WHERE THIS EVIL HAILS FROM: The Exorcist (1973)
WHY THIS EVIL MADE ME FILLE THE FEAR: The terror that I’ve felt over the course of my life towards this character is so near-blindingly powerful, it’s very hard to describe. I remember being in my family kitchen when I was around 11 or so and hearing my mom talk about how The Exorcist had “traumatized” her when she was young. I’d never heard this word before, or perhaps I’d never heard it used so jarringly and I remember repeating it over and over in my head and to my friends, “Okay, my mom said that when she saw The Exorcist it like, TRAUMATIZED her.” And so obviously I wanted to see this movie so badly .
I was going through a horror movie phase and a couple of my close pals and I would pick something out at Thomas Video in Guelph and watch it during a sleepover. I really don’t know why I did this because I’ve always been very easily spooked and watching like, Candyman, just wasn’t worth it for all the sleepless nights I had, making midnight bathroom trips as lit and speedy as possible, bounding back into my covers so as to evade beasts waiting under my bed.
So by that point, I haven’t even seen one iota of this movie. A little while later, I’m watching the Oscars in my parents’ bedroom with my mum and sister and they’re playing some sort of horror movie montage. There’s a teeny snippet of Regan’s/Pazuzu’s head slowly twisting around and I hear my mom whimper a bit and this triggers a full body shiver in me that I still can’t quite explain. Then in ninth grade I finally sit down to take in this fucking movie with two girlfriends. We get about 2/3 of the way in and I have to turn it off, which I normally would be too shy to ask for, but it’s too much. It’s just too much. It’s like a living nightmare for me, I swear to God. The first glimpse of Pazuzu we see is the flash of the demonic face in Father Karras’ dream and I mean, the image still feels like an icy hand reaching inside my chest. It’s difficult not to feel that Pazuzu was tailored for my specific set of fears and triggers. The voice, the almost meth-addicted, aged face, the body that flips and twists and crawls. I’ve barely told anyone this before, but I have at least one dream featuring Pazuzu in it per year.
Pazuzu (the demon that possesses pubescent Regan MacNeil) exists outside of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay in Babylonian mythology and the real-world existence, myth or otherwise, does lend an extra layer of creep to things. Watching a girl my age become rapidly consumed with violent sexuality and vulgar language was like what I maybe imagined as the new terror of becoming a young adult woman. At least, that’s an obvious interpretation of my feelings. Though as Pauline Kael wrote, “A critic can’t fight [the phenomenon of the film], because it functions below the conscious level. “
HOW THIS EVIL STILL DOES: I’ve now watched The Exorcist a few times and I mean, like any red-blooded human, it still feels frightening. I mean, yeah, pre-bedeviled Regan’s dialogue is like, revoltingly oversweet (“Captain Howdy, do you think my mom’s pretty?”) and the writing is inadequate, but the layering of ambiance, of tone, is resolute and undeniably well-crafted to the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. I can’t parse an adult viewing experience from how I feel about this film in the bedrock of my guts; it’s too late. I can completely see how Kael found The Exorcist to be, “in a slugging, coercive style” and “tiresomely moralistic” and I love her dissection of it, but there is something to be cherished in a remembered experience such as the one I’ve had. In some ways, the lurch that I still feel to my system when I see a picture of the demon’s face is oddly vitalic.