Sharing the Back Row with The Exorcist

Ashley and I were able to sit down and discuss The Exorcist the other day. It may not be scary for everyone, and that’s okay, but it’s a beautifully-shot movie regardless. And we came to the realization that horror is a lot like comedy.

Peter: So, what do you remember from your rewatch, which seems like it was two months ago.

Ashley: I did enjoy The Exorcist more this time around, so I appreciated the chance to rewatch it. I appreciated the slow-moving horror more this time around, and the sound design stuck out much more than the first time I watched it.

Peter: I’m glad you mentioned the sound design, as it’s something that has always stuck out to me. What gets me the most is the sound coming from the attic, though. It scared me enough (I saw this when I was around 5) that the attic in our house would freak me out. I hated even the sight of the door in the ceiling. All because of sound. Amazing.

Ashley: This is one of those movies I wish I could have seen when I was younger. Maybe not when I was 5-years-old, but I think it would have had more of an impact if I had seen it earlier in my life. Horror movies are often that way, granted, but I only saw this for the first time last year or the year before so a lot of opportunity for scare factor had perhaps passed.

Peter: Let’s talk about that a little bit more. I’ve expressed my views on this with friends, and probably mentioned it in a previous post on The Exorcist, but age when first exposed to horror has a lot to do with how that horror is received. I can definitely see how someone seeing it for the first time as an adult wouldn’t be anywhere near as affected as someone who saw it as a child. In this regard, I think horror is a lot like comedy: it’s all about mindset, etc. My idea of scary or funny may not be the same as someone else’s because of how/when I was exposed to it.

Ashley: I agree with you; horror and comedy have a unique tie to first experience, more so than other genres, I think. It’s tough, too, to go back to the original of something when you’ve seen aspects of it in other films, and appreciate that one (The Exorcist, in this case) as the original. For instance, I walked in on my babysitter watching Coneheads when I was little, and it completely creeped me out, and even now I remember that scare of first seeing it. Not quite the same, as that’s not designed to be scary, but the concept kind of applies.

Peter: Well, I’m just glad you said you walked in on your babysitter watching Coneheads! What a relief when I saw you start typing that. You said that it’s hard to go back to the original after you’ve seen aspects of it in other films. What are some examples of horror/exorcism films you’ve seen that “stole” from The Exorcist and sort of blunted the impact of it on your initial viewing?

Ashley: Haha, yes, I was lucky, I suppose. Though, the experience left me inexplicably afraid of Dan Aykroyd ever since. This is embarrassing, but I saw Scary Movie 2 before The Exorcist so to see the parody before seeing the subject was a little more difficult for me to move past than I would like to admit.

Peter: I get it; he had sharp, pointy teeth and everything, so it makes sense. So is it safe to assume from your comment about sound design that you appreciate The Exorcist more from a technical standpoint than a straight-up horror movie standpoint?

Ashley: That’s exactly how I feel about it. The sound design is great, I really like some of the camera work, the blocking, and how light is often manipulated, but I’m less captivated by the horror aspects.

Peter: It truly is an exquisite film. There are some beautiful shots, like when Father Merrin is standing outside of the house when he first arrives.

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It’s probably one of the more beautiful horror films, perhaps even the most beautiful. One of my most favorite moments, when I’m not having to peek through my fingers, is after Father Karras jumps out the window and his friend Father Dyer is there as his confessor. It’s wonderful, and it calls back to earlier in the film when Karras says to the president of the university, “I think I lost my faith, Tom” and then there’s a cut to wind blowing leaves on an empty street. It’s really stunning, in my opinion.

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Ashley: It is one of the most, if not the most, beautiful horror films I’ve ever seen. I’m glad you mention the scene where Father Merrin is standing outside of the house. I’d love to have that framed and displayed in my home; it’s truly an incredible shot. So many gorgeous aspects of the film to appreciate and revisit. Another reason I was happy to rewatch the film was to see so many of these shots again, or ones that I didn’t notice as much before.

Peter: Because of how much it scares me, and it truly does, I can’t watch it more than every few years, but there definitely are new things I notice each time. It’s almost like the Citizen Kane of horror films when it comes to the shots. Okay, that may be going too far, but you get the idea.

Ashley: I understand that, because I feel the same way about Coneheads! We’re on the same page about Citizen Kane, so I’d be willing to cosign on that thought!

Peter: We should give a shoutout to Mercedes McCambridge, don’t you think? I guess smoking and drinking can lead to good things. Seriously, though, can you imagine anyone else doing that voice or having the impact that it does?

Ashley: I completely agree! I truly can’t imagine anyone else doing that voice! It was terrifying throughout the entire film.

Peter: And how about Lee J. Cobb? I know his reputation on film is as a blustery, blowhard, son-of-a-bitch, but I love him more when he’s more subdued and moderate. The Song of Bernadette is another example of him being very good at not being a loud jerk. However, he just seems to kind of disappear from The Exorcist, which is a bit odd.

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Ashley: Lee J. Cobb really does disappear from The Exorcist. I had completely forgotten he was in it until I saw him onscreen again. I’ll have to check out The Song of Bernadette! Max von Sydow is great here, as is Ellen Burstyn–such a phenomenal cast, all around!

Peter: So where would you rank The Exorcist on a list of all-time great horror films?

Ashley: As beautiful as it is, it doesn’t break the Top 10, for me, though it is top tier, if that makes sense.

Peter: It does make sense. I’m glad you were able to get something a little more out of this rewatch that could make you appreciate the film a bit more. It’s also great that even though we recognize that horror impacts people in a similar manner to comedy, that we were able to actually come up with things to say…unlike our conversation about This Is Spinal Tap [Edit: We tried having one of these discussions about Spinal Tap, but found that it was very difficult to discuss because comedy is so subjective.]

Ashley: Yes, despite the huge delay which I still feel badly about, it was worth the wait and was a good discussion! Interesting to make parallels between horror and comedy, too. I was definitely glad to have the push to rewatch it!

For more movie opinions, follow Ashley on Twitter @oOoOoBarracuda, and check out her Letterboxd page, too. You can find me on Twitter @PeterPutzel, Letterboxd, and right here in the Back Row, Center Seat. See you next time!

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