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The Exorcist

There is not much you can expect from a film you’ve likely watched more than a hundred times, even if it is The Exorcist. At this point it is a security blanket. I just need to know it is there in the room with me as I sleep: breathing heavily, a plume of mist rising from its rancid sleeping mouth, the words “Watch Me” appearing on its skin like gooseflesh if I ever need advice on how I should spend my night.

Over the years it has become as much a part of my sleeping habit as keeping my bedroom windows wide open, a trick I also learned directly from its teachings. How else could I ever expect to entice a better spirit inside to take over from my own deeply bored and unsatisfied soul. Maybe make me the kind of person capable of resisting this films clutches. Allow me some time away if only to remember what life might be like without it. Or, at the very least, just let me learn how to love it again.

The movie had become a problem. By the time I decided to rid myself of it we hardly had anything to say to each other anymore. Encased in a block of cement, it now rests at the bottom of a haunted lake, where for years I did my best not to think of it, even as it waited expectantly down there for my return. I imagine it has grown bitter and lonely. Become just angry enough to send a desperate message up to the surface, bursting out from its bubbles one word at a time: “Suck...cocks...in...Hell”. I know the words are meant for me but only the bullfrogs are there to hear it. And they croak in complete indifference.

At least such was the case for many years until just this past Halloween. I can now state that I have officially returned to The Exorcist. I don’t know exactly how long it has been since the last time I had seen it, but it seems as if it has aged just about perfectly, marinating in all of its hatred of me beneath the watery tomb I condemned it to. Everything was exactly as it should be. I played it loud. It was rude to my girlfriend. It did everything I expected of it, short of rearranging the furniture.

In many ways, the movie was exactly as I left it. The details of the story had obviously not changed and so there was no need to wave my handkerchief in surrender as heads began to turn, and crucifixes were plunged, and mothers got crotched. I knew from experience these moments only existed safely on screen. But what I seemed unprepared for, after its long silence in my life, was the enormity of the films ungodly sound design. Layer after layer of squealing and buzzing and thumping. Some of this noise we can locate the source of in frame. But the rest we might find ourselves suspecting is actually being transmitted from some evil place offscreen directly into our living room.

It is as we approach the climax, that the roar of the movie will hit like a sandblaster. It is shocking how furiously it pushes at the stitches that keep the films patina of realism from tearing open. It shakes the narrative to pieces until the whole thing shatters like glass. We are no longer simply a passive audience to the telling of a story but witnessing something escape from within it. Windows burst open, plaster cracks, straps are torn, skin is opened and vomit gallumphs all over the pillow. Portals are being opened. And as eyes roll into the back of the head, and levitation begins, the terrible silence that follows allows us to hear all sorts of noises in our walls, and behind our couch, and in the pulse of whoever we are watching it with.

The Exorcist is and always will be special. It comes closer to its audience than any other horror film of its generation. Or any that preceded or followed. This is its legacy. After it ends, it comes to live in your house with you. It’s in your room when you turn the lights off. It keeps you company when you drift off to sleep, whether you choose for it to be there or not. And, maybe if you’re friendly to it, keep it close, never let it out of sight, it can’t hurt you.

Unless, of course, it has a score to settle.