The Exorcist
Dir: William Friedkin
Go to Google and look up 'The Scary Maze Game'. Then play it.

The Scary Maze Game is an example of a 'screamer' or 'flash prank'.
The idea is very simple. They either let you play a game or show you a little video. Either way, you are taken totally by surprise when suddenly a loud noise and horrific image appears on the screen. Almost as popular as the screamers themselves are the Youtube videos of people being 'pranked' with these videos and games. Other classic ones are kikia, Shake the Snowman, and Ghost TV.

What' s interesting is that both 'The Scary Maze Game' and 'Shake the Snowman' use the same horrific image to make you jump out of your skin.

It is the classic picture of demonic Linda Blair from 'The Exorcist'.
And that is a mark of the success of the film - that when some mischievous computer nerd was programming these 'screamers', and needed to find the single most scary image in the world, they picked an image from 'The Exorcist'.

'The Exorcist' is truly an iconic film.

Those who have seen it probably remember where they saw it.

I first saw it in a double bill at the Scala Cinema on a special occasion in a double bill with 'Bambi'. That was kind of the Scala style.

'The Exorcist' is still a disturbing film.

One of the difficulties of making a horror film is to convince the audience that the entire exercise is not just a bigger budget and more elaborate version of the 'screamers' we talked about above. If a horror film is to exceed, it must do more than just make us jump. But in an age driven by science and skepticism, directors have to work hard to create an environment that cons the audience into believing that what we are seeing on the big screen could actually happen.

'The Blair Witch Project' used its shooting technique to convince us. The film-makers exploited something quite clever. They realized that the very grammar and technique of film production can detract from its 'reality'. When we see slick cinematography, dolly shots, and beautifully composed close-ups, we know that we are watching a piece of fiction created by a large team of film technicians. This is a major obstacle to the suspension of disbelief.
'Blair Witch' succeeded by abandoning this technique. The film was grainy, shaky, and showed little technique at all, and, enhanced by a PR campaign that said this was real, we were convinced by the directors that what we were watching could be real.

Films like 'Halloween' and 'Friday the 13th' use the news to convince us of their reality. As safe as the world is today, we have all read news stories of psychopathic serial killers. We know that they really exist. However horrific the events depicted in films from 'Hostel' to 'Saw', we know that somewhere in the world right now this could actually be happening - that the sick, disturbing things that are being inflicted on the victims have at some point been inflicted on real people in the real world. And... it was only good fortune that it wasn't us!

'The Exorcist' and the film 'The Omen' gain a major part of their credibility from their use of religion. 'The Omen' quotes as follows:
"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man; and his number is 666." Book of Revelation Chapter 13 Verse 18

This was an extremely effective way of gaining credibility. Many children are still taught religious studies, and, if they are in any way church-going, are taught from an early age to believe in the teachings of the bible. Thus by creating a connection between the teachings of the bible and the events of a film, the film-makers had the weight of the entire religious establishment on their side in convincing you that they were telling the truth.

Funnily enough, I think that if you don't believe in religion, the credibility is in no way lost; those non-believers often see religion as something slightly sinister, based on a hidden power structure, a brainwashing cult, a means of controlling population. And this vision of a sinister, powerful organization, with hidden secrets, plays right into the film-makers hands. Even if you don't believe in religion, you probably believe in the power that religion wields.

'The Exorcist' uses the same technique. It exploited the strange little anachronism that the Catholic church, which claims 1.2 billion followers, still believes in demonic possession, and still practices exorcism. How can 1.2 billion people be wrong about this?

On a Catholic forum, someone asked the question, after watching 'The Exorcist', 'what's the Church's position?'

Father Vincent Serpa answered,
'in cases of possession or even partial possession, we see evil more directly. In the case you cite, the priests did not have authority from their bishop to perform an exorcism. They were eventually successful, but it is the bishop who has authority over this ministry. Such things still happen. To the degree that the person is the unwilling victim of such possession, he is not responsible for the involuntary behavior that ensues. But usually, the person has flirted with evil (like dabbling in the occult) without realizing the danger.'

Director, William Friedkin used this as his hook to gain the trust of his audiences. He also told us that the film is based on truth.

In my belief, that's why it works so well. However strange, however unbelievable are the events depicted, he makes us believe that maybe, just maybe, it could really happen!

Paul Spurrier