31 Days Of Horror: The Exorcist

Today’s horror movie is The Exorcist (1973).

Steps from The Exorcist
The steps that everyone gets thrown down to their deaths!

We open in Northern Iraq on an archaeological dig, where an elderly archaeologist and his team find a demon head statuette and a metal pendant.  The old guy is a sort of grizzled Indiana-Jones-before-Indiana-Jones, and later in the film is revealed to be a priest (some guy here does call him ‘Father’, but I presumed it was his son).  He goes to look at another site that has a large statue similar to the small statuette, which seems to be causing dogs to fight.  All very confusing, and thus ends the Iraq sequence.

The action moves to Georgetown, Washington DC, where a clearly-quite-well-off lady lives with two house staff.  She turns out to be Chris MacNeil, an actress currently making a film around the Georgetown campus.  An apparently-important priest passes by as the director calls cut.

Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is used beautifully as Chris walks home!  The scene is very autumnal, clearly set at Hallowe’en time with leaves falling and kids in costumes everywhere.

Chris arrives home and greets her daughter Regan, who, at this point, is just a normal rich girl who wants a horse.

Father Damien Karras, the priest we saw earlier, stands on the subway platform and doesn’t help a homeless man, which is not very priestly.  Instead, he goes home and visits his elderly mother, who is refusing to move out of her house.

Father Karras smokes and drinks a lot.  Are priests allowed to do this?  Were things different in 1973?

Back at the MacNeil house, Regan turns out to have found a ouija board in the wardrobe and has apparently been talking to someone (supposedly an imaginary friend but one that seems to have telekinetic powers) through it.

Father Karras is in the pub now with his priest friend Tom Dyer, so I’m going to assume drinking is A-OK under the priest code.  Karras thinks he’s lost his faith, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the story.

Regan’s dad is a bit deadbeat and doesn’t call on Regan’s birthday, which leads to some over-the-phone hysterics and rudeness on Chris’ part.  This is kind of a theme throughout the film, I guess because she’s an actress and therefore a bit of a diva.

Chris investigates a noise in the attic that she thought earlier was rats.  House staff member Carl has also investigated, and says it’s not rats.  I’m not really sure what the point of this subplot is, because the ‘noise in the attic’ thing is not really followed up.

Karras’ mother is hospitalised in a public hospital because the family can’t afford private care.  Karras tells her he’ll take her home, but she won’t listen as she feels betrayed.

Chris hosts a fancy ’70s party with lots of booze and canapes, and some of the party guests talk about Karras – apparently it’s now a couple of weeks later and his mother died in her house alone, with her body not being discovered for two days.  This doesn’t really make any sense, as we last saw her in hospital, so we’re left to assume that Karras did indeed take her back home and then didn’t visit very often, despite her being so ill that she should really be in hospital.

Film director Burke Dennings gets really drunk and accuses someone else of being a Nazi.  This is not followed up either.

The ’70s party ends with a drunken piano singalong, but it’s interrupted by Regan, who, despite seeming perfectly normal when she was at the party in the earlier part of the evening, has suddenly switched to strange behaviour and urinates on the carpet.  She tells Chris her bed was shaking and asks what’s wrong with her – apparently she’s been seen by one of those highly competent horror movie doctors, who thinks it’s ‘nerves’ and has prescribed pills.

Next time Regan’s bed shakes, however, Chris is there to witness it, so she now knows there’s something strange going on.

‘I should have been there,’ Father Karras says about his mother’s death, and then has a dream about his mother coming out of a subway station, interspersed with images of the devil’s face and the pendant that the old priest/archaeologist found in Iraq.

Regan has undergone a full personality transplant now and is swearing and screaming at her doctors.  The chief specialist doesn’t believe Chris about the bed shaking, stating that some mental issues can cause abnormal strength.  Despite the fact that the doctors think it’s a brain lesion, an EEG shows up nothing, and when her spasms get more violent and the doctor comes to see her at home, there’s a brilliantly tense scene with Regan fighting the devil within her own body, the control going back and forth.  The doctors perform further scans, but again they show nothing.

Chris arrives home to find the lights flashing on and off and Regan alone in her bedroom with the window open.  House staff member Sharon arrives just afterwards and explains she left Regan with Burke for a few minutes while she went out, but Burke is nowhere to be found.  However, there’s soon a knock on the door – they just found Burke dead on the steps outside.

Side note: I’m very fond of the Exorcist steps because Geth and I visited them when we were in Washington DC in 2009!

The Exorcist steps, October 2009
We didn’t get chucked down them by a demon though.

A psychiatrist comes to talk to Regan/the devil, but is violently attacked.  We cut to Karras running on the Georgetown racetrack.  He should go for a run around Georgetown itself – it’d be much prettier!  He’s approached by a police officer, Lt. Kinderman, about Burke’s death, which was apparently now a week ago (it seems that the narrative of the film lasts for pretty much the whole of November).  Kinderman asks about witchcraft in relation to a church desecration that was shown earlier, as Burke’s body was found with his head twisted a hundred and eighty degrees, which indicates witchcraft…apparently?  He also wants Karras to come and see films with him, ’cause he’s a bit of a lonely film buff and wants someone to discuss them with.

The doctors are still attempting to come up with explanations for Regan’s condition – they now think it’s a rare sonnambulism.  The doctor actually suggests exorcism to Chris as a last resort, which in the real world would be nuts but in the horror movie world is a rare example of a doctor talking sense!

Chris discovers a cross under Regan’s pillow, and there’s a bit of pointless back-and-forth with the house staff about who put it there.  This is interrupted by a visit from Lt. Kinderman, who after diligently asking lots of questions about Burke’s death, turns into a shameless fanboy and asks for Chris’ autograph.  Nice that he’s got a hobby!  In the course of his questioning/theorising, though, Chris comes to the horrified realisation that Regan killed Burke.

There’s a horrific scene with the now completely possessed Regan raping herself with a crucifix, forcing her mother’s face into her own bloody crotch, and using telekinesis to move heavy furniture about.  It’s definitely time to get the priests involved.

Chris meets Father Karras and is surprised that Father Dyer, who was at her party, didn’t mention what happened with Regan.  Karras doesn’t believe exorcisms even happen anymore, but agrees to go and see Regan.  The devil indicates he knows about Karras’ failure to help the homeless man (‘Would you help an old altar boy, Father?’) and offers to take a message to his mother.  Despite this, it takes a few visits for Karras to be convinced that an exorcism is necessary.

Karras’ boss recommends Father Merrin as the only priest he knows who has experience with exorcism.  This turns out to be the old priest from Iraq, whom I’d forgotten all about at this point!  He shows up at the MacNeil house in a nice moody, atmospheric scene, and he and Karras crack on with the exorcism.

The whole exorcism is a really powerful sequence – Merrin is apparently an old hand, and so the devil concentrates on trying to break Karras’ will by mimicking his mother.  This eventually gets too much for Karras, and Merrin sends him outside so he can complete the exorcism alone.

Karras sits downstairs for a few minutes, but decides to go back and help when Chris expresses her fear that Regan will die.  As he goes upstairs, Lt. Kinderman arrives at the door, with nice convenient timing.

Karras goes back into the room to find that the devil has killed Merrin offscreen (it’s unclear how, but we know from earlier scenes that Merrin had a heart condition, so presumably the strain was just too much for him).  The devil and Karras get into a fist fight, and Karras sacrifices himself by asking the devil to enter him instead (I’ve no idea why the devil obeys!) and then throwing himself out of the window and down the stairs.  Lt. Kinderman’s convenient arrival enables him to enter the room (where a now unpossessed Regan is crying for her mother) and see everything that has happened.  Speaking of convenient arrivals, Father Dyer just happens to be outside and is able to give Father Karras the last rites before he dies.

Chris and Regan prepare to move out of the house, and Sharon seemingly quits her post, which is understandable.  Regan can’t remember what happened, but she has retained some sort of sense of gratitude towards the priests, and kisses Father Dyer as they leave.  Chris, meanwhile, gives Father Dyer the pendant that Father Merrin had brought back from Iraq, which I’m not sure is the luckiest gift in the world.

A lot of unexplained stuff in this film, but at least it ends better than Halloween 6!

Something slightly more recent tomorrow.

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