William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, released in 1973, is one of the scariest and most well-made horror movies of all time. Likewise, William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name is nothing short of bloodcurdling. So why would anyone attempt to replicate it? Does it need a remake?
I think that the answer is a little more complicated than it may appear. Undoubtedly, there will be people who read the title of this article and immediately write me off as just another schmuck trying to get a rise out of people by being edgy. I’m sure they’ll assume I’m simply attempting to provoke a reaction by making an outrageous statement. And I am nothing short of positive that others will accuse me of being jaded, assuming I’m about to say that the film doesn’t scare me in the slightest. All of these are wrong assumptions, though I completely understand why one would react in any of those ways at first glance.
But please – stick with me here, because I’ve thought about this subject for a while. Just hear me out, okay? I promise it’s nothing blasphemous.
To many – myself included – The Exorcist is still the scariest film ever made. But there are also those in current times who find it unintentionally funny.
Let’s get one thing straight: When I first saw The Exorcist at the tender young age of 13, it shook me so badly that I slept in my younger brother’s bed for two weeks straight. I couldn’t even go into a darkened room alone without thinking of those terrifying visions contained in Friedkin’s film. It changed my life completely, and I’ve never felt fear like that from a film since.
Others have shared my sentiment. Yet there are others in this day and age who, even at the same age I was, laugh at the movie. What was once terrifying beyond words is now humorous to many first-time viewers of the film. Disappointed, I’ve sat with more than a handful of friends and took note of their reactions from watching it for the first time. The overwhelming majority of them were too scared to watch it and I had to convince them – but after it was done, “That was it?” was the most common reaction to it. Nearly half a century after the movie’s original run, many are desensitized to a film that quite literally traumatized hundreds upon hundreds of people when it was first thrust upon the world.
There are some horror veterans that will react with anger and disapproval. “These people just can’t appreciate a good horror movie when they see one! Everyone is an idiot!”, Some might say. I don’t see that as being true, though. Look at the ultraviolence mainstream horror has been accustomed to; friends now dare each other to sit through gross-out spectacles such as Hostel, Saw, or The Human Centipede (all of which I am admittedly a fan of). Gore is what’s “in” right now. It’s one of the last frontiers to be exploited to its fullest in the horror genre – a trend that’s been brewing since the 1960’s. Many will lose sleep over Cannibal Holocaust even today, proving that gore is timeless.
Violence versus the supernatural.
This is unfortunate, as I feel that many of those movies – not all, but a majority of them – attack the audience with horrific, bloody visuals, leaving out any human element outside of unspeakable acts of violence. And keep in mind, friends, I can hang with the big boys when it comes to gory horror movies. I’ve seen my fair share. Some I love. Some do absolutely nothing for me. They aren’t something that I am opposed to in any way.
Conditioned with such modern, squishy frights such as this, the visual aspects of The Exorcist hardly stand a chance for some. I’ve seen more people than I can count break out into hysterical laughter when poor Regan begins to vomit. The crucifix masturbation scene is another one that gets a similar reaction, as does the line about a mother sucking a certain something in a certain fiery place.
It just looks and feels dated to some – which is perfectly okay. The Exorcist, in its original film version, just isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea these days. Yet, I believe that the story is too profound to simply let that be the end of the story.
Coult the employment of modern Technology – Satan’s savior?
In a few short years, the use of CGI will no longer be something that audiences will be able to decipher. If you need proof, watch Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. This can be used to The Exorcist’s advantage. Employing the best of the best that technology has to offer, the film could create a version of Regan so horrific that it may be able to provoke the same reactions that the original 1973 version did. I truly believe this. If there was ever a time for the film to be remade, it has not come yet. But mark my words, it will soon. If you would have asked me before CGI Tarkin, I may have debated this. It’s a simple fact that I can’t refute anymore. CGI has become nearly perfect.
[•REC], a Spanish film released in 2007, features one of the scariest visuals I have ever encountered in my entire life. An update to Regan’s possession similar to what we’ve seen in that film could do wonders. Others have expressed similar opinions on the particular sequence I am referring to in the film – this is a clear indication that audiences are still able to be frightened to their wits end from things other than gore. Take The Conjuring 2 as another example. It can be done.
But if it can be done, why do it with The Exorcist? Wouldn’t it simply be easier, or better, to do it with a fresh, new story? Yeah, I suppose that it would. But I also would venture to guess that the story of The Exorcist is really what I am trying to preserve and fight for. A film similar to it would only garner criticisms that it’s too much alike.
The true power of redemption is far greater in the novel than in the film.
At the same token, the story that the late Blatty wrote in his novel is slightly different than the story audiences got in the cinematic presentation. I see the film and the book with two separate goals in mind; the book focuses heavily on Damien Karras’ struggle and ultimate redemption with fate. The movie just aims to make you piss your pants. Both are astounding as they are, but if there were any way to improve upon the film, it would be to expand upon Karras’ inner turmoil.
His struggles with his own faith are something that is incredibly powerful. In the novel, we have a man who has completely lost his trust in the existence of God; the supernatural is nothing more than a fairy tale. There is a part of this man who, underneath his kind demeanor, desperately wants Regan to be possessed. If she were, if the devil or another demon truly resided in her, his doubts would be shattered. This is a torturous, dramatic plot point which was omitted from the film could create a duality between hope and terror that could bring a tremendous amount of the primal human element to the screen. I pine for its inclusion, and yet, I do believe that the 1973 version is perfect for the time.
“But nothing could replace The Exorcist. You’re fighting a lost cause.”
No, I don’t believe I am – though you are absolutely correct about its irreplaceability. (Who exactly are you anyway? Captain Howdy?) The cultural impact of the 1973 release will most likely never be repeated. But we don’t know that, do we? After all, who knew that Saw or Paranormal Activity would become such cultural phenomenon? Look at the resurgence of Star Wars in popular culture. It may be bigger now than it ever was. There will always be an audience for familiar stories, and to drive my point further, there will always be an audience for things that scare us. It’s human nature.
And why would you even want to replace it? Many confuse “remake” with “replacement,” when they should be seeing it as “re-interpretation.” Just like a musical group that changes styles over time, their earlier albums that originally caused you to fall in love with will still exist. The original film doesn’t have to be replaced. I’ve seen Werner Herzog’s 1979 interpretation of Nosferatu almost as many times as F.W. Murnau’s original masterpiece. Both films are viewed by the masses as two completely separate and powerful entities. It can be done.
Be forewarned; such a story left in incapable hands will surely lead to disaster.
Bringing up Herzog opens up my parting words, so listen carefully: I am not, in any way, shape or form, encouraging a Hollywood popcorn rehash of the original. I don’t want to see an actress that looks just like Linda Blair, and Max Von Sydow’s distinct tone of voice should not be duplicated. For this to be done, it needs to be done with care and meticulous attention to detail. Whoever takes on a project such as this must understand the source material from the inside out, and no one should attempt to do this for any reason besides a genuine love for the story as well as an honest attempt to force the world to shake at the knees at the sight of a new Exorcist film. As long as people believe in the devil, there will be an honest fear of him.
I’m campaigning for a reinterpretation; a reimagining. This can be done, but it’ll be tricky. Still, I hope that one day it will come to fruition.
And I hope that when it does, I won’t be able to sleep for months.