Tip of the Scalpel to The Scariest Movie of All Time - The Exorcist
Demon: I'm not Regan.
Father Karras: Well, then let's introduce ourselves. I'm Damien Karras.
Demon: And I'm the Devil. Now kindly undo these straps.
Father Karras: If you're the Devil, why not make the straps disappear?
Demon: That's much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.
Demon: What an excellent day for an exorcism.
Father Karras: You would like that?
Father Karras: But wouldn't that drive you out of Regan?
Demon: It would bring us together.
Father Karras: You and Regan?
Demon: You and us.
Demon: Your mother sucks cocks in Hell, Karras, you faithless slime.
"Your mother sucks cocks in Hell." Perhaps never has a more colorful line been spoken in the history of film…but hold on, we'll get to that in a bit.
As a lover of horror and a Dread Central writer, many of the conversations I have often turn to a discussion of the genre. And, without fail, my favorite question to ask of others is, "In your opinion, what's the scariest movie of all time?" And you'd be amazed at the wide variety of responses I receive.
Often the response is a film that scarred a person in their childhood. I hear people tell me Don't Be Afraid of the Dark or Dark Night of the Scarecrow was the scariest film they've ever seen more often than you'd expect. And why is that? Because they were both made-for-TV movies that were easily accessible in 1973 and 1981 when they were released. Legions of children certainly unknowingly stumbled upon these classic horror films on network television only to be glued to the screen while having their young minds permanently warped.
Of course, as you would expect, the responses you receive when asking random people the scariest movie they've ever seen are as varied as the people themselves. For example, I get answers like Night of the Living Dead, The Birds, Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I've heard Jaws, Salo and Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. All great answers, yes. However, they're all wrong. If the question posed to you is, "What's the scariest movie of all time?", the correct answer…the only answer…is The Exorcist. The goddamn Exorcist.
And I'm happy to report that when asking people about the film that scared them the most, the most common answer is indeed William Friedkin's masterpiece. The film goes beyond a tolerable level of scary. It ventures into the uber-fright. It sears into the viewer.
The Exorcist, with its unforgettable theme song, Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, was unleashed on an unsuspecting world on June 19, 1973, adapted from William Peter Blatty's novel. Horror was never the same. The bar had been raised, and it has never been surpassed. The transformation of Linda Blair's character, young Regan, from complete innocence to absolute evil is amazing.
And this is where we get back to the sucking of cocks in Hell. The Exorcist held back nothing. The filmmakers embraced the idea that a demon would say or do whatever necessary to inflict pain on the humans around it. The demon could have possessed a huge pro wrestler-sized guy and done real physical damage. But he didn't. Pazuzu possessed a 12-year-old girl. And why was Regan the chosen victim? What could be gained by taking the body of such a small, meek person? There is a scene deleted from the theatrical version of the film, but reinserted in the Producer's Cut, that addresses that issue. The answer becomes clear in this scene, a conversation between Fathers Merrin and Karras, and it's also the reason the film is so chilling: The demon took the girl to wreak havoc by trying to make humanity doubt the existence of God.
And the absolute viciousness of the beast, especially toward Father Karras, is painful to watch. Struggling from the death of his mother and questioning his faith, Father Karras is the perfect target for the demon. And Pazuzu comes after the priest with unrelenting fury. The demon says the most blasphemous things about Karras' deceased mother, even mocking the woman's crying out in pain, calling for her son, while she died alone. That's intense.
And the door, that damn bedroom door. So many times in the film we see Ellen Burstyn, playing the distraught mother, Chris MacNeil, approach Regan's closed bedroom door and think, "Please, Ellen Burstyn, don't open that bedroom door. We can't take any more. Don't open the door!" But invariably she would open that door, or the priests would enter, and the scene behind the door got progressively more disturbing and simply horrific each time. The tension, the suspense and the payoff each time we went into the room. It was the perfect storm of horror.
Next year The Exorcist will celebrate its 40th anniversary. Can it possibly be 40 years since this film was released? Or maybe a better question is can it be possible that in 40 years no other filmmaker could surpass the absolute pure, crippling terror instilled by The Exorcist? Yes, definitely possible.
I invite all of you to comment below with your scariest film of all time and your argument as to why I'm wrong in saying The Exorcist holds the crown…and may be unsurpassable. But for today it's a huge, humbled Tip of the Doctor Gash Scalpel to The Exorcist, The Scariest Film of All Time.
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