What an excellent day for an exorcism.
Halloween is approaching, and with it comes candy, costumes, and late night horror flicks with your friends. Many people will take movies like Alien, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, or It to satisfy their hunger for terror. Those are all great scare-fare to watch after the sun sets.
But if you really want something that will rattle your bones, there is one film that rises above all the rest: The Exorcist. Despite being made all the way back in 1973, this horrifying piece still stands as Hollywood’s scariest movie ever made. Here’s why.
Note: Spoilers are ahead, but the movie’s been out for like 40 years, so who’s really at fault?
The Mystery Machine
One of the reasons we as humans fear death and the supernatural is because we do not fully understand it. Living in this new technological age has given us instant access to all of the latest news, information, and opinions from nearly everybody on the planet. We are never really in the dark about a lot of things.
This is where The Exorcist toys with your mind. The bulk of its first act is spent setting up the incoming possession, but it spends more time raising questions than giving clarity. Why does the film start halfway across the world? Why does Damien deny the “altar boy?” Furthermore, once the possession begins to happen, the movie handles it so well that it even gets the audience to question (up until a certain point) whether or not it’s really a demon.
Devoid of Sound
Something you’ll notice as soon as you play the movie is that The Exorcist has no soundtrack apart from a few chilling piano licks in the opening and ending. However, this will quickly slip out of your mind as the story progresses. There are some movies that don’t use music, but often it makes the entire experience a bit drab. Not The Exorcist, which uses this to its advantage. By not having any music, your focus is always on what’s happening on screen, and not only that, it makes it feel grounded in reality – like you’re actually there. And you’ll find yourself wanting to grab your teddy bear and hide in the covers.
No Cliche Jump Scares
A lot of media, both movies and video games, make an overuse of using jump scares to get a fear response out of the audience (I’m looking at you, Five Nights at Freddy’s). Even the recent horror film The Visit had its share of “pop-ups.” The big problem with jump scares, however, is that after so long, you become numb to them. I can play an entire game of Slender: The Eight Pages without so much as flinching. There was a time when it haunted me; because of the overreliance of this type of horror, I am now immune to it.
This is where The Exorcist excels in its fear factor. There are no jump scares whatsoever. Not a single one. Instead, to induce terror, the film places emphasis on the shock value of the events that happen. The first time we see Regan’s bed rumbling was chilling to say the least. Then it slowly escalates when we see her first convulsion, and when her voice begins to change into a malignant growl. On that note, the most terrifying moment in the film, I believe, is when we are shown Regan after the demon had fully possessed her. She was covered in ooze, vomit, and blood; she looked nothing like her normal self, and it left my jaw halfway to the ground. You know a movie has done something right when they can shock you by changing how a character looks.
The reason The Exorcist is so memorable as a suspenseful story is that many times it gets the audience to question themselves. Is it really a demon haunting the child, or is she just inflicted with some mental disease? You can imagine how terrifying it was when Chris walks in and sees her daughter stabbing herself with a cross, all the while screaming against Jesus. Then when she notices her mom, her head turns a full 180 degrees to stare at her with a wicked smile. It was in this moment, that the characters and the audience realized that she was possessed, and the tension escalated phenomenally for it.
As self-conscious beings, we like to maintain control. Not only that, but we are under the belief that we are always in full awareness of what we are doing no matter what. This is another area where The Exorcist picks at our brains. Once Regan starts to get possessed, she is still herself most of the time. As the movie goes on, however, she slowly descends further and further into the control of the demon. This is maddening to us as humans. To slowly lose control of ourselves is something we all fear, and it’s also something we see often with mental diseases like Alzheimer’s. How much more frightening is it then, when we watch another person lose their awareness to that of another entity?
It’s Not a Simple Fable
Here is the biggest reason why The Exorcist is the scariest film of all time, even today. You see, with horror movies like It and Nightmare on Elm Street, there is always one thing that will keep me from ever being truly afraid of them: they can’t happen. Zombies aren’t going to rise out of their graves tomorrow to haunt us, and Freddy Kreuger is only a figment of somebody’s imagination. The Exorcist, however, is not like this. Not only is demon possession possible, it exists and still occurs around the world. Now there are religious debates as to how it works, but we all (or at least many of us) agree that it is real. This is why The Exorcist terrifies me. I can turn off Evil Dead and move on with my life with the security that it’s just a movie. But I can’t do that with The Exorcist. The events that took place are very possible, and while possession may not be exactly how the movie depicts it, it still exists. And that is fuel for nightmares, my friends.
What do you guys think? What’s the most horrifying movie you’ve ever seen? Let us know in the comments.