Halloween is three weeks shy away from our countdown and we cross today the 60s to enter the 70s. This decade will become crucial as a whole revolution sees the world shaking, as if the cultural and cinematographical world moves away from the conformism of the 60s and embrace a creativity and breaks limits that were previously set. This is the decade of the sexual revolution, women emancipation, usage of recreational drugs and appearance of new genres of movies: pornographic movies and B-movies, the same that have been popularized in “grindhouses” and inspired producers such as Quentin Tarantino.
Is it the time that baby-boomers finally reach college and start to express their mind? Certainly yes, the most prolific film makers and actors rose in the 70s and will shape the cinematographical landscape in the following decades.
However, one movie will bring in the horror into a more mainstream fashion: “The Exorcist” based on William Friedkin’s novel
Everyone heard about the story of Regan, a teenage girl getting possessed by Pazuzu, a demon. It have surely scared more than one people and surely shocked many with some graphical scenes and the now epic opening soundtrack from Mike Oldfield “Tubular Bells”. But let’s bring it to the plot. The story starts in Iraq under the call of prayers from a nearby mosque, calling for the Maghreb prayer as the sun sets. However, it is reversed for the movie, to make it coincide with the Sunrise. We follow the steps of one major character of the movie, Father Merrin, a Catholic priest also archeological enthusiast. Weird items and artifacts are dug from the soil raising the curiosity and the mystery on the site. It reaches a climax when the father see two stray dogs fighting each others and unveil the statue of a diabolic idol by its shape, called Pazuzu (never named as is in the movie).
The movie move on DC on an upscale neighborhood and will focus on the 12-year old Regan, her mother Chris and housekeeping staff. Chris complain about changes in behavior and sounds coming from the attic. It only become worse and reaches a climax when following screams and hitting sounds from Regan’s room, Chris found her daughter completely transformed into a grotesque girl with a blasphemic act (using a crucifix between her crutch). Thats trigger the whole movie plot and the call to another priest, Father Damien Carras and Father Merrin to come practice an exorcism on Regan. Bizzarely, we will never know Regan dad, about his whereasbout and fate.
The movie itself behind it scariness level also is highly impregnated by a lot of symbolisms. Firstly, the introduction scene is interesting and symbolic as it will mark the movie: the concept of each of us fighting our own demons. This will be a recurrent theme that seems it affect all the different main characters. Father Merrill facing Pazuzu is surely a symbolism of monotheism fighting against polytheisms and idolatry. Father Carras fighting over his doubt and faith as he sees his mother dying from dementia and his unability to save her from her condition. Chris fighting her condition as single mom, reflecting the explosion of the nuclear family and the emergence of the monoparental family during this decade. Sometimes I wonder if Reagan’s possession is a symbolic of her transformation from child into adulthood. The crucifix, the hysterical behavior and the profanity of the demon as symbols of teenage years (development of primary and secondary sexuality traits, the rebellion against the parental authority).
The movie is also a kind of rebellion against the religious authority and blasphemous towards it, especially towards the Catholic Church: as I said, we never know Regan’s father (was she born out of wedlock, are Chris and her father divorced that is still considered a great sin by the Catholic Church). Also the questioning of Father Carras over his faith that will be used by the demon during the movie. Not even saying about Regan’s act with the crucifix. Finally, the suicide of Father Carras to deliver Regan’s demon, another great sin for the Catholic Church.I am also wondering if her possession as we see may not be a cognitive bias as many of us are based upon religious faith. 300 years ago, psychiatric disorders were considered as demon possession, even epilepsy was considered as the manifestation of an evil possession. It was not until Philippe Pinel set a rationale approach and suggested that such disorders are just the manifestation of some somatic and organic disorders instead of supernatural phenomenons. It will not be until the 1950s that mental illness will be recognized as a official disease and treatable using pharmacological approaches.
However the movie is also playing a lot about the spirituality. The call for prayer by the Muezzin (a faith profession done by all Muslim that the only god is God (Allah, as both Arabic Christians and Muslim call) and Muhammad (PBUH) is his Messenger), in the beginning, the failure of the medical corpus to put a diagnosis on Regan’s condition (suggesting that science and modern medicine had to rely on spiritual and supernatural forces to treat from her condition). Once you go through the first pass and think about the
symbolism and meaning of the movie.
Seytan aka “Turkish Exorcist”
An interesting phenomenon that occurred in Turkey during the 70s and 80s was the adaption of Hollywood movie to the Turkish audience. One of them was Turkish Exorcist aka “Seytan” (devil in Arabic/Turkic).
The movie takes almost frame by frame the original, just adapting some aspect to the local flavor. There are no Catholic priests, there are indeed one imam and the Turkish equivalent of Carras. There is no Bible, there is a Koran. There is no holy water, there is Zamzam water (a spring source located inside Mecca, some people claim some magical properties), they recite Quranic verses to induce the exorcism. Finally the final sequence is certainly the most hilarious as Turgul come fist to fist with the demon, litterarly karate punching the possessed girl before it defenestrate himself. Only to survive enough 5 minutes to answer to five questions with his hand.