Archive for October 21st, 2019

Screen capture from Bong-Ho’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Parasite”

by Sam Juliano

I want to thank all those who have sent on heartfelt condolences on the loss of my Dad, they are appreciated more than you know.  A special shout out to my longtime friend Tony D’Ambra of Sydney, Australia for his exceedingly kind words via private message.  But so many have expressed themselves in a manner I won’t ever forget.  Thank you to Jamie Uhler for his generous gift and to the many who sent on mass cards and/or flowers.  The Wonders in the Dark community in general has gone above and beyond in every conceivable manner.

Jamie Uhler’s extraordinary Horror Fest 2019 series highlight the 1973 genre masterpiece The Exorcist:

The Exorcist (W. Friedkin… 1973)
Today, I provide capsule of a rewatch that is long overdue, a negligence that led me to often slag this film off, probably unfairly*. It was somewhat understandable, I’d first seen The Exorcist as a pre-teen on vacation in New Jersey at my Aunt and Uncle’s home on an evening where they succumbed to my badgering and pleading to rent some Horror videos on a day where rain unexpectedly kept us indoors. We met somewhere in the middle of a compromise; my Uncle letting the youngsters pick one and he pick the other, which led to me being more scared of our trashy, childish excursion (the original Child’s Play) than his, the titanic film in question today. It wasn’t hard to see why I’d pass it by then, I was much too young for its themes, instead giggling in glee at split pea soup projectiles, spinning heads and little else. I’d catch up with it again freshman year at Kent State, but, though it was the recently released 2000 edition that had that extended crab walk in reverse down stairs, the sequence I always recalled most vividly, it was a time in my life where a (free to students) university theater was regularly blowing my mind with the first genuine Art films I’d ever seen. Next to Jean-Luc Godard, who I had never even heard of, a film as blasé as a 10-time Oscar nominee seemed immensely lame. It’s the ignorance of youth of course, a trait matched only by youthful hubris, but that’s more or less how my opinion shuffled the Exorcist. Until now. 
Its story is iconic, so we need only paint the barest of outlines; when a young girl Regan (Linda Blair in a breakout role she’d never have the opportunity of matching) begins exhibiting surreal symptoms her actress mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn, who is tremendous as the grief stricken, desperate single mother) begins seeking prognosis. Eventually, a full team of Georgetown doctors (where the film takes place, the campus looking forebodingly colonial) are stumped, finally turning to exorcism as a last gasp attempt. Father Damien Karras is asked to perform the ritual, a task he does so with the help of Father Merrin (Max von Sydow, in makeup to age him 40 years), eventually casting the devil aside, but giving up his life to do so. In-between all this the movie is constructed in both quiet and incredibly incendiary moments; Karras’ guilt-stricken mourning over the recent passing of his mother forms the shell over the movie, a moving plot line you could miss (I certainly did as a younger man) amidst the pyrotechnics of Regan who shouts profanities, performs head-turning hysterics and spews chartreuse colored vomit at anyone who challenges the demonic forces that have taken up inside her (I never realized Mercedes McCambridge voiced the demon, which I found incredible hilarious—being the Johnny Guitar fan that I am). The film follows this idea in its construction too—Karras scenes are allowed to breath and become contemplative, while Regan’s ride is often cut off before scenes even resolve themselves, adding alarming unease whenever we return to the home returned to a state of relative normalcy (‘relative normalcy’ is a strange way to put it I understand, but when a scene cuts as a hall tree, that is under the control of the Devil, is rapidly approaching Chris, who sits shaken on the floor bleeding, we don’t know how it ends. It can’t end well? But the next time we see the house, Chris is fine, and the room is in the most orderly state we could expect given the circumstances).
The film is revered, and I understand why now. For maybe the first time fully, I see how it’s said that it did for Horror what 2001: A Space Odyssey did for science fiction. Taking the earlier, monumental works like Psycho, that blazed Horror into the modern world even farther. Others had done it sure, but virtual none of those had the ability to latch so deeply into the mainstream. It’s as if the earlier, deeply psychological work on Pinter’s The Birthday Party matched with the filmmaking chops exhibited on The French Connection two years prior gave Friedkin his see-saw aesthetic, his last real gasp into masterful filmmaking. He’d touch it here and there afterwards (To Live and Die in LA, about half of the trash classic Jade) but he was over almost as soon as he’d arrived. You can call is a shame, but it hardly matters, as for more than 2 hours he masterfully remained in the air, performing a high-wire act for all times. 


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