PCR's past banners
Now in our seventh calendar year!

PCR #310. (Vol. 7, No. 9) This edition is for the week of February 27--March 5, 2006.
Mike's RantMike's Bust
Hello gang! Better late then never I always say. Shall we begin?

The Tampa Bay Watershed and It's Importance To You -- Part One....President Bush Proposes Selling Off Portions of the Ocala State National Forest  by Will Moriaty
"16 Blocks"  by Mike Smith
It Begins Again  by Mark Terry
MegaCon 2006: Redux....Carpe Diem....Pessimism is Killing You....Arrogance is Killing Me....Slushpile of Comments  by Brandon Jones
Great Work....What A Sad Week....And One More....A Sticky Problem....Now This Is Truly Karma....My Favorite Films -- Chapter 9: "The Exorcist"  by Mike Smith
Archives of Nolan's Pop Culture Review
Archives 2006
Archives 2005
Archives 2004
Archives 2003
Archives 2002
Archives 2001
Archives 2000
Email PCR

A quick tip o' the hat to the great recap of MegaCon this week by Nolan and ED Tucker. PCR fans can expect an added treat this week as ED contributes a special piece on "The Exorcist" in my "Favorite Movie" serial.

It's often said that celebrities seem to die in threes. Last week, in fact, I made mention of the passing of three very different personalities. However, it's been a couple week's short of three years, when we lost Dudley Moore, Milton Berle and Billy Wilder in the space of seven days, that three icons left us:
Don Knotts, best remembered for his Emmy Award winning role of Deputy Barney Fife in television's "The Andy Griffith Show," died at the age of 81 from pulmonary and respiratory complications. Born Jesse Donald Knotts in Morgantown, West Virginia in July 1924, Knotts first gained recognition as part of Steve Allen's comedy troupe. He starred with Andy Griffith in the 1958 film "No Time for Sergeants." The two reunited for "The Andy Griffith Show," where Knott's portrayal of the hapless Barney Fife earned him five Emmy Awards. In the mid 1960s, Knotts branched out to motion pictures, appearing in such favorites as "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," "The Reluctant Astronaut" and "The Love God." He also starred in a successful series of Disney films, including "The Apple Dumpling Gang," "No Deposit, No Return" and "Gus." In recent years he lent his voice to several animated projects, including Mayor Turkey Lurkey in last year's "Chicken Little." But it is his work on television that he will be most remembered for. As a tribute to Knotts, director Gary Ross cast him as the mysterious television repairman who provides the remote control that transports two teenagers to a black and white world in the film, "Pleasantville."
Darren McGavin, whose work as reporter Carl Kolchak in the television film and series "The Night Stalker" made him a fanboy favorite, also passed away at the age of 81. Cause of death was given as cancer. After several years of work in episodic television, McGavin caught the public's eye when he co-starred with Frank Sinatra in "The Man With the Golden Arm." He starred in the television series' "Mike Hammer" and "Riverboat," and guested on many other shows ranging from "Gunsmoke" to "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." In 1972 he starred in the made for television film, "The Night Stalker" as a reporter tracking a killer who turns out to be a vampire. The next year saw "The Night Strangler" and the short "Night Stalker" series followed in 1974. This past year the new version of "The Night Stalker" series paid homage to McGavin by inserting a digital image of him in the newsroom during the opening episode as well as featuring a car with the license plate 197DMG2 as a tribute to McGavin and the year the first film premiered. McGavin also appeared in two of my favorite films: "The Natural" and "A Christmas Story." As Ralphie Parker's profanity spouting father, simply referred to as the Old Man, McGavin created a classic character. I can see him now, blustering and stammering when he discovers his prized new lamp has been broken. After several seconds of trying to find the right words, all he can muster is "Badafinga!"
Dennis Weaver, star of three of the best remembered television series ever, sadly succumbed to cancer at the age of 83. Weaver kept busy early in his career with work in many low budget westerns, appearing in ten during 1953. That early work led him to be cast in television's "Gunsmoke." While most television fans best remember Ken Curtis' "Festus" as the deputy on "Gunsmoke," it was Weaver as Chester Goode that was Matt Dillon's original deputy, earning him an Emmy Award as Best Supporting Actor. He moved up from the early westerns when Orson Welles cast him in "Touch of Evil" in 1958. In the mid 1960s he starred with Clint Howard in the series "Gentle Ben." But it was as Taos, New Mexico deputy Sam McCloud, working in New York City, that he will most be remembered for. "McCloud," along with "Columbo" and "McMillan and Wife," made up the very popular NBC Sunday Night Mystery group of shows and earned Weaver two more Emmy nominations. Weaver also starred in two of television's greatest achievements: the Steven Spielberg directed film, "Duel," and the classic mini series "Lonesome Dove." I was very fortunate to meet Mr. Weaver in Las Vegas in 1999 where he most graciously agreed to appear in a video project I did for a charity promotion. He was as kind and friendly as I expected him to be.

As I was originally preparing the Rant this week I learned of the death of Jack Wild, probably best known as the boy who sails to a magical land on television's "H.R. Puffnstuff," died this past Thursday at the age of 53 from cancer. Wild became a star at the age of 16 with his Academy Award nominated performance as the Artful Dodger in the musical film, "Oliver!" He was also nominated for a Golden Globe and BAFTA award as Best Newcomer. In 1970 he went on to star as Jimmy, who along with his magic flute, Freddie, entertained children on many a Saturday morning on "H.R. Puffnstuff." Due to a recurring problem with alcohol, Wild worked very sporadically the rest of his life, the highlight of his adult career being a small part in 1991s "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." Wild also fought a long battle with cancer, losing part of his tongue and several vocal cords to the disease.

Say you're a 12-year-old kid on a field trip to an art museum. Bored to tears you start to chomp on a piece of gum when your teacher tells you to get rid of it. Not wanting to litter and with no trash can in sight, what would you do? One enterprising boy this week decided the best place for his gum was on the corner of a painting he saw on the wall. That the painting was worth an estimated $1.5 million never occurred to him. While officials at the Detroit Institute of Arts try to figure out how to restore "The Bay," the painting will remain on display. Please, no food or drink allowed.

In July 1999, eleven year old Kevin Stephan was hit in the chest with a bat during a little league baseball game. In the stands, nurse Penny Brown rushed to the field and performed CPR, saving the boy's life. Now a 17 year old dish washer at a local restaurant in Depew, New York, Kevin happened to be in the dining room when a customer began choking on a piece of meat. He quickly administered the Heimlich maneuver and, after a couple of thrusts, the customer was breathing again. That customer was Penny Brown. Cool.

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Jason Miller and Linda Blair.
Directed by: William Friedkin

FIRST SEEN: Hillsboro Drive-In, Tampa, Florida
FAVORITE LINE: "Do you know what she's done? Your cunting daughter?"
FAVORITE SCENE: The Exorcism. "The power of Christ compels you!"

  • Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay (William Peter Blatty, based on his novel). Eight other nominations including Best Picture, Director, Actress (Burstyn), Supporting Actor (Miller) and Supporting Actress (Blair)
  • Golden Globe awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actress (Blair).

    More then 30 years after it's release, "The Exorcist" is still, in my opinion, the scariest film I've even seen. The story of a girl whose body is possessed by a demon, presumably Satan, the film touched a nerve in audiences the world over. A child presumed to be in danger always hits moviegoers hard. To see that child vomit, curse and masturbate with a crucifix was more then some could take, with many theatres reporting people fainting during the film. Like many of the great films in history, "The Exorcist" is a combination of story, performances and direction all mixed together to create a masterpiece of a finished product. After such directors as Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Penn turned the project down, Warner Brothers tapped William Friedkin, who had just won the Oscar for his direction of "The French Connection," to helm the picture. A first rate cast, including Ellen Burstyn (who would win an Oscar later for "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"), Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb and relative newcomers Jason Miller (at the time best known as the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of "That Championship Season") and Linda Blair. A brilliant screenplay by William Peter Blatty. And of course the incredible make up effects of Dick Smith. These are the ingredients Friedkin used to craft probably his best film ever. A stickler for reality, Friedkin had the entire set refrigerated during the final exorcism so the audience could see the steam from the actor's mouths.

    Of course the film was not without it's criticism. Numerous groups picketed theatres where the film played. I still have a tract that was handed out warning people of "The Exorcist" curse. Several of the cast and crew had members of their family die, apparently because they worked on the film. Spooky stuff. The film also caused a stir when it was revealed that actress Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the demon, a revelation that many feel cost Blair the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. With the exception of "Sorcerer" and "To Live and Die in L.A.," Friedkin never again reached the heights he hit with his one two punch of "French Connection" and "The Exorcist." Cobb and Miller have passed away. Burstyn earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 2000 for "Requiem For a Dream" while Blair performed on Broadway in the musical, "Grease." The film was re-issued in 2000 with new footage, including the much rumored "crab walk" scene of Blair descending a staircase inverted.

    Now to share their thoughts on one of their favorite films I give you ED Tucker and Greg Van Cott........


    I first saw The Exorcist on Halloween night in 1978 when it was shown on the fledgling Home Box Office movie channel. My parents were out at a party and a friend of mine came over to spend the night and watch the KISS concert that preceded the movie. Needless to say we were pretty wound up after the concert but after about a half hour of watching The Exorcist you could have heard a pin drop in the house! My friend was in a chair behind me and I was on the floor as watched the rest of the film in stunned silence. When the credits finally rolled my friend said it was the scariest thing he had ever seen and as I turned to look at him a trickle blood ran out his nose! I jumped backwards about six feet and high tailed it out of the room as he kept asking me what was wrong! My friend was fine except for a mysterious nose bleed but that was one Halloween I would NEVER forget. To this day I can’t watch The Exorcist without thinking of that event and getting the creeps!

    When I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Blair’s stunt double for the film, Eileen Dietz, at the 2006 Florida Extravaganza show, she told me a number of interesting behind the scenes stories including one about the infamous crucifix segment. When the time came to do the scene, director William Friedkin had instructed Dietz to use her left hand (apparently all demons are left handed but not all left handed people are demons!) and showed her the motions he wanted her to make even though Dietz argued they were incorrect and that she was more familiar with the process than Fiedkin was! After the first take everyone in the room was awe struck and it finally dawned on the director just how intense this scene was going to be. He cleared the set of everyone but the essential crew to spare Dietz the embarrassment of having to do the scene in front of any more people than absolutely necessary. For the remainder of the shoot and in the years that followed when rumors of Friedkin’s eccentric and excessive behavior during the filming came to light, Dietz would always remember the consideration he had shown her.

    Review and History by Greg Van Cott

    There have only been a few very recognizable events in recent human history that have terrified a society with a work of art or literature. The earliest can be dated back to 1886 with the release of Robert Louis Stevenson’s most memorable novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which caused mass gossiping and personal attacks on Stevenson himself accused of being the infamous ‘Jack the Ripper’ simultaneously committing murders in London at the time. Another can be traced later to Orson Welles’ legendary radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds on October 31st, 1938, which caused outbreak panic in the streets and several suicides. The most recent of these events happened in 1975 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Although it did not cause mass hysteria on the streets, it did pack the streets to the theaters and genuinely did terrify audience members and beachgoers from going into the water for years on. However, there has been only one event that most historians consider the most disturbing out of all of these art/literature-related incidents. “In 1973, one movie opened the door to our greatest fears… the scariest movie of all time:” THE EXORCIST.

    The concept of exorcism has been around for as long as Man can remember. Variations of it have been involved in every religion known to history including Buddhism, which does not ordinarily accept the idea of demonology. In 1949, William Peter Blatty, while attending Georgetown University, caught word of an incident that happened not too far from the campus; 10 miles away in a very normal, ordinary neighborhood. A newspaper article appeared in the Washington Post on August 20th, 1949 from an account by Bill Brinkley ("Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held In Devil's Grip") of an exorcism that occurred over 3 months involving a 14 year-old boy in Mount Rainer, Maryland. The event today still holds much speculation due to the secrecy of the event and the no apparent exaggeration of the occurrences given by the family and priests involved who had generally considered themselves to be rationalists. What is known is that the “Roland Doe” boy fell into some sort of unexplainable illness after experimenting with a Ouija board that led to what it could only be described as ‘poltergeist’ type incidents involving objects moving by themselves, words and lettering to appear on his body, strange sounds in the walls that sound like rats running about, and a complete change in personality. Blatty saved all his research from his quiet dialogue with what little witnesses were willing to speak on it till it could be used at a later time. What struck Blatty about this case was its ability to credibly demonstrate the existence of some unexplainable force that either were or had always been invisible to Man. This became the main source of inspiration and information to what would later be made into the novel of The Exorcist, 22 years later in 1971.

    Before writing the novel, Blatty had grown to be a Hollywood screenwriter specializing in comedies like Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther sequel, A Shot in the Dark. As comedy decreased in popularity over the late 1960’s in favor of more serious, graphic material like Bonnie & Clyde and The Wild Bunch, Blatty became unemployed and at a loss at where to go. Not forgetting the case that had interested him so much in 1949, Blatty decided to make a novel that would delve seriously into the subject. Here is where the brilliance of craftsmanship comes to play. One of the most excellent attributes to the writing is Blatty’s treatment of the circumstances and the characters’ realistic nature to the events that unfold. Most horror stories and films before had depicted evil as a gothic, operatic, monster that usually resides in a Transylvanian like house or castle. Of course, a lot of this was due to the fact that most of these stories took place in eastern Europe. So without falling into that stereotype, Blatty assures us, as an audience, the legitimacy and flawed human nature of the people involved. To ensure the credibility of the main witness to this story, Blatty modeled the single mother character of the child off of Shirley MacLaine. He felt it imperative that the mother must look like someone who is as ordinary as anyone else and as intelligent as a woman can be, so that you would not be prepared for a person like that to start claiming that her child was possessed. One of the most crucial elements to the plot was the parallel story involving the young, disillusioned Father Damien Karras. Blatty admits that a lot of Karras’ deep seeded grief was based somewhat on himself as a younger man struggling with his place in the world. Damien Karras represented the cynical, lost, and disenchanted generation that had lost faith in the world and with God. A very telling side of society that was deep within the controversy of Vietnam and just before the Nixon scandal. The antithesis to this was the character of Father Lankester Merrin of the older generation who has gone through many trials and tribulations in his life, but still has a great devotion to his work and to his faith despite his old age and waning health. A police homicide detective was even added to give the book even more credibility as it also gives the storytelling a sense of mystery and a Stevenson-parallel of documented reality. Blatty also decided to separate his fictionalized representation of the events by changing the gender of the possessed child to a girl. This was most likely the main source of shock in the story. The fact that it was an innocent, unassuming, vulnerable girl raised the stakes immensely when we see the child assaulted, abused, ravaged, wounded, degraded, violated, and even ‘deflowered’ on the page—and later on the screen.

    When the novel was released in 1971, sales were slow until Blatty made a guest appearance on the Dick Cavett show where he advertised the book. Within a week, The Exorcist hit the best seller list and remained there for 55 straight weeks. Movie studios were however not as quick to pick up the film rights. Blatty understood the fragility of adapting the book to the screen realizing that any whimsical attempt could lead to a laugh out loud flop. The Exorcist was eventually picked up Warner Bros. studios who eventually offered it to many top-notch directors of the time including Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols, Arthur Penn, Peter Bogdanovich, and John Boorman who all turned it down. Kubrick would later call the biggest regret of his film career when he was surprised by the success of the film, and would later go direct The Shining (1980) as his ode to horror. It would have been very fascinating to see how Kubrick would have directed it, but most likely it wouldn’t have been very loyal to the book and would have caused Blatty much grief (Kubrick was notorious for changing a lot of the story in a book for the exception of Spartacus and Lolita). Blatty made sure that he had creative control of the film version as screenwriter and producer, and was determined to get an honest director who would give the film a sense of “documentary reality” and who was not a Catholic and was agnostic on the subject. After being very impressed by 1971’s The French Connection, the Oscar-winning Best Picture that had become very respected for its gritty, documentary-induced sense of storytelling and guerrilla filmmaking style tactics, Blatty urged WB to get director William Friedkin (who he had met before on several occasion during meetings with Blake Edwards) on board for the project if he was interested. WB reluctantly agreed despite the fact he was becoming a hot name (Friedkin was still considered quite young) while Friedkin himself admitted to have been very interested in the novel. First adaptations of the book came off as very odd as Blatty was unsure how to transfer his book to the screen. The first act was full with what Blatty described as tricks and gimmicks and with “8 million flashbacks.” Friedkin unimpressed with this went to work together with Blatty and got along very well while deciphering which parts to leave out and which that could be filmed. A great partnership was then formed between the two Bills.

    Shirley MacLaine was considered for the part of Chris MacNeil which was written for her, but she was committed to other work. A then unknown Ellen Burstyn was chosen out of three other well-known actresses (Anne Bancroft, Audrey Hepburn, and Jane Fonda) when all turned it down due to other pursuits. The title character of Exorcist Fr. Lankester Merrin was first offered to Marlon Brando in which Friedkin quickly rejected fearing that the film would have the weight of The Godfather and other Brando films on its shoulders. Friedkin brought the part to the attention of Swedish fame, Max von Sydow, a veteran of Ingmar Bergman’s classic films. As a matter of coincidence, von Sydow previously played the part of a disillusioned knight of the Crusades who had lost his faith in God and humanity and confronts Death himself in Bergman’s mythological tale, The Seventh Seal. Von Sydow would now go on to play a person that in many ways his character of Antonius Block could had seek to benefit. The part that would be considered the equivalent of Antonius Block of Fr. Damien Karras was sought after by every male star in Hollywood including Jack Nicholson and Paul Newman. However, Friedkin not wanting an established name playing the part searched for an unknown in order to maintain the everyman sensibilities that Karras came to represent. As fate would let him have it, Friedkin had happened to see a stage production of That Championship Season written and directed by Jason Miller who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Friedkin very impressed with the play’s story about 4 best friends and former high school basketball players reuniting with their coach 25 years later only to encounter bitter conflict struck a chord with Friedkin. He describes it as a play written by someone who understood “failed Catholicism,” and sought the young stage writer/director and asked him if he would be interested in being in his film. Miller who had never acted on film before and didn’t regularly act reluctantly accepted. Despite his relative inexperience, Miller shows his great understanding of what Damien Karras feels every second of the film. Coincidentally, Friedkin who initially wanted “a priest who could act” for the role of Karras got want he asked instead for the minor, but crucial part of Fr. Joseph Dyer who was played by real life priest, Fr. William O’Malley. He brings what one could call a local color from Georgetown to the film to add legitimacy to the lifestyle of the priests.

    These three characters are the main focus within the story’s central location of Georgetown and come to make up a lot of what we see is true about this setting. Unlike certain stereotypes where priests are seen as raving, overwhelming figures that constantly give sermons like politicians, the priests in this film are seen as normal, average everyday Joes who drink beer, smoke a lot of cigarettes, and trade jokes with average citizens. This makes the Jesuit priests very understandable and easy to connect with on a personal level. They are not seen as immaculate figures, but as flawed people like you and I. The power of the term, Jesuit, becomes less intimidating to any non-Catholic or non-Christian when you see these characters as real people. This is indeed is one of the greatest strengths of this film. It is unclear how the detective character of Lt. William Kinderman was cast with the great Method actor Lee J. Cobb of Death of a Salesman and the film On The Waterfront, but no one is complaining despite the absence of information. The casting for the character of Regan MacNeil was the single most difficult bit of casting for the film. Friedkin and Blatty went to New York and looked at an endless list of young actresses that did not include Linda Blair. The writer and director wanted a real, normal girl that was not brought up in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. It was ultimately Linda Blair’s mother who heard about the film and asked for her daughter to have an audition. Her screen test was probably one of the most unusual in screen history. The two Bills quickly saw a great intelligence from her and asked her to read a long chain of profanity and obscenities. The little 12-year old Linda was quite embarrassed and was even more embarrassed when she was unable to tell her mother that she was favored to play a character that would spit a lot of bad language.

    As history would have it, much of the film production’s war stories would go down in history and legend like the later production of Jaws. Friedkin brought on earlier collaborators from The French Connection including director of photography Owen Roizman, assistant director Terrence A. Donnely, and sound recordist Chris Newman. Dick Smith who would later go on to do other fantastic makeup work on Taxi Driver and Amadeus signed on to be the major contributor to how the possessed Regan looked. This was also the film where Dick Smith and later makeup marvel, Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Batman Forever) would unite to work together. Marcel Vercoutere would be utilized for special effects and become as what he called “the unseen devil.” A lot of this film’s production can be recorded as one of the most painful and injurious of productions. Friedkin instantly fired the production designer after looking at his sets and grabbed Bill Malley from Los Angeles. Friedkin fired apparently at least one crew member every working day and even fired those he hired as replacements. A month behind schedule, Friedkin wanted an insert of an egg breaking and bacon cooking on a grill. Friedkin in what could be called a Kubrick fit wanted the bacon to remain straight while cooking as opposed to curling. That was how the film was started. Not long later, Jason Miller’s 5 year old son would be hit by a motorcycle that crushed his legs. A few days after the accident, Friedkin asks Miller and O’Malley over to have an impromptu meeting. Friedkin excusing himself to take a phone call leaves O’Malley along with Miller who was currently overwhelmed by his son’s condition. Miller went into tears eventually with O’Malley putting his arm around him. Friedkin very touched by this was sad that he didn’t have a camera. O’Malley to this day isn’t sure if that was a deliberate set-up test for him or for real or maybe a little of both. Another unfortunate incident involved Vercoutere’s contraptions used to simulate levitation and rampant gyrations. The device used to fling Linda Blair up and down on the bed fractured her lower back. The film shows her authentic pain. During the “abuse of the cross sequence,” Ellen Burstyn who was rigged with a harness actually slams into the floor and her reaction of pain is real. To get real on-screen reactions during the exorcism scene, Friedkin fired guns off screen to generate these shocks from the actors. There also aren’t very many films that have an actual production body count higher than the body count in the film. Although some of the deaths were not directly related to the production, a total of 9 people had died that were associated or related somehow to the film. As Jason Miller was eating and studying his lines at the Georgetown campus, an old Jesuit priest met with Miller and gave him a Virgin Mary medal as protection and a blessing for the film. Three days later, that very priest would be discovered by Miller dead in a casket in a room he was passing by. Jack MacGowran who portrayed the satirical movie director of Burke Dennings (inspired apparently by the personality of director J. Lee Thompson of The Guns of Navarone) died of Influenza 2 weeks after he finished his work, but not before the film was released. Vasiliki Maliaros who played Karras’ mother died during production after finishing her work. The technician who built the refrigerated room had died. The night watchman died. After Max von Sydow’s first day of shooting where he enters the house, he received terrible news from Stockholm that his brother had died unexpectedly. A lot of this created sadness and anxiety on the set understandably. On top of this, a much debated fire erupted overnight when no one was present and burned down one of the sets to much of the crew’s amazement and disbelief. Coincidentally at the same time of this production, the Vatican issued a paper primarily on the subject of the Devil and a string of information had gotten out to the production that continued through the film’s production and release about a real life possession that was occurring in Germany. It was kept pretty much in secrecy, but what brought it to some attention was the trial that involved the priests that took care of the apparently ailing teenager, Annaliese Michel. These events were brought to the screen in a recent film that was loosely based and heavily modified, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. All of these coincidences generated more rumors than perhaps any other film production today.

    For the film’s opening, Friedkin after he had completed shooting in Georgetown and within the sets in New York traveled to a pre-Saddam Hussein Iraq where the book’s first chapter took place. This first scene’s meanings have been questioned by many film enthusiasts. Friedkin decided that Iraq would be a great vehicle for sharp contrast to Georgetown. The film starts with a blistering hot and windy environment where a lot of actual Iraqi extras are seen digging at a real archeological site. In classic “pictures are worth a thousand words,” Merrin is seen uncovering a St. Joseph medal which does not belong in a collection of dug up pottery. As Merrin digs in a small hole further, he covers a small idol of a Mesopotamian demon referred to as “Pazuzu” by the Assyrians. This idol is never referred to by name in the film, which is a great benefit. The medal offers a sharp contrast to the stone idol when examined closely by insert shots representing Merrin’s POV. Suddenly, a clock behind Merrin stops. Later, Merrin sees a bunch of what can also be described as Orson Welles type symbolism in certain shots (Welles was famous for doing this consistently in his films). Merrin discovers a full-size Pazuzu statue and then notices two dogs attacking each other representing the dogs of war or a forthcoming fight. The scene concludes with an almost boxing ring looking set up where literally in one corner of the frame is the demon and the other side is Merrin. Very simple to understand; even if the average person doesn’t have the words to articulate what happened—they most likely understand the psychology of it. By today’s standards, the images and actions of clocks stopping could be labeled as a simple scare tactic. However in many ways, it represents the most likely occurrence that could happen to spook anyone out in an everyday environment. Other cases of this can be the power going out (which does happen briefly later in parts of the film), windows or doors left open without much explanation to how they were opened (seen to an extent), and of course the normal strange noises. All of these can be considered somewhat normal, but in this case—exactly the opposite. It is this normalcy that also makes this very understandable to any average citizen when we reach Georgetown, USA. In fact, what makes The Exorcist a strong horror film is not its ability to make you a jump, but its way of bothering you with odd imagery. A simple fact of horror is often forgotten in films of today: it is not the end result that is scary, but the suggestion of it. Most films today follow what can be called “jack-in-the-box” style horror. Depending on how tightly wound this box is, the music or sounds prepares you and eventually the climax or shock occurs. We can honestly say that many horror films since the advent of the slasher genre have given birth to defective or overly presentational jack-in-the-boxes that may look fancy or wonderfully gory on the outside, but empty on the inside. The Exorcist is pure psychological horror and there as uncommon today as “thinking man” Sci-Fi’s (last ones were around the time of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil).

    One of the first things we have to remember is how to see this from a parent’s point of view. If you were a father or a mother who started to witness your child slowly falling into some sort of sickness that can NOT be controlled or explained, you would most likely become extremely desperate for answers as well. The film first rules out the possibility of this being some sort of disorder of the nerves, seizure caused over by a disarray of chemico-electrical activity in the brain, or any mental illness. It can however be argued that anyone who endured this type of stress could develop symptoms that could emulate these diseases as the film suggests. The film does offer a scientific name that is equivalent to possession called, “somnambuliform possession.” Our first encounter with this change in her personality comes at the dinner party where Regan without any motives or knowledge to who she is talking to says, “You’re going to die up there,” to a visiting astronaut and then urinates on the floor in front of everyone present. This scene is very heartbreaking as everyone around reacts either passively to Regan or sympathetically towards Chris MacNeil. Not soon after, we are unprepared to see Regan’s bed shaking about while laying on it without any logical explanation despite the fact that we have heard Regan mention her bed was moving before. This is when the more intense tests commence. A number of people who watched the film in 1973 already passed out at these points when we see blood squirting out of Regan’s neck or when she is seen with her head in a vice sweating under a grotesque snake like machine. Another visit by her doctor reveals Regan flinging uncontrollably on her bed while speaking in a different tone of voice. Chris eventually returns home another time to witness brownouts and what appears to be the phone ringing (with no one on the other end) related to the power fluctuations. The window is opened again revealing the room to be cold enough to see human breath. The stakes slowly get higher and higher when we discover just shortly after that Burke Dennings has died not too far away from the house. Ellen Burstyn as Chris handles the pathos of these building moments with great realistic intensity and believability. A visit by a psychiatrist in the next scene reveals some of the next elements of ‘paranormal’ activity. When the psychiatrist asks the hypnotized Regan for ‘the person inside of Regan’ to reveal himself, a picture of Regan falls down off a mantle and eventually a horrific smell causes Chris to back off coughing as well as Regan’s doctor. This detail goes missed usually when watched. Then in a rather horrible display of violation, Regan attacks the psychiatrist’s genitals causing him to collapse. We have some fascinating camera work here when the psychiatrist falls down with the camera seemingly connected to him.

    As all this occurs up to this point, we learn only in a few individual scenes a completely different element each time we climb the steps to Karras’ suffering. We first learn that Karras has an ailing mother who has recently injured her leg and will not accept the idea of moving out of her old, now decrepit neighborhood in New York City. Karras in his next scene admits that his suffering seems to be the main motivation to his doubts about other people and his loss of faith. The next time we see Karras and his mother is at a mental hospital where she is apparently suffering from Edema, which has made her uncontrollably resistant to doctors and even her own son. In a great bit of editing after Karras’ visit, we see Karras bashing a punching bag to vent. When we return back to Karras, we have already learned through Fr. Dyer at the Chris’ dinner/movie wrap party that his mother has passed away. Dyer comes to visit Karras to have a drink of what is apparently stolen liquor, which causes Karras in further grief to blatantly say to the sarcastic and laid back Dyer, “Stealing is a sin.” This is then followed by what many audience members call the most bizarre scene they had ever seen. In a nightmare, Karras dreams of a falling St. Joseph medal, the dogs of war, and the Iraqi clock which he was not around to see--but represents a type of premonition, his mother emerging from a subway entrance, and him standing across the street waving to her. We suddenly see a flash of a demonic face staring back at us for a brief half second. Karras runs toward her as we see her “descend down the steps” to either her grave or Hell seemingly. As the medal hits the ground, we are caught off guard again by a loud scream which cuts to Regan, outside of the nightmare, struggling in a similar way to Karras’ mother exclaiming to her doctor, “You f*cking bastard!” which is her first bit of profanity. We return to Karras who is now at mass blessing her mother’s passing. We won’t see Karras again until he is confronted by Lt. William Kinderman.

    When Chris has Regan sent to an institute of psychiatrists, she is offered the idea of exorcism, which they describe in rational terms as “a force of suggestion.” When writing this chain of events, Blatty was at a loss to what could force someone like Chris MacNeil to send her daughter to priests who she refers cynically as “witch doctors.” So indeed he thought of the worst possible thing that could be seen: after Kinderman questions Chris and feeds the idea of Regan as a possible suspect to Dennings’ murder, she runs up to Regan’s room following hearing her daughter screaming and sees Regan masturbating with a cross (where the cross came from seems to be deliberately left unexplained in the film) and cutting herself with it at the same time. In the demonic voice expertly done by Mercedes MacCambridge who we finally get to hear more starting at this point, she yells the line repeatedly, “Let Jesus f*ck you!” This image and idea of something like this happening to a child not only scared theater goers, but even Blatty and most of the crew itself. This is also the first time we get a look at the Regan dummy looking very life like with moving eyes and arms, covered in blood. Blatty has been often accused since of depicting child cruelty, child pornography, and desecration of a Christian symbol, but Blatty has defended himself constantly stating that if such an evil were present would it care about the child or the symbols? We finally see Karras again who will now be seen ascending in or out of frame in certain shots to suggest some sort of salvation later on. Both stories finally meet when Karras and Chris are introduced to each other, which is now 76 minutes into the film. Quite a surprise considering most people recall Chris MacNeil and Fr. Karras having big roles in the film, but don’t actually realize the film is already half over by the time they meet. Karras and Chris’ discussion leads to a talk about Fr. Dyer, the party, and eventually Regan who Chris reveals is possessed. Karras, skeptical, offers many other possibilities for Chris to aid Regan, but Chris now convinced she is possessed asks nothing but a priest’s help from Karras. That is one of the best acted moments in the film where as they get very involved in each other’s feelings while at the same time seem to deflect every other feeling along the way. When Karras finally agrees to meet Regan, we are finally introduced to a full-blown, facially contorted, cut up, wheezing, grotesque “thing” lying on a bed strapped down with a tube up in her nose. At this point in the film, many audience members were completely out of breath at the sight of the ravaged child. On top of that—by the time Karras confronts the demon who starts to mentally torture Karras with the knowledge that his mother is “with us,” vomits out what can be described as a bile like substance right into his eyes and mouth (Of course, most of us know this was accomplished with pea soup, but most of us don’t know it was a bit too hot when it accidentally hit Miller in the face, which is why Miller solicits that real stunned reaction). No one had seen something in that horrific fashion before 1973.

    As Karras heads out realizing from Chris that Regan had no knowledge of his mother’s death recently, we see another very strange image. As Kinderman sits outside in his car, he looks over to see what appears to be a freely moving Regan in silhouette behind the window shade. Kinderman, from what he understands is aware that she is too sick to move about, gives a look of puzzlement. This is the first of what we can call “universal hallucinations.” The point of these hallucinations is based on the demon’s desire to confuse and trick. We seem to understand later during the actual exorcism scene that the priests along with the audience are seeing things that are either inconsistent to what has been seen before and after or are momentary images of unexplainable occurrences that both priests are seeing at the same time. The fact that they are seeing it at the same time rules out the idea that it is a hallucination personally of their own. When Karras returns to mass, he realizes for the first time the meaning behind the words he is stating from the Bible and the “great mystery of faith.” Karras then sets up a tape deck in Regan’s room. According to one of the stipulations to get the Church to grant an exorcism, she must speak in a different language she has never known or studied. She does indeed start speaking Latin, later French with “bonjour,” and later Italian (perhaps also similarly in Latin) which can be translated to phrases like, “I consider you clean” in Latin (Ego te absolvo) and “The feather of my aunt” in Italian (La plume de ma tante). The next moment can be considered a very odd, confusing moment. As Karras douses her with what he tells her is Holy water and then admits to Chris was really tap water, Regan starts reacting very violently and speaking in tongues (something that does happen apparently more often when people are extremely sick). She does eventually speak in backwards English, which is of course something extremely hard to fake. The main question is why what she react if it was normal water? One conclusion some people throw around is if God was a tangible force on the earth, God would come in the form of any water since all life depend on it. Another seemingly more reasonable possibility is that the demon is just confusing Karras in an effort to push Karras’ away and for him to think this was not an actual possession. The last bit of evidence that Karras sees that grants the exorcism is Karras being urgently called to the house by Chris’ secretary, Sharon (Sharon is probably the most inconsequential character in the whole story and almost acts as an audience member to the whole incident). We then see the words, “Help me” on Regan’s stomach. This then finally leads us back to the reemergence of Father Merrin who has been described as a man who has dealt with exorcisms before. It is 95 minutes into the film by the time we see our title character once again. When Merrin finally reaches the house, we see one of the most stunning shots in film history and again another weird visual anomaly. How can a shaft of light be emanating from a window and yet the shade be drawn? This shot was inspired by a lot of René Magritte paintings that Friedkin had seen prior to filming. Owen Roizman was charged by Friedkin to accomplish the effect at which Friedkin responded to Roizman’s question of how by saying, “It’s your problem.” Eventually, the DP and many other members of the camera crew finally accomplished it by removing the window itself with shade still included and putting it further back so that an arc light could shine through the space between the hole and where the window now stood. From where the camera is positioned, the window doesn’t look further back at all. When we finally enter the exorcism scene, Merrin is only armed with three things: a cross, a small container of Holy water, and the copy of the Roman Ritual. During this, we see Marcel Vercoutere’s handiwork as he gives us a shaking bed, a shaking room, and a levitating bed that shakes around. This is when Father Karras comes to his revelation. Most of this is seen from Karras’ point of view who has been the realist throughout most of the film. As another brownout is seen again, we see another subliminal image of the demon in the darkness. Dick Smith then offers a very grotesque image of Regan sticking out a very large serpent like tongue. The refrigerated room that Friedkin demanded does pay off very well and all three actors’ breaths can be seen very well. More amazing imagery is seen as well from Karras’ POV including a cracking ceiling, a frozen IV tipping and breaking (most people forget that the water inside is frozen and that it is not empty), and a door closing and cracking.

    All of this occurs as the demon spurts out some of the most offensive dialogue including, “Stick your c*ck up her ass! You motherf*cking, worthless c*cksucker!,” “Your mother sucks c*cks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime!,” “Stick it up your ass, you f*ggot!,” and “F*ck him!” (presumably God). A lot of this profanity here people claim is not as bad today as it was in 1973. Unfortunately, these people forget that the point is not the profanity—it is the context of to whom it is being said by, which is a young girl shamefully insulting two priests and their faith using graphic depictions. One of Friedkin’s off screen gunshots is actually heard right after von Sydow says, “…from this creature of God.” You can see von Sydow jump a bit. The infamous head turning scene was realized by Mr. Vercoutere’s dummy with Dick Smith’s realistic makeup and foleyist Gonzolo Gavira’s usage of a plain old leather wallet crackling to simulate the bones “popping.” In many ways, the entire exorcism scene is a verbal assault between two men and an unrelenting force. The priests fight back screaming scripture as well as suggestive parenting-like words about God against the demon. Another ‘earthquake’ occurs and both men see a universal hallucination of the demon howling while clawing space and the Pazuzu-Devil equivalent statue reemerging again. In the extended 2000 release version, an extension of ‘the break from the exorcism’ includes a small dialogue where Karras asks, “Why this girl? Doesn’t make sense.” Merrin pauses and replies, “I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as animal and ugly. To reject the possibility that God could love us.” Here in fact is the entire point of the film and novel. Friedkin and Blatty would later debate about that exclusion for years until Friedkin admitted in his later years its validity to the context of the scene. When Karras reenters the room on his own, we see another bizarre image of Karras’ mother sitting on a bright-white bed staring at her son disapprovingly. It is not clear whether this is a hallucination or Karras imaging his mother’s situation to be a lot like Regan’s. Karras eventually leads us back to a scientific approach realizing that Regan’s beat of her heart is not normal. Merrin asks Karras if he could give her something, but Karras is fearful that it could cause her to slip into a coma. Regan who continues to sounds like Karras’ mother speaking in English and in Greek finally breaks him. Merrin tells Karras to get out leaving the old priest alone with the demon. Upon Chris asking if Regan is going to die, Karras decides to go back into the room. Here we see one last shot of Karras ascending out of the shot. Suddenly, the outside world rings at the door and Kinderman comes in to show that reality is still consistent here. To Karras’ and the audiences’ shock, we find Merrin dead. Another creepy image is seen where Regan seems to be leaning against the bed post relaxing waiting for Karras’ response to Merrin’s state.

    It should be taken note how both Burke Dennings and Father Merrin are killed off screen. It makes it more shocking and more realistic since very few people actually get to see people die right in front of their eyes. It also mirrors a similar event in King Lear where a lot of characters die off stage with only one death at the end seen on stage: Lear’s. The same thing happens here. Eventually, the demon giggles playfully while emulating a pose that is seen in many photos earlier in the film of Regan clasping her hands near her mouth. Karras, in a fit of rage, literally beats the demon out of Regan; screaming for it to enter him. The demon rips off a St. Joseph medal that has miraculously appeared on Karras while scratching his face. When the demon does enter Karras, in the 2000 cut, another overlaid image of Karras’ mother on the window as either a sign for Karras’ to jump out the window or the demon torturing him some more appears. As the possessed Karras starts to bend over to strangle the now freed and crying Regan, we see one of the most amazing dissolves in pre-morph history. The possessed Karras transforms back into the normal Karras, and screaming in resistance, “No!” throws himself through the window. Karras falls 90 or so steps (that are apparently extremely steep and the stuntman fell down the entire way two times) all the way to the ground. Chris and Kinderman run into the room where he is surprised to find bodies. Regan is found crying and dragging herself across the floor. Her own mother is hesitant; still thinking it is not the daughter she knows. Finally, she goes to her with Kinderman astounded by the sight of the room.

    Fr. Dyer finds his best friend at the bottom of the steps and reads him the last rights. Karras can still hear him and responds through movements of his hand. Dyer starts crying as the scene concludes (O’Malley is actually trembling here because Friedkin smacked him across the face to get him more emotional). At a later day, Dyer is waiting at the house as the MacNeil’s are packing to leave. Dyer and MacNeil say their goodbyes as a healing Regan steps outside (it could be argued she doesn’t look as injured as she should look, but her healing face gives the audience some hope and closure). Chris claiming that Regan can’t remember any of what happened leaves Regan momentarily as Regan notices the white collar and gives Dyer a kiss. This is a very touching moment that restores Regan’s innocence as a child. As the car is about to drive away, Chris has them stop to give Dyer the St. Joseph medal she found. In the 2000 cut, Dyer decides it is better for Chris to keep it and hands it back. Dyer sees them drive away and all of them have their heads turned toward their destination. In the 2000 cut, Regan is looking back at Dyer waving. Dyer waves back in response. To me, this change was a good one considering that the original’s more negative image of them not looking back seems to beg the word: sequel, which I try to forget. In the original cut, Dyer looks down at the steps and it ends with in a more overall negative light. Blatty later believed that people who came out of the theater thinking the Devil had won misinterpreted these last shots. In the 2000 cut, the book’s ending was restored with Kinderman returning to the MacNeil house and Dyer coming back from the steps telling him that he just missed them. Kinderman asks, “How’s the girl?” Dyer responds, “She seemed fine.” Kinderman ends with, “That’s important. That’s important.” They end up saying goodbyes and then starting a new conversation that mirrors the one Kinderman had earlier with Karras. This new extension also gives us some closure as to how Kinderman’s investigation ends without pursuing Regan for murder. This ending’s great point was to show that life goes on and how you ultimately fight against the evils of life: by living and surviving. Some people debate whether this ending was necessary, but I love it for its optimistic appeal as well as a look into some great additional material of Lee J. Cobb and Fr. William O’Malley performances that had gone unseen for 25 years. This scene proves that without a doubt that William O’Malley probably gives one of the best natural performances from a non-actor since Harold Russell from The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

    The Exorcist would go onto be nominated for 10 Academy awards including Best Picture, Best Actress Ellen Burstyn, Best Supporting Actor Jason Miller, Best Supporting Actress Linda Blair, Best Director William Friedkin, Best Cinematography Owen Roizman, Best Editing John C. Broderick & Bud S. Smith & Evan A. Lottman and Norman Gay, Best Production Design-Set Decoration Bill Malley and Jerry Wunderlich and won two for Best Adapted Screenplay by William Peter Blatty and Best Sound by Chris Newman and Robert Knudson. Why makeup wasn’t nominated is anyone’s guess. The Exorcist would also go on to spawn currently two sequels and two prequels. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) (directed by John Boorman who turned down the original and apparently reported to have hated the original film) would go down in history as one of the worst and most embarrassing sequels ever made. William Peter Blatty would go later into directing with the highly underrated metaphysical drama, The Ninth Configuration (1980) based on his book, reuniting Blatty with Jason Miller, and later with his adaptation of the novel’s true sequel, "Legion", which became The Exorcist III in 1990. This film, although truer in spirit to the original film than II, would suffer from an unusual adaptation of the book in comparison to the adaptations of both The Exorcist and The Ninth Configuration. Jason Miller would also make a reappearance in III at the insistence of the studio stating it was better to have an original actor from the original film than a totally different cast. This can be considered to be one of the best studio decisions ever made considering it takes into account the sequel formula of balancing the old with the new. Paul Schrader’s Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist would be replaced by a new version of the same story by Renny Harlin in Exorcist: The Beginning. It was however considered a flop, and Dominion was released later. Schrader’s film, an earlier account by a younger Fr. Merrin who has just come out of WWII and has his first encounter with a “curing” demon, has been considered very good in the eyes of both Blatty and Friedkin. In 1982, Jason Miller would become inspired enough to release a film version of his Pulitzer prize winning stage play starring Stacy Keach who starred in Blatty’s Ninth as well as Robert Mitchum, Bruce Dern, Paul Sorvino, and Martin Sheen. The film version of That Championship Season expounds on some situations in the play and offers a great portrait of a group of aging friends now at either other’s throats. The directing style of it is certainly inspired by Friedkin and Blatty’s work. In 1977, Lee J. Cobb died of a heart attack making his character of Lt. Kinderman one of his most tender and compassionate characters of his later career. Apparently, Blatty had come up with an idea of a detective who used his personality and friendliness as a way to solve metaphysical crimes. Lee J. Cobb was offered the chance to return to this character, but turned it down. From what has been debated and understood, the TV studios took these remaining ideas (minus the metaphysical end) and turned it into Columbo, starring Peter Falk. Blatty to this day still believes that the studio did this without admitting it. The character of Lt. Kinderman would however come back to cinematic life in the form of George C. Scott in The Exorcist III. In 2001, Jason Miller would die of the same natural causes that plagued Cobb while working on a stage play. He had only directed one film.

    A lot of what makes The Exorcist an undeniable masterpiece in horror is its treatment of the subject. A lot of people went to churches immediately after watching the film. It caused a lot of increased visits to psychiatrists by people who were too overwhelmed by the experience. Christian evangelist, Billy Graham, claimed that an actual demon lived in the celluloid of the film. People who went to see the film left the theater stunned and sick. Many people had fainted and vomited in the aisles and seats. Some people had to be awakened with smelling salts. Some people also left the theater in the middle of film feeling too disturbed. Some people even went to go to see the film to see if it made them sick and it usually delivered that promise. The reason why this film has held such strong power is due to the fact of how it handles horror seriously. Without it becoming overly presentational as many horrors suffer from, it uses its subject material in necessary ways without the gimmicks. Out of all films labeled as psychological horrors, there are only a few that treat it in a similar, respected way using images and suggestion that The Exorcist has: The Shining (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), and Suspiria (1977). Other films don’t stick out in my mind at this point unless you count, Psycho (1960), which can’t exactly take inspiration from The Exorcist. It can be argued that this film hasn’t aged as well when seen today considering how people laugh or make fun of the events that happen on screen. However, one thing is certain when you watch the 2000 cut that expounds on other subjects covered more carefully in the novel as well more subliminal imagery (very innovative editing in 1973) and the newly included infamous "spider walk" (after Chris learns of Burke’s death) where Regan unnaturally crawls down the stairs backwards coughing up blood — that it turns what can be easily passed off as just a movie into a very credible portrait of what can terrify any parent or child. The fear of a consuming sickness that is so powerful it changes you for the worst.

    Next week, I'll try to measure up when I explore the legend of Dirk Diggler and "Boogie Nights."

    Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. See ya!

    "Mike's Rant" is ©2006 by Michael A. Smith.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.