The Exorcist on Netflix Instant: Rewatching the Best Horror Movie of All Time

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BY ADAM FOX

1973’s The Exorcist is the furthest thing from underrated when it comes to the scary-flick canon. Every new release that’s even slightly in contention for “best horror film of the year” is inevitably compared to William Friedkin’s masterful tale of demonic dread. Trailers like to flash ballsy quotes in an effort to earn your hard-earned cash like, “Scarier than The Exorcist!” (this is always bullshit) and “The best horror movie since The Exorcist” (this is usually bullshit).

evil dead the most terrifying film poster

Not a bad remake at all, but yeah… bullshit!

I don’t mean to come across as some disgruntled and jaded codger when it comes to the genre. After all, horror film (and my fascination with all things macabre) have stood as the cover photos in my catalog of interests for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I even think that The Exorcist is such an untouchable feat in filmmaking that no director from our generation should  bother to recapture its magic.

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Adam Fox: resident disgruntled and jaded codger.

The main problem lies in the fact that movie studios have taken a liking to financing projects that skip through the boring stuff (character development and solid individual acting performances) and jump straight to the good stuff (computer-generated ghosts, jump scares, excessive gore). The issue is that my idea of what constitutes as “good” and “boring” are viewed inversely by Hollywood, and as a result, I’m left feeling incredibly underwhelmed when I trek to a theater to catch the latest spooky offering.

clint eastwood gran torino angry old man

“They sure don’t make ’em like they used to…”

…And I don’t really know what the hell the reason for this phenomenon is, either. Do studios think that horror movies are attended exclusively by teens who lack the attention span to make it through a healthy dose of backstory prior to seat-jumping? Is it strictly a budgetary thing? Has the genre evolved so dramatically throughout the years to the point where a horror film can’t just be a great stand-alone movie anymore?

clint eastwood gran torino angry old man

“You draft-dodgin’ sons of bitches wouldn’t know a good horror movie if you were sittin’ in the theater and it gave you a reacharound!”

The reason The Exorcist is so brilliant has actually very little to do with little Regan’s entanglement with the demon Pazuzu and more to do with how the movie unfolds. The message conveyed throughout that the presence of disharmony (or evil) brings out the worst in humankind is far from subtle, but far more clever than a film like The Babadooks metaphorical head-beating.

And even the uninitiated know that no ghost, demon or monster has anything over a human being and their capacity to inflict pain on one another. It doesn’t even take stomaching the latest ISIS video leaked on the Internet to realize that humans are responsible for a metric ton of horrifying, fucked up things. This is where a handful of horror films really hit a home run and where so many others fail; when the novelty of seeing a terrifying monster in the bathroom mirror wears off, you’re left looking at your own reflection staring back at you.

The Exorcist also straddles that fine line between reality and fantasy so expertly that it evokes the most terrifying two words imaginable after watching a horror film – “It’s possible.” Perhaps it was years spent in the American Southwest that made me particularly vulnerable to Catholic mumbo-jumbo, but there’s a reason why the topic of exorcism is such a meat-and-potatoes staple for horror films. After all, The Exorcist was based on the 1949 real-life exorcism of Roland Doe which has long since been the Roman Catholic Church’s Rule 1…

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First rule of exorcisms: You do not talk about exorcisms.

Exorcisms are grounded enough in reality that, combined with Catholicism’s constant fixation on sadness, despair and good old-fashioned title fights of good versus evil, they create for some plausibly terrifying results on a big screen.

The Exorcist also succeeds at being a solid movie against the backdrop of a ghost story, without being “just” a ghost story. The moral dilemmas of Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) are vast as he struggles with pledging fealty to the Catholic Church and his guilt in committing his elderly mother to a mental institution. We easily recall the memorable scenes like the head-spinning, the pea soup and the spider-walk, but the story was ever only really about an embattled Jesuit priest in over his head who commits one final, selfless act to save a little girl. It’s nothing especially heady, but it certainly rises above the ranks of its colleagues whose characters show up to shuttered houses to, you know, find out why doors are closing and the furniture is moving.
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I feel like I’ve created an unintentional ranking system whenever I watch a horror movie that scales from “one” to “Exorcist,” with most modern horror releases failing to reach even a five. I’d like to think of this less as elitism and more as being so affected by the film the first time I watched it that I now have impossibly high hopes for the genre, knowing full well what it’s capable of. The Exorcist is far from perfect and even starts to show its age a little these days, but it will forever remain king of the genre until someone successfully unseats it from a four decades-long reign. You come at Linda Blair, you best not miss.

GRADE: A
IMDb: 8.0

NOTE: Creator of this blog Sam Adams does not endorse Adam Fox’s assertion that The Exorcist is the greatest horror film of all time. Mr. Adams does, however, endorse Mr. Fox.

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The Babadook on Netflix Instant: Revisiting the Best (and Most Overhyped) Horror Film of 2014

The Babadook, Essie Davis
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Every couple of years, there’s that indie-horror darling that gets critics horny to affix their names to movie posters via hyperbolic soundbites. Thus was the case with The Babadook, Australian director Jennifer Kent’s debut about a mom and son who are haunted by a scissor-handed, pop-up book character come to life.

OK, to be fair, the most hyperbolic of these critics wasn’t actually a critic. It was William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, who tweeted, “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than THE BABADOOK.” That’s rather lofty praise from the guy who made what everyone and their mother seem to agree is the greatest horror flick of all time. (NOTE: I disagree with you and your mothers.)

Still, this seemed to unleash an avalanche of critical praise that built the flick up to near-Blair Witch levels of hype. So when I went to go see it in theaters last year, I knew a letdown was inevitable.

But wait.

The Babadook is actually a damn good horror movie. Let me illustrate this to you with my own superlatives. …  It’s the best horror movie of 2014 (not a great year for the genre, but still); it’s one of the most emotionally compelling horror films of the past decade; and it features one of the best female lead roles in the history of the genre.

Enough quotables for you? Let’s talk about the movie…

The Babadook
Essie Davis in The Babbadook
Amelia (Essie Davis) lives with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) in a creaky, barren two-flat in Nowhere, Australia. She’s a lonesome, sex-deprived widow whose husband died six years ago when he was transporting her to the delivery room.

Samuelthe reward of that tragic nightis an amateur magician who shoots other kids with darts, is prone to fits of rage, believes in the bogeyman and regularly screams like a dying hyena. In short, he’s the type of problem child that makes one feel sympathetic toward the Chinese government’s stance on population control.

parenthood, The Babadook, Noah Wiseman, Norm MacDonald

Note to self: forget about fathering children…

Samuel is also the first of several shopworn genre motifs that Babadook introduces. He’s the prescient, mommy-coddled oddball plagued by demons (see: The Sixth Sense, Insidious,The Ring, etc.). I truly look forward to the day when the creepy-kid formula is thrown out the window of horror filmmaking. In the meantime—and to Wiseman’s credit—Samuel is more of a believably tortured soul than he is Child of the Corn. (It’s actually a very strong child-acting performance; I personally have just had enough children in my goddam horror movies.)

Anyway, one day Samuel stumbles on an ominous red book called “Mr. Babadook.” Amelia hesitantly reads it to himuntil she realizes it’s basically an Edward Gorey bedtime story from the depths of hell. And thus an unspeakable evil is released.
Edward Gorey the babadook

While all this may sound incredibly sinister, it should be noted that The Babadook is not the standard jump-out-your-seat horror thriller. It’s more slow-building, high-tension psychological horror with strong emotional overtones tied to the concept of grief. What makes this formula work so incredibly is, first and foremost, the transformative work of Essie Davis.

Her beautiful-but-disheveled Amelia wears an exhaustive home life on her face, and the weight of her hellish, grief-stricken burden is beyond just palpable. Davis’ acting is the kind of stuff Oscars are made for. Unfortunately, The Babadook is an indie horror movie, and therefore unpalatable to the mild-mannered octogenarian elite who bestow such honors. (I’d venture that the late Johnny Cochrane would find it humanly fucking impossible to make a compelling argument that Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl is on par with what Davis did here.)

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Heeere’s Mommy!

It should also be mentioned that this flick is the best tale of grief in horror since The Descent (a personal horror top-five). I can’t really go into the uncanny similarities between the two films without giving much away, but I think you’ll get the gist.

Another strong point of Babadook is that despite its tendency to rely on horror tropes, the narrative and emotional undercurrent of the film are anything but formulaic or stilted. The film is about the roots of a troubled child’s dark imagination as much as it is about a mother coming to terms with hell on Earth. Narrative analogies in the form of old cartoon and movie clips played in Amelia’s home bring both wit and ominous artistic flair to the mother and son’s predicament. (In particular, digging into the annals of Georges Jean Méliès’ work to provide imagery for the titular character is a stroke of cinematic brilliance.)

Georges Jean Méliès, The Babadook

You might recognize Georges Jean Méliès’ work from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

All said, while The Babadook is by no means one of “the most terrifying films of all time,” it is a beautifully imaginative horror flick, and one that relies more heavily on acting and psychological drama than the CGI, torture porn and “jump” factors that seem to dominate much of the genre’s modern-day output.

Sure, it’s slow and has its fair share of contrivances. But while you might want more monster out of something that masquerades as a monster movie, you couldn’t ask for more out of Essie Davis, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better allegory for the pitfalls of grief in any genre.

GRADE: B+
IMDb: 6.9

-Sam Adams