Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

The Horror film's function to culture at large is predominantly misunderstood. For what we see when we look at a horror film are the manifest fears of a society of people. Horror films, perhaps more than any other genre, are an anthropological tool to aid in the discernment of a time, place and public psyche. In certain Critical Studies departments (I know it went on at CalArts) general history classes use the horror film as a means by which to gain a better understanding of the era which they desire to evoke. Last night, I sat down with a decent Bordeaux (not great) and watched The Exorcist - the Version I Had seen (if you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years, Friedkin, or at least Warner Brothers, in an attempt to make an easy buck, distributed an extended, entirely-too-much-just-thrown-in version of the film which is being touted as The Version You've Never Seen, as though this makes it inherently better because you've never seen it. This is not, however, the case. It is a far weaker film, even with the spider walk sequence.)

So, one may wonder, what does The Exorcist have to say about the psyche of the early Seventies? Quite a lot, actually. Remember, the film, released in 1973, arrived at the end of the war in Vietnam, but with soldiers still overseas. Nixon was president, but also was met with the scandal of the Watergate hearings. Jesus Christ Superstar is released. Suffice to say, it was a conservative time. And what could this graphically shocking movie possibly be doing at such a time? The film is actually a rather regressive one, if you look at its politics. In sad keeping with most traditional horror films, the greatest horrors of course lie in femininity, particularly pertaining to adolescent sexuality, for, what is it (metaphorically) for a (male) demon to enter the body of an innocent 12 year old girl, if not none-too-subtle symbolic rape. The language that shocked cinema goers the world over was a cautionary tale to youths. Fowl language, it can be seen here, is the work of the devil. Premature sexuality is the work of the devil. And the devil can inhabit only those most week, young girls. The young girl at hand also just so happens to be the child of a strong willed, powerfully independent woman (the magnificent Ellen Burstyn), who, the film takes great pains to reitterate, does not believe in god. She is aprogressive woman and is thus punished for her blindness to the divinity that is god. The film follows in the lineage of such the-religious-world-as-we-know-it-is-crumbling-before-our-very-eyes movies like Rosemary's Baby, Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man (which, ironically and sadly, is being remade with Burstyn starring as Lady Sumerisle, for the paycheck, one would presume).

Entertainment Weakly (intentional typo, dears) called The Exorcist the scarriest film of all time, and for good reason. It certainly scared movie goers into church, and this shifty intent is one thing that struck me as rather icky, for lack of a better word, when watching the film. Even through the Bordeaux, I could smell a Catholic church rubbing their hands together in glib delight. In one key scene, a statue of the virgin Mary is desecrated. I remember watching the film when I was much younger with a friend and to her, this scene was the most terrifying. What's more, it was a scene which she had to shield her eyes from. And this was usually tough little cookie. I suppose this is the true horror of The Exorcist. It is something I cannot touch, given my lifelong atheistness. Still, the absolute hysteria invoked by the little girl (sorry, but you'll be hearing a lot about hysteria in the weeks that come), is a manipulative device that, though I don't usually yield to manipulation, is frighteningly affective. It is one kind of manipulation that doesn't completely bother me. Since horror films are the fear equivalent to Lifetime's emotional porn, and we all know just how much I love my Lifetime, I say, go right ahead, but viewer, proceed with caution.


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