The Exorcist came out in 1973, and while pretty tame by today’s standards, was nonetheless an iconic film which arguably gave birth to the entire “exorcist-film” genre.
Of course, by “genre”, I mean a number of studios have been trying to make the exact same ****ing movie every single year and show no signs of stopping anytime soon.
We’re just now in July and we’ve already had a few out churned out, though what got me on the subject have been the non-stop ads for Deliver Us From Evil, the latest cash-grab which look like a soulless mash-up of both the exorcist and zombie apocalypse flicks.
Yeah. Possession that somehow spreads a la zombie-logic. Let’s go ahead and start right there.
Get the Theology Straight
Look, you can’t separate exorcism films from religion.
It just doesn’t work.
Exorcism films are effective because they play to fear and ambiguity surrounding religious references to hell. You can’t drag the demons away from the source material, because they suddenly lose all impact. You might as well be watching just a regular ol’ zombie flick, or one of those “There’s something in the water/food supply making everyone crazy” movies.
Also, it helps give the victims a bit more depth. 9 times out of 10, the person who’s possessed is possessed seemingly at random or after some sort of tragic event, like the death of a loved one.
Well ****, Anthony, it doesn’t seem like anything does. You can’t hit up a garage sale these days and not get possessed and yes, readers, that is the actual premise of one of these movies.
This again is missing the point.
The point of possession flicks (heck, many horror movies in general) is to point out and pick at the idea that “we’re all in danger”. That our moral failings or weaknesses of character are what put us at risk, along with the knowledge that, as human beings, we’ll never really be free from the danger of falling astray.
That’s what gives a movie it’s depth– otherwise the driving concept is just about as scary as the concept of being in a car accident.
For Heaven’s Sake, Give Us Some Originality
Let me summarize the plot of every exorcist movie ever made:
1. Person gets possessed.
2. Young skeptic and older believer exorcist are called in.
3. Young Skeptic: “It’s mental illness!”
4. Old Exorcist: “It’s demons! You must believe!”
5. Possessed person does contortions and/or crabwalks; in rare cases, the “Thriller” dance.
6. Young Skeptic: “Even though this person just walked upside on the ceiling, I still believe it is mental illness!”
7. Old Exorcist attempts exorcism, gets possessed and/or dies.
8. Young Skeptic: “I believe now!”
9. Young Skeptic attempts exorcism, has disparaging things said about his mother, sexuality, and/or taste in music, successfully exorcizes demon.
10. Or does he?
Can’t we change it up just once? I mean, one of my greatest hopes for The Rite (2011) was that it’d surprise me in the final moments with a “Hey, it was mental illness all along. Anthony Hopkins is a charlatan, and really, what’s the difference between that inherent evil and a demon anyways?”
But nope- Crabwalk-disbelief-belief-exorcism(?).
Why can’t we have one where the twist is that it’s all a sham? Or one where the priests are defeated and forced to question why? Or one where the person seemingly possessed is just suffering mental illness, and its really the parent (look, it’s almost always a parent) who’s possessed and secretly promoting exorcisms to sustain what are comparatively barbaric methods- the whole “the devil is a gentleman” twist?
Yeah, that’s what they are at this point- gags. I’ve mentioned the crabwalk thrice now, and I’m guessing that even non-horror fans know what I’m talking about.
Same thing goes for head turns, contortions, gravity defiance, and projectile vomiting. These things are cliches at this point. Same thing goes for the growls, the gibberish Latin/Aramaic, the streams of profanity- these things just aren’t shocking anymore.
You know what would be scary?
“Sleepwalking”. The afflicted person disappears off-screen and nobody’s quite sure where the person is, if they’re in control of their own actions, or exactly what their state will be when they’re found (if they don’t find you first). That is gonna build some tension there.
And while we’re at it, could we give the Catholics a break?
I know they’re the ones with the fancy robes and cathedrals and ceremony, but these guys are getting lambasted in pretty much every movie. “The Vatican denies this”, “The diocese offers no comment on that”, “Father McIrish was defrocked for attempting those”- it’s probably one of the worst cases of a stawman I’ve ever seen. The Roman Catholics might (and do) have their issues, but they deserve better than to be used as just some prop for an already bad storyline.
Heck, I think it’d be straight up more interesting to see a different denomination or religion’s take on the whole deal. How would some bare-bones Protestant sect handle it? Can’t use Latin with those guys.
These Could Be Good Movies
Now I know everyone’s collectively rolling their eyes at this, but it’s something I truly do believe. These movies cover (if never actually confront) a lot of issues we simply don’t bring up. The psychology versus spirituality, the role of religion in an increasingly secular world, our response to the unknown, the fear of our own moral compromises and failures, our willingness to put our trust in ritual and superstition, if only for a means of comforting ourselves.
These are all issues which I’d like to see brought up. These are issues which I think exorcism movies are uniquely equipped to grapple with in a visceral and compelling way.
We deserve a better breed of horror flick, people.
Really enjoyed this post, particularly the conclusion that shares all that this genre potentially has to offer us.
Have you seen Paranormal Activity? Your entire paragraph on sleepwalking basically occurs in that film.
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