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DVD Reviews: The Exorcist and friends

Released in 1973, The Exorcist is still regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made. Regional bans and stories of women fainting meant that people flocked to see the film in cinemas, but we think it’s just as frightening at home with the lights off! Find The Exorcist in the DVD LOBBY 791.43 (you’ll have to provide your own Ouija board)

Regan and her mother Chris live in a luxury flat in Washington, the product of Christine’s successful acting career. Though much of her time is spent on movie sets, Chris has a strong bond with her daughter and has no reason to suspect her when strange noises start to keep them awake at night. She blames Regan’s obsession with a toy Ouija board on her absent father, who never answers the phone. But during a party for Chris’ famous friends, Regan confronts an astronaut with a terrible prophesy: “You’re gonna die up there”.

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Father Karras and Father Merrin attempt to restrain Regan

By the next day, Regan has acquired extraordinary strength- it takes two doctors to stop her levitating above her hospital bed, and she answers their questions in a deep, demonic voice: “The sow is mine!” Chris refuses to believe that Regan’s illness has a supernatural origin and when the doctors cannot treat her, she returns home with Regan to the seemingly haunted apartment. When a film director and friend of Chris’ is found below Regan’s window with his neck broken in a way that couldn’t be caused by a fall, police begin to question whether Regan, who was alone, could be involved in some foul play. As a last resort, Chris approaches Father Karras, the local Catholic priest, to arrange a church-approved exorcism. Though he is sceptical at first, the priest is shocked at the sight of Regan, emaciated, deformed and chained to her bed. Regan speaks to him in the demon’s voice and claims to be the Devil himself, a claim that Karras quickly disproves with keen logic and some fake holy water. Karras defers to the Bishop, who decides an exorcism won’t cure Regan. But Chris is desperate for his help, and finally confides that she thinks Regan was responsible for her friend’s murder. The words “HELP ME” appear on Regan’s stomach, convincing everyone that Regan is trapped inside her body, controlled by the demon. The Priesthood calls in Father Merrin, a demon expert who left his job in Iraq on a hunch that he’d be needed in America. Merrin has faced Regan’s demon before, and is determined not to lose to him again. Both priests have a weakness that the demon can exploit, and he is desperate to distract them from their sacred rites. Can they perform the ritual in full before Regan’s body gives out?

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The steps in Washington DC where the fatal fall in The Exorcist was performed

The team behind The Exorcist pioneered techniques like Regan’s “spider walk” (for which they had to hire a ballerina!) The physical effects are impressively disgusting, but the scene where fluid is removed from Regan’s brain was actually responsible for the fainting, not the vomit, violence or swearing. The idea of a little girl in pain is what upsets us most, not scenes of the supernatural. As Regan’s body is destroyed, driven by the demon to perform inhuman feats, we grow increasingly angry: why does he have to use a little girl to prove a point between him and God? This same question plagues the priests, who wonder why God would allow the demon to cause Regan harm. The demon exploits this paradox in an attempt to weaken the priests’ resolve- when he twists Regan’s limbs or makes her vomit, he reminds the priests that time is short. The question The Exorcist poses- should God and the devil use humans in the fight between Good and Evil?- might be more theological than literal, but the writer claims to have based the story on a real exorcism. If you really want to stay awake tonight, we recommend the following:

If you were frightened by demonic Regan…

We recommend: The Orphanage (El Orfanato) by Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007 (DVD LOBBY 791.430946)

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A children’s home is the setting for Spanish horror The Orphanage

Since the release of The Exorcist, cinemas have been packed with films about sinister children. The Omen, OrphanRing, The Grudge, Let the Right One In, Insidious, Poltergeist, etc! The Orphanage is a stylish Spanish horror film produced by Guillermo Del Toro, whose latest movie Crimson Peak is in cinemas now. Laura has purchased the derelict orphanage where she grew up, and intends to open a respite home for children with complex needs. Her son Simon meets some imaginary friends, who like to hide his things around the orphanage. When a treasure hunt leads Simon to a file with his name on, Laura is forced to admit that he is adopted and HIV positive. Simon disappears, and the police spend six months searching for a lead. Laura finally hires a psychic, who uncovers some of the building’s frightening history. Can Laura summon Simon’s “friends” to help locate her missing son?

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Ghost child Tomas is never seen without his mask

If you were shocked by religious imagery…

We recommend: Se7en by David Fincher, 1995 (DVD LOBBY 791.43)

Pazuzu, Captain Howdy….the demon in The Exorcist has many aliases, and his aim is as unclear as his identity. When he isn’t torturing Regan, he likes to push Father Karras until he loses his temper- choice words about the priest’s dead mother will usually see to it. Father Merrin views the demon as a test of faith. If he can ignore the demon’s lies he will break its hold on Regan and save her life. But isn’t it prideful to think that he can win when so many have failed? Why would God choose an ageing upstart to challenge his oldest enemy? If the demon can confound the pair, he can claim a victory over God. Let battle commence!

The serial killer in Se7en is obsessed by the idea of divine retribution. Since God isn’t punishing the wicked, “John Doe” takes it upon himself to make sure they reap what they sow. A model is disfigured, an overweight man is force-fed, and a lawyer forced to carve off a literal ‘pound of flesh’. But like the demon, Doe has bigger motives. Can he make a pure and lawful man commit a deadly sin?

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How many deadly sins are you guilty of? 

If you were scared by clever stunts…

We recommend: The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, 1980 (DVD LOBBY 791.43)

Both William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, and Stanley Kubrick, director of The Shining, injured their actors in their pursuit of realism. When Father Merrin gets a face full of green vomit, his look of disgust is real- the pea soup cannon was meant to be aimed at his chest! When Chris is thrown across the bedroom by her daughter, she cries out in real pain- her harness was fastened too tight, and pulled her too quickly. These may have been mistakes caused by faulty equipment, but William Friedkin reportedly employed some dodgy methods to get the same reactions from his cast in later scenes. He repeatedly slapped actor Max Von Sydow before he shouted “Action!” so the camera caught his shocked expression; patients in a mental hospital were filmed without permission in the scene where Father Karras visits his mother. When Friedkin saw the actress who played the (uncredited) voice of the demon downing raw eggs and whisky to deepen her voice, he had her bound to a chair with bandages and recorded the sounds of her struggling! In The Shining, struggling author Jack Torrance takes his wife Wendy and their young son Danny to a deserted hotel, where he has found work as a caretaker. As Danny becomes aware of his psychic powers, Jack is driven mad by the resident ghosts. The movie ends with a chase through the hotel and the snow-covered grounds. In one infamous scene, Jack uses an axe to break through a bathroom door, screaming “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”. Stanley Kubrick forced actress Shelley Duvall to perform the scene 127 times before he was satisfied. The film shoot lasted a year, and during that time Kubrick was notoriously cruel to Shelley to keep her in a heightened state of nervousness. She was so stressed that her hair began to fall out!

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Jack Nicholson’s iconic portrayal of Jack Torrance- does this face scare you?

All these horror films and more can be found in the DVD LOBBY in the Information Store. Please speak to staff if you need help searching for DVDs. Keep watching our blog- recommended Halloween reads are still to come!

References

Imagens Portal SESCSP, CLH1.CA.0f.0919.EXORCIST1.Q.0 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/pWmGgs on 20.10.15

Cogswell, R ‘The Exorcist’ Steps’ — Georgetown NW Washington (DC) November 2013 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/hritNP on 14.10.15

yonolatengo El Orfanato accessed at https://flic.kr/p/5hpLrn on 14.10.15

Perez, L 130725_132014 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/fyJsMu on 14.10.15

Collis, C Seven Deadly Sins #1 accessed at https://flic.kr/p/7J4AmU on 14.10.15

Wojtyra, M The Shining carpet art installation accessed at https://flic.kr/p/qwPt6 on 14.10.15

Mosieur J. [version 9.1] accessed at https://flic.kr/p/9sejsQ on 14.10.15

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