🎬 #42 The Exorcist's Most Chilling Moment.
Continuing the thread from last week are two more ‘horror’ films with two short scenes from each. Friedkin maintains he never set out to make a horror film with The Exorcist but instead a film about suffering a crisis of faith. At the anniversary screening I saw a few years ago, his post film Q&A confirmed this belief. Still, if you asked the general public to name a horror film, The Exorcist wouldn’t be too far from their tongue.
Yes, many people may look at it now and think the effects have aged, but nothing can dull its themes and therein lies the films enduring power to disturb, horror film or not.
The next film is one that scarred a young Bryan, and still probably does to this day in some respects. I remember the scene vividly from the Channel 4 Trailer that was promoting it, to the point that I avoided watching the channel past a certain time for fear the trailer would come on. It both made me close my eyes and seek it out with them forced wide open.
I purposely haven’t rewatched it since because it’s such a strange, unclassifiable film that veers in to the ridiculous. Yet somehow it’s the memory of one moment in it that still pulls at me. It conjures up that ancestral tingling sensation of threat when I think about it. The disbelief of seeing something impossible, peering inhumanly, around an open doorway. Voided in blackness, just right there at the end of a bedroom.
Happy choosing, happy viewing.
FILM ONE: THE EXORCIST
1973 Dir William Friedkin
The scene in question features no spinning heads, no spider walks, no vomiting. Just a young girl in a nightgown, interrupting a nice party thrown by her mother, played by Ellen Burstyn. The image harks back to a universal moment that may have happened in all our youths at one point of another. Getting out of bed when you can’t sleep and heading downstairs into the land of the grown-ups and the night time they get to enjoy before being promptly shuffled off to bed again.
But that’s where the similarities end. Chris, Regan’s mother, is an actress and so has interesting party guests - including an astronaut who’s soon due to go on a mission. The innocent looking [at this point] Regan, simply stands in the middle of the room and looks straight at the astronaut and declares ‘You’re going to die up there.’ Before promptly emptying her bladder on the floor. Her delivery so absolute, that it stuns the guests and as you’d imagine, leaves the astronaut more than a little on edge.
There are so many elements at work here that make this the most chilling moment in the film for me. The sharp contrast of a happy party to this moment of pin drop prophecy. The fact that a man of science is taken aback by her utterance. For a moment, all his knowledge and training doesn’t matter - he’s reduced to a young scared kid. Here is someone educated in the physical, the engineering and rock solid, right or wrong aspects of the world and yet he feels the pang of her fortune telling the sharpest, even before she wets herself. It’s handled so prosaically by Friedkin, one dolly move, three close-ups and two reaction shots. There’s no foreboding score to prepare us, it comes out of nowhere - just like the worst kind of news. The humanity of the party punctuated by the blankness, the inhumanity of Regan. The dread of something unearthly existing somewhere so earthly - a warm living room of a house in the full swing of a party. What evil could possibly enter here?
There’s also something unsettling about the interplay between space and religious iconography. Her mention of ‘up there’ both alluding to visions of eternal life in heaven associated with the catholic church and the unknowable void of space that is indifferent to our fate. Ascension upwards now means death, not eternal life.
Prophecy and superstition are part of being a human - we hope for things to happen and not happen, there are visuals and motifs that we avoid for fear that something bad may happen. These still exist, no matter how hard line we might be about how the world works and how these superstitions play no part in the logical person’s world view. It’s the mere fact that an idea has been spoken that breaks that logic and opens things up to the possibility that a terrible accident might happen. In this scene we hear the first words of a demon. An uttered foretelling with all the hallowed power of a fallen god.
An all knowing evil speaks about something its new human body could’ve never known. That the man was an astronaut and now he’s going to die up there.
TL;DR Why should I spend 2 hours 2 mins of my life watching this? Friedkin’s landmark film deserves to be revisited time and time again to get beyond the vomit and to the real revelation that even in faith, evil can lurk.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, YouTube, Apple, and SkyStore.
Fact: The astronaut character in The Exorcist makes another appearance in Blatty’s other novel ‘The Ninth Configuration.’
FILM TWO: COMMUNION
1973 Dir Phillipe Mora
Like I mentioned, I didn’t want to spoil the memory of this scene by rewatching the film. A quick primer on it - Whitely Strieber is a novelist who succumbs to strange visitations while at his family’s remote cabin. He undergoes hypnotic regression to figure out exactly is going on.
Even as a kid there was an oddity to the film that kind of veered into comical - there is a scene where aliens are playing musical instruments, if memory serves me well. But no matter how light-hearted, surreal or ‘far-fetched’ it might have become, this one scene and indeed this one shot triggered my aversion to the classic almond eyed alien for many years to come. And if the YouTube comments on the clip are to be believed, it seems to have made the iconic alien our generation’s boogie man.
The scene comes whilst the Streiber family are staying in their remote cabin in upstate New York. Whitley, played by Christopher Walken, stays up late and witnesses this figure loom out of the darkness that frames his bedroom door. It leans out with an inhuman motion, and retracts its head just as stealthily. Then come the classic signs of alien abduction, bright lights and lost memories.
Then there are the thin and shadowed hand-like appendages that contort across his son’s frozen, screaming, face and their friend’s stunned expressions at something out of frame in their room too. It’s only after they realise they all had similar dreams that any further investigation is undertaken.
One of the factors why it was so disturbing to me is something it shares with the above scene in The Exorcist. The existence of something so impossible, so extraordinary in a place that’s so ordinary. If that thing can peer around his bedroom door, it can peer around mine too is the logic. It also taps into the fact that this chilling unknowable presence can be anywhere, even the place you consider the safest place in the world, your home. No human rules apply here, even in the dead of night in an idyllic cabin, your worst fears can come to pass - something has made it into your sanctuary and you’re powerless to do anything about it. Worse yet, you don’t know why it’s there or what it wants. It’s truly alien.
TL;DR Why should I spend 1 hours 49 mins of my life watching this? Communion is the wildest, weirdest and, in moments, the most chilling alien abduction film that left 10 year old me staring at the dark by the bedroom door for many years to come.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Apple.
Fact: Eric Clapton composed the title theme of the film.
Thanks for reading Video Shop ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.