FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Nov 1, 2013

Horror's unanswered questions: THE EXORCIST

Who places the crucifix under Regan's pillow?


No one will cop to it! Was it a Pazuzu-ified Regan herself, using it to help goad Chris into seeking a religious solution to the problem? Makes sense if the Pazuzu/Merrin royal rumble actually began when he exorcised the boy in Africa years earlier: the demon wants to get on with this showcase showdown.

Or...it was Karl. Rather than deny placing it there straight off, he responds to Chris's accusation with "She is going to be well?", perhaps indicating his guilt.

I watched the new 40th Anniversary edition of this film recently and ugh, I just love it so much. Of course it's scary and crazy and full of horrifying imagery that will stay with you...well, forever. But oh, the characters and the tiny moments in The Exorcist are what put it at the top of the heap and give me something new to appreciate every time I see it. The mother-daughter dynamic between Regan and Chris is so wonderful and heartbreaking and it's absolutely the backbone of the story for me.

But there's so much more: Lt. Kinderman's love of movies (and bad jokes). Regan's kiss on the cheek for Father Dyer. Sharon ultimately deciding that what happened in that Georgetown house is too much for her to bear...the quick hug shared between her and Chris, who walks away without a look back. Fathers Dyer and Damian having drinks and exorcising their own demons. Regan sobbing in the corner when she's finally free. Sure, horror fans- myself most definitely included- love the grotesque, supernatural hijinks that the possessed get up to, and you won't find any hijinks more disturbing than those in this film. But the characters feel like people in The Exorcist- people you come to care about. I've no idea how many times I've seen this film, but I still find myself hoping that this innocent girl will make it through this terrible experience. I mean, I know she does...my memory works fine. I know that Regan does make it through and that she goes on to become quite a dazzling tap dancer. The point is, I still get wrapped up in her story.

I know I've argued it countless times before, but if horror filmmakers gave more love to characters so we, in turn, could do the same, the genre would be so much better off.

All that said, I found my feelings changed on another subject after this recent viewing, and that's Pazuzu. I've always felt that outside of, you know, wreaking havoc in the MacNeil's lives (to put it mildly), the demon didn't really do much. In other words, I couldn't see much of the point of this possession: sure, Regan gets gross-faced and obscene and flails around in bed, but to what end?

The Exorcist has long terrified me, of course, but this time it seemed to be on a different level: the gross-faced histrionics took a backseat and I found myself focused on the things the demon did do while possessing the body of a 12-year-old girl. You know, all the things Pazuzu did off-screen: defiling the statue in the church. Killing poor, drunken Burke by twisting his head around completely backwards (and then mimicking the act later- I got more shivers from that moment this time than I ever have before) and tossing him out the window. Either killing Father Merrin outright or, at least, inducing heart failure in the frail old man. The scene where the demon- untied now- sits quietly watching as Father Karras desperately tries to resuscitate Merrin...and then softly laughs when he fails...is ultimately more terrifying than any of the shock-value stuff, as is the notion that Pazuzu is simply waiting, that even in the body of a child he can wield so much power. And if, acting through Regan, the demon did place the crucifix where Chris would find it- if it was, in fact, playing mind games with her- it's enough to make you want to convert to anything.

Do you have a horror movie question you'd like answered? Email it to me at stacieponder (at) gmail dot com with the subject line "horror's unanswered questions" and maybe we'll see to hashing it out here!

10 comments:

Unknown said...

Watched this last night for the umpteenth time - great movie! What I took from it was that Pazuzu was chiefly using Regan to get to Merrin for a little payback.

Antaeus Feldspar said...

Hi, Stacie! Sorry I couldn't get in a list for Shocktober; Shocktember was just kind of a futzy month.

Anyways, re: the cross under the pillow - at some point I should really get a blog of my own so that I can present my long-winded ramblings without taking up other people's comment sections. But without going into ALL MY FEELS about T_E, I'll say yes, it absolutely makes sense for the cross to have been put there by the demon.

Remember the "holy water" scene? Where Father Karras flicks Regan with ordinary water he claims is holy water, and she reacts as if it was holy water, from which Karras concludes that there's no actual possession, since a real demon surely would have known the difference? Well... there is a real demon, and in hindsight, we can see it's playing Karras like a fiddle in that scene. Its reaction has nothing to do with the actual holiness of the water - nothing to do with what's actually going on, and everything to do with what it wants Father Karras to believe is happening.

IMHO, it would be fully within Pazuzu's M.O. to have planted the cross so that Chris would bring the Catholic Church and thus Karras into his game, just as he manipulates Karras to ensure that Merrin is brought into the game in turn.

Stacie Ponder said...

Indeed! Terrifying to think about because it's not completely obvious- all of it could be explained away- and we never really SEE the demon do anything. The scope is so much greater than pea soup and head-spinning...

Ahhh I could talk about The Exorcistall day!

Finbarr Heather said...

I was always utterly fucking baffled by the whole "church desecration" thing. I had no idea who was supposed to have perpetrated it and it always left me somewhat bemused. To be honest I wasn't quite sure how Burke's head got twisted either. Did Pazuzu do it remotely by magic telekinetic demon power or did Regan actually get out of bed and do it? I'm dim...

Stacie Ponder said...

Well, she wasn't tied up and fully-possessed-looking at that point...no one knew what was going on. So when he was babysitting, Burke went into her room for one reason or another and SNAP-TOSS-BYE

smogo said...

I'm pretty sure it's all there in the original novel, though it's a long long time since I read that. But from what I remember, Merrin and Pazuzu have met before, and this is their final battle. As for the church desecration, I seem to remember that being part of a subplot that's not actually related to Pazuzu; it's just background colour that ties in with the whole "Christianity in crisis" theme.

But I could be wrong.

Beaucoup Bucks said...

"I couldn't see much of the point of this possession: sure, Regan gets gross-faced and obscene and flails around in bed, but to what end?"

Remember when Father Karras asks Merrin 'But why a little girl?' and he responds along the lines of 'I think the point is to make us despair.' But also to doubt the existence of God or in fact goodness itself.

veggiemacabre said...

Ugh! This was such an amazing post. The part that really got me was when the detective was watching the house and you can see the silhouette of Reagan walking around her room even though she was supposed to be tied up.

*shivers*

Stacie Ponder said...

"Remember when Father Karras asks Merrin 'But why a little girl?' and he responds along the lines of 'I think the point is to make us despair.' But also to doubt the existence of God or in fact goodness itself."

Yup. I guess I forget about that because it wasn't in the original cut.

John Baker said...

I'm a bit late to the party, as usual, but thought I'd put in my overpriced two cents worth.

According to 'Word of God' - i.e. Blatty himself - it was Karl who put the crucifix under the pillow.