movies that came out in the 2000s.

This film is genuinely frightening on many levels: from the actual scenes depicted in the movie to the implications hidden in every dialogue.

Featuring no exposition whatsoever, The Exorcist is ahead of its time and, thus, an immortal motion picture that unlikely will lose impact in the years to come.

Since it’s an actual scary film that doesn’t need jump-scares to startle the audience, this movie is not an easy watch. For example, my parents (who are in their 50s) still can’t manage to sit through it in its entirety.

The Exorcist 4In particular, the sequences in which Regan stabs her intimate zone with a holy cross or those where she unnaturally twists her neck are genuinely off-putting and disturbing, no matter how old you are or how many horror movies you’ve seen.

Yet, the constant aura of angst and uneasiness is carried throughout the film because of the immaculate cinematography created by Owen Roizman and the soundtrack by Michael Oldfield, easily the best horror score in cinema history.

Besides a minute lack of explanation about the death of a doctor (probably killed by Regan under the control of Pazuzu), The Exorcist is a solid film that has it all. Do you really need me to recommend it?

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The Classics of Horror #4 – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

PREMISE: as you might know if you have been following my series on the classics of horror, I’m tackling 20 milestones of the genre chronologically.

Does it mean that I’m skipping Psycho (1960)? No way, I would never commit such a crime against humanity. I just decided to switch the two movies – Psycho and Rosemary – around, because my girlfriend bought us tickets for an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s film on Friday 14th, which means I can make a ‘special’ review for it that will come out on Monday 17th.

 

With all of that said, let’s dive into what is considered one of the best (if not the best) horror film of all time – Rosemary’s Baby.

In all fairness, though, the definition of ‘best horror of all time’ has been labelled to half of the iconic movies on this list.

Anyway, directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby tells the story of a wealthy couple – Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow), a bright but naive young housewife, and Guy (John Cassavetes), her husband, a struggling actor – that move into a new apartment in New York City.

However, what seems to be just flowers and unicorns, soon turns into an ocean of awkwardness, angst and fear, with Rosemary and Guy being surrounded by macabre events and nosy neighbours who seem to have an obsessive curiosity for ‘Ro’ and her future kid…

rosemarys-baby-blu-ray-screenshotFirst addition to the series originally made in technicolour, Rosemary’s Baby is a journey within fears and concerns of a woman who’s about to get pregnant from a self-centred husband all wrapped into his career and aspirations. It’s a maternity story told through the lens of mystery and horror, since the troubles Rosemary goes through in the film are either caused by her unstable psychological health or witchcrafts elaborated by people around her. Which one of those if for the viewer to figure out throughout the runtime.

According to modern standards, this film appears more as a psychological thriller – with supernatural elements in it – than a pure horror. Nonetheless, the audience back in the 60s was shocked by Polanski’s movie.

In fact, me and my girlfriend (who I re-watched the film with) struggled to believe the director got away with so many naked scenes, considering how puritan America was in the 60s.

Other than that, Rosemary’s Baby manages to be highly unsettling for its themes and some gross and gut-wrenching scenes – according to the standards at the time.

Rosemary's baby 1The effectiveness of such crucial moments in the movie is guaranteed by the performances – Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet (the nosy neighbour) won a well-deserved Award for Best Supporting Actress, for example.

The cast should be praised for that, obviously, but Polanski and his ‘awful behaviour on set’ (according to Mia Farrow) played a massive role in the film and its realism. For instance, Farrow was vegetarian when the film was shot but the director forced her to eat real rabbit liver in front of the camera to make the sequence more realistic – which brings me to believe that her throwing up in the sink straight after wasn’t in the script but more so a genuine reaction…

RosemarysBaby 4Yet, another prime example is the scene where Rosemary walks into traffic, which was spontaneous and genuine: Polanski told Farrow that “nobody will hit a pregnant woman”!

Besides all of that, I believe Rosemary’s Baby is the first ‘modern’ horror on this list, in terms of scare factors and enjoyability. However, although deemed as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, the film isn’t flawless.

Being two hours and fifteen minutes long, the first half hour drags a bit too much – it develops the character and takes its time to set up the story, but could have been cut shorter by getting rid of a few unnecessary sequences. Or, alternatively, could have been utilised to better explain the frustrations and anxieties of Guy, silent protagonist of this motion picture.

Also, the ending is a bit disappointing, even though it doesn’t ruin the movie even in the slightest.

Apart from these little flaws, Rosemary’s Baby deserved the title of masterpiece, featuring a great and purposely earing soundtrack that completes each scene masterfully.

Definitely a must-see for all horror fans out there, don’t miss it out. Cheers!