Last night I had the wonderful oppurtunity to watch The Exorcist on a projector screen for the first time in my life, in all of it's nasty glory. I've been looking forward to it for weeks, and it did far from disappoint, not to mention the fact that it was "The Version You've Never Seen" made it that much more fun. Horror movies are meant to be seen in a theater; on a big screen with a good sound system, comfy chair and plenty of attentive faces pointed at the screen, yours only a dot in the sea of them. Last night was an amazing experience for me for a variety of reasons, getting the to see the film in a theater was only one, but it showed me a lot about the horror genre and how it still stands up in today's society.
Walking into that theater, I had a lot of thoughts going through my head mainly focused on what the audience reaction was going to be. Would the scariest film of all time still hold up? Would there be laughs and guffaws at the intended terror? Or was everyone there to watch an old classic they've seen a dozen times, only in a better setting and in it's proper format? The answers to those questions left me pleasantly surprised.
I am sure that if you are reading this right now that you consider yourself a fan of the horror genre, so I don't think I have to get into the semantics of what this particular film means to the horror community. There will never be another like it. While, yes, there have been films like A Serbian Film (which are pure schlock), they simply cannot be compared to a film with this kind of magnitude and wide spread mass appeal. This one holds a very special place in my heart, because it was one of the first horror films that swept the world and became a test of endurance. Could you make it through The Exorcist? Men crying like women, women fainting like children and children having nightmares from the schoolyard whispers that passed in it's wake, The Exorcist from then on cemented itself as a fixture of modern popular culture.
I arrived to the theater last night (thanks to traffic) 15 minutes before showtime. In Los Angeles there are a chain of upscale movie theaters called ArcLight Cinemas. With assigned seating, a bar in the lobby and no previews, it's the place to see a movie (for an inflated cost, of course). After grabbing a water, and settling into seat K16, the show started almost as if on cue and we were rolling. What I was greeted to in the first five minutes was exactly what I had been hoping for. You could have heard a pin drop in that theater. There was no crunching of popcorn, no throats that needed clearing, no laughter or jeering. Dead silence, and that is the way it remained for a majority of the film. To hear that during a film like this, it's just wonderful. There was no divided attention, everyone's eyes were fixed on that screen as if their lives depended on it.
One thing that I did not anticipate was how many people in that theater had clearly not seen the film, which I found fantastic. I love watching this one with people for the first time and if I could show it to them in a theater every time, I would. The poor woman sitting next to me, I feared, was on the verge of a heart attack through out the duration of the film. While yes, there were one or two women who resumed the role of cynic, making it a point to laugh at certain parts of the film that were intended to scare (and I believe that these people are the bain of the earth, I get angry thinking about them now), I believe they got a stare down from a couple sitting next to me (and I'd be lying if I said I didn't turn around and glare a bit) which got the point across just fine.
You've heard me say it once, and I have no intention on stopping, but sound design can make or break a horror film. The sound design in The Exorcist is perfection. You can barely even say that it has a soundtrack (aside from Tubular Bells) considering it consists of a conglomeration of unidentifiable slaps, percussive hits, string plucks and screeches, and wailing voices. To be in a theater that is equipped with a state of the art surround sound system was an absolute treat. I've seen this film dozens of times, yet, I found myself with my hand over my chest at certain parts.
I have to say my favorite part of the whole experience though was observing the way the audience was adjusting and reacting to the film. I was beginning to get a little disheartened after the first 15 minutes or so of the film. There were too many jeers for my taste, it was beginning to impede on my experience of the film, and I'm talking laughter at parts that left me wondering what was funny to be laughed at in the first place. However, when we reached the infamous scene in Act II where Regan asks her sweet mother to let the Lord Jesus go to town on her, there was in instantaneous mood shift in the theater. You could feel fear enter the theater and it was an incredible experience. I don't think I'll ever forget the collective sigh that emanated following the administration of sedatives, along with groans and shivers that mixed with Regan's dying scream. That was when I knew that this audience was along for the ride, and from there on out there was no more jeering; it was us, Pazuzu and Father Merrin.
To know that this film still has that impact is such an incredible thing to me; it's something that I've debated with friends over. To be able to witness this film scare a generation of 30+ year olds who have never seen it before, was a beautiful experience. This film is, and will always be, one that I wish I could experience in 1974 when it was literally causing people to pass out and vomit in the aisles.
Last night, I went to church, and it was a beautiful reminder of why I love this genre and why I've devoted 13+ years of my life to learning as much as I can about it.
Next up: The Shining at the Cinerama Dome on All Hallow's Eve, and I can't wait.
- Rg Lovecraft