Cameron Brown is the self-described Couch Potato Psychologist, a writer and psychologist tackling television characters with thoughtful insight into their psychological identities at Couch Potato Psychology. For Halloween Fifteen, Cameron discusses The Exorcist’s ability to make us scared based on psychological tension, how the film morphs our perceptions throughout. Read on to find out Cameron’s take on the film, and definitely check out his website.
I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us. – Father Merrin
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? It is one of, if not the, classic horror film that started a batch of films that caused walk outs in cinemas and a bevy of complaints – from the religious based to those who thought there were crimes against children committed due to the impact on the young Linda Blair.
I remember going to the cinema to watch the Exorcist when the film was re-released in early 2001 and was filled with dread due to the underlying nature of the film that was pre-empted by it’s release in the early 70s. This was a film that had people passing out and leaving the cinema and went through an 11 year home video ban in the UK. It is hard to conceptualise now but this kind of feeling around a movie wasn’t common. Facebook or Myspace weren’t around, nor were any other major social media players. The Exorcist was a film that did what many films do now, but didn’t do then, it went viral. Sure there are newspapers and television and the internet, but you had to go looking for information, the Exorcist transcended this. It was the type of film that would give your mother the shudders when the name came up and people would ask ‘Are you sure?’ when you said you were going to see it.
The human brain is all about making sense of patterns, and when something doesn’t fit a pattern it is reassessed, it’s called the cognitive miser effect and helps us to save resources and time. The Exorcist, from the start, makes sure that you are second guessing everything, there is very little that you can take for granted and you will constantly have to reassess the patterns and what your expectations are. What makes it particularly frightening is the juxtaposition of the young, innocent Regan speaking in tongues. The audience is constantly left wondering ‘What next’ and then another iconic scene is delivered, scenes which have formed the basis of other horror movies and the fodder for numerous comedy skits. That is where The Exorcist really holds up, in the fact that the vast majority of people could identify the scenes within the movie. Whether that be the backwards crab walk (which still makes me shudder), the vomiting of bright green fluid, the spinning head or the crucifix scene, there is always something that people can identify as a scene from The Exorcist. From the score to the acting, The Exorcist is a tour de force in horror and the juxtaposition of what the audience sees as good versus evil.
Sure it was scary, but I didn’t pass out, made it all the way to the end in fact. But when I left the cinema I felt unnerved, like it was still holding on to me. From the cinema I made a long walk across the carpark and fog had flooded in, obscuring the ground. It was such a normal thing, but something in my head attached the fog to the supernatural, and that is what the Exorcist was so good at, getting you to question the things that you had always held dear. For the Exorcist it was about questioning safety, the innocence of youth and faith.
I have watched the other Exorcist films and others in the same ‘exorcism’ genre, but truly nothing comes close. To this day there is no other film that brings back memories every time that I walk across an empty, foggy carpark in the dead of night.