a zoo in hell


7 Scary Things #4 - The Exorcist

Yeah, so a very intense location production left me unable to keep these going during the week of Halloween. I'll post them as they should've been posted. I doubt the internet cares all that much.


As a child of the 1970's, I feel like the shadow of The Exorcist falls exceptionally long across my youth and into my adulthood. I was not raised Catholic, but there was certainly enough Christian influence around me to imbue this film with a deep mythic resonance. I don't know why, but as much as I enjoyed the chills of Dracula, Wolfman and the Mummy, there was something palpably possible and deeply frightening about The Exorcist. It was based on a true story, after all.

I used to believe that The Exorcist worked because it operated on the influence Christian mythology has had on American culture. The devil is a monster many believe in one way or another, even if they otherwise live by a rational philosophy. The devil is something many seem afraid not to believe in, maybe wisely, lest he get the jump on them.

I can't say I believe in the devil anymore than I believe in Dracula or the Sleestaks which tormented me out of the corner of my eyes as kid. I don't believe in a singular devil whose entire meaning is to torment and misguide humans. I don't believe in a devil that is merely a tool for the twisted whims of a nearly barbaric and imperial godhead. An evil nearly equal to the infinite universe should have little concern with the short lives of confused and hapless human beings.

Father Merrin recognized a pre-Christian threat in the demon figure of Pazuzu. Like many of the terrors of hell, this threat was imagined by men long before Jesus walked the deserts of the Middle East. While Merrin is armed with the tools of his training and education, he senses something older and more terrible in Pazuzu. While Father Karras is losing his faith in God and doubts a devil, Merrin is certain of a devil-beyond-devil and doubts the existence of God. Merrin doesn't have superior faith, he has superior knowledge and experience.

This is why The Exorcist still works and is so very scary. For all of the Christian mythos wound up in it, the film isn't really about God and Satan. The film is about simple men at the mercy of events much more terrible than anything they can comprehend. At the core, faith is about accepting the awesome forces which man's mind cannot understand. Merrin and Karras find themselves face to face with the shadow which matches the light they faithfully pray for in every dimension.

These twin powers are so similar, so indistinguishable, that the real horror of The Exorcist is the creeping fear  that they might not be different at all.