Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our extraordinary fear of "The Exorcist"

Novelist Chuck Palahniuk discusses some of his fears regarding The Exorcist. Pay attention, folks: This is interesting:

"Perhaps my telling you that I kept my copy of The Exorcist separate from all the rest of my books, in a drawer of art materials, will serve. This eventually would not do and the book was exiled to a drawer in a tool chest in the back of the house. 
This is not logical, and I can't explain it, but I truly felt that the book was evil. It is not rational thinking that keeps me rooted to this earth. The demon was given so much more of a specific personality that it felt, well, real. This goes back to the believabilty. The more time spent with Pazuzu, the more distinct the voice became; repulsive, malicious, unnerving, diabolical, and most believable in the book, which was enough for me... 
It must be mentioned, reader, that I am not alone: a strange phenomenon surrounds the book. Many copies have been excommunicated from book collections and libraries, relegated to "safe" distances like linen closets and spare bedroom closets.."
I have to admit, this makes a little chill go up my spine. It reminds me of that Japanese horror film The Ring--in which a cursed videotape has the power to reach out and kill people. (The Exorcist, like the 1983 horror film Poltergeist, is believed by some people to be "cursed".)

My experience is a bit like Palahniuk's in only one regard: For years, The Exorcist was the one movie that I was almost afraid to see, having heard stories about it for practically my entire life. 

The movie came out in 1973. I was alive then, but much too young for that sort of fare. Throughout my youth, I had spoken to a lot of older adults who reported weeks of sleeplessness after watching The Exorcist in theaters. 

I finally got around to watching the movie about ten years ago. (Although I write a considerable amount of horror fiction, I generally don't watch a lot of horror films, for reasons I'll perhaps explain another time. The principal reason is that most contemporary horror films are just plain bad.)

My verdict: Yes, the film is intense. However, it didn't cause me any significant amount of sleeplessness.  

I think that for me the impact of The Exorcist was diluted, because so many of the film's elements had been copied by other filmmakers after 1973. (To cite just one example: Watch the 1982 movie Amityville II: The Possession--which was made less than 10 years after The Exorcist was in theaters.)

Still, I'm intrigued by the idea that a piece of art could be so horrible that its mere physical artifact (like a copy of the book) could have a talismanically evil power. 

For me, works of art are completely safe. No horror movie has ever truly frightened me--to the point of keeping me awake at night. I am always able to remember that at the end of the day, the film/novel is the product of someone's imagination. 

However, this doesn't mean that I am completely immune from vicarious forms of fear: I have been "creeped out" on occasion by so-called "real ghost stories". (Read my earlier post about Clermont County, Ohio's Dead Man's Curve, which is within a few miles of my house.) And there are certain items that I would not keep in my home--such as anything related to the practice of the occult. 

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