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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Exorcist XL: Is Friedkin's Film Blasphemy or Reverence?

With the 40th anniversary of what is arguably considered the most frightening horror film of all time--and unarguably the most financially successful--my intention has been to celebrate that milestone all year. Much like I did with the 25th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 2009, the 50th anniversary of Psycho in 2010, the 30th anniversary of An American Werewolf in London in 2011 and the 90th anniversary of Nosferatu in 2012. Alas, my schedule has made this more difficult than I originally planned, but at long last I'm able to sit down and put together the first of my "Exorcist XL" series, commemorating 40 years since the release of the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture...

Growing up as a Roman Catholic, The Exorcist was a film that has filled me with dread for as long as I can remember. On the sidebar of this very blog, I recount the traumatic experience of first being exposed to it at the tender age of 8. It was a film that had an aura of the forbidden, and seemed in many ways to be the literal embodiment of evil. However, over time, I've come to the conclusion that--far from the unholy terror it has often been portrayed to be--The Exorcist is actually a very pious work. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it pro-Catholic propaganda. And that's coming from someone with the utmost admiration for the film.

I've heard religious individuals condemn The Exorcist as being the work of the Devil, and of being an immoral and irresponsible movie that devout Christians should avoid at all costs. Never mind the fact that, to my knowledge, the Roman Catholic Church (nor any major religious group, for that matter) never came out openly against the film in any way. In fact, the film even had the full participation of the Jesuit order, and even lent one of their brethren, Fr. William O'Malley (a licensed exorcist) to not only consult on the film, but to even appear on camera as the character Fr. Dyer, close friend of Damien Karras.

Why would this be the case, if The Exorcist were in fact a Satanic, anti-Catholic movie? If anything, it is quite the opposite. Within the world of The Exorcist, the priests are the good guys--they are soldiers of Christ. In fact, the movie is almost medieval in its thinking, casting the scientists as misguided, ineffectual and even actively negligent in their inability to help Regan during her plight. God and the Devil are quite real here, and only the disciples of God can be of assistance. Von Sydow's Fr. Merrin knows this to be true, and calmly dismisses more secular approaches.

One can even go so far as to interpret Regan's possession as a punishment for her mother's atheism--a belief system that in the world of this film leaves her without the ability to protect her daughter in any way. Chris MacNeil must go on a journey that forces her to confront the existence of traditional spirituality--much like Fr. Karras must struggle with his own loss of faith. It is only when Karras abandons his nihilism and embraces the empathetic virtue of self-sacrifice that he is finally able to find a true solution that separates Regan and the demon (although one can argue his selflessness is not necessarily religious but simply humanist in nature.)

Those who choose to avoid The Exorcist because they consider themselves good Catholics are missing the whole point. The movie may portray things that are considered hideous and obscene sacrilege, but these are depicted solely to demonstrate the work of the Devil in all its explicit evil. The movie does not take the demon's side--if anything, it is the men of God whom we are most encouraged to root for. Regan's revolting words and actions are shown simply to make the defeat of the demon that much more satisfying. And there is nothing seen that cannot also be found in actual reports of exorcisms performed by Catholic priests. I do not believe the film glorifies these elements, but rather uses them to establish the significance of the threat.

In short, the world of The Exorcist postulates that God and the Devil exist, that radical good and evil also exist, and that Christian spirituality is better equipped to combat evil than man's 20th century secularism. In other words, it is an extremely traditional film in theme and philosophy, and not the sordid, blasphemous work its opponents have often characterized it to be. In fact, I'd go so far as to speculate that the film can be interpreted as alarmingly archaic in its traditionalism, eschewing modern humanistic developments for a very black-and-white, fire-and-brimstone Old Testament version of reality. Far from being a Satanic work, it could easily have been based on an ancient or medieval fable, intended to keep potential stray believers on the straight and narrow.

The Exorcist may make the Devil seem cool, but don't forget that in the end the Devil loses--and it's the power of Christ that compels him.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Faces of Fear: Vampires

Tonight we debut a brand new feature here in The Vault of Horror, in which we will spotlight various distinguished denizens of our nightmares. For our first edition, we take a look at what is perhaps horror's most iconic monster of all...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

VIDEO REVIEW! My Son and I Take on PACIFIC RIM, Guillermo del Toro's 21st Century Kaiju Masterpiece!

Direct from Jack's Movie Town, the movie review blog of my son Skeleton Jack (a.k.a. Wee-Sol), I give to you this very special video review of the film that single-handedly saved the summer of 2013 for me...

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