October is here, and horror is in the air! Speaking of horror, the Internet has been in something of a furor over the past few days, losing its collective shit over a rumored remake of The Exorcist. Oh, the horror! Sure, it looks like that was all a tempest in a teapot and no remake is currently in the works, but let’s face it: That remake is just a matter of time. Sooner or later, the right-sized check will be written, and we will get a remake of The Exorcist. And I don't think that's a bad thing.
Horror-fandom blasphemy, I know. You can’t poke a top-ten horror film list without knocking The Exorcist loose, and a shocking number of horror hounds will name it as their all-time favorite. Plus, everyone hates remakes in general, despite the fact that studios keep cranking them out and people apparently keep going to see them. My take on remakes is that they’re fine, as long as they’re confined to films that were good ideas executed poorly, or at least mediocrely. And I hate to break it to you, but The Exorcist is pretty goddamn mediocre.
Like I said — blasphemy. But still true.
I have the benefit of not having seen The Exorcist until I was an adult. It was the one and only movie that was forbidden in my house, due to the fact that it scared the shit out of my mom. So I grew up ignorant of its charms, knowing it only as The Movie That Dare Not Be Shown. Somehow, I never got around to watching it as a young adult, either, despite the fact that I spent a good chunk of my twenties catching up on most of the horror I had skipped before my fandom kicked in. So I didn't see it until I was thirty or so, and let me tell you, I was sorely disappointed. In the history of horror, there’s not a single film that was as overhyped and then underdelivered the way The Exorcist did.
Let’s catalogue The Exorcist’s sins, shall we? It’s slow. I mean, it’s really fucking slow. It’s two hours and a few minutes long — pretty long for a horror movie — and if you condense the scary parts — the parts where Regan is all demoned out and fucking shit up — you’ve got ten, maybe fifteen minutes, tops. That's not a lot of horror in your horror movie. The rest is a just a shit ton of talking, and talking, and talking. So much talking. And what are they talking about? How bad it is to fall away from your Christian faith, and how atheism and vaguely new-age hippie spirituality is the cause of all poor Regan’s troubles. Damn that Ouija board! Someone should do a class-action against Parker Brothers!
That’s not a horror movie. That’s a two-hour commercial for the goofier parts of Catholicism.
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Now, if you were abused by nuns as a kid and taught the Catholic flavor of Christian mythology as The Truth, I guess I can see how you’d find it scary. Sort of. I mean, my understanding is those nuns can inflict some pretty serious trauma on a kid, but again, being a reliable trigger for a particular strain of religion-induced PTSD doesn’t make for a great horror movie, just a reasonable torture device. As a confirmed skeptic, the film just caused me to roll my eyes a lot, and occasionally check my watch to see how much of this “classic” was left. The answer was always “Too damn much,” and it was honestly a real effort to get through to the end (which sucked, by the way).
Admittedly, there are a few good moments. Possessed Regan is pretty fucking creepy, even if the foul language wasn’t exactly shocking (I can hear real twelve-year-olds say worse shit just by getting on Xbox Live). The effects, all five minutes of them, hold up to this day. And the idea of a possessed little girl fighting off a malevolent supernatural force is fantastic — just look at Poltergeist, a film that did a lot more with the same basic concept.
So, yeah, I think a remake could be pretty sweet. A good, young director (who isn’t trying to write a love letter to the Pope), a strong cast and some sweet practical effects, and you could have a great Exorcist movie on your hands. The fact that it will piss off so many horror fans who haven’t taken an honest look at the film in the forty years of its existence is just a nice bonus.