This year I had to skip the 12-hour Horrorthon that Coolidge Corner does every year, which is a bummer, BUT I totally caught the double feature that opens it. And I got to hang out with Katie of Cinema Enthusiast after many months! What pleasure. So the Horrorthon opened with some rad lady hard rock from Dream Warrior and a costume contest and was rightly won by an awesome chopped-off-head bride. She looked so sharp. Then we settled in for The Exorcist and The Thing, a spoooooky double feature. The former I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, and on cable tv, so I didn’t remember most of it and I think a lot had been cut anyway. The latter I saw a few years ago at the Sci-Fi Marathon and it was awesome, but I haven’t seen it since then. So exciting times all around, revisiting some hazily-remembered scares!
While actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is shooting a movie in the DC area, her young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) begins exhibiting strange behavior. Usually sweet and playful, the girl begins acting out and cussing up a storm, having seizures and levitating the bed, and possibly killing a guy? Doctors are convinced it some sort of brain tumor, but after running every test Chris turns to priest/psychologist Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) for help, believing Regan must be possessed by some demonic spirit. Thus begins the ultimate showdown between Man and The Devil, OOOOOOOH SHIIIIIT.
Damn, this movie is like, really good. Who knew? It builds up slowly, pulling out details from the lives of its main characters, from Father Damien’s past as a boxer and guilt about leaving his aging mother alone, to Chris’s strained relationship with Regan’s off-camera father. The outright “horror” elements are fairly minimal, though a kind of mysticism is introduced in the prologue. As the confined spaces of the house become more and more claustrophobic, and Regan’s demonic behavior becomes more and more intense, the horror of the situation becomes more apparent. Most effective is seeing Father Damien’s belief- and subsequent fear– increase slowly but surely. All the Catholic stuff got a bit weird for me, just because it’s been so long since I went to church yet I still remember all the prayers and responses and shit, barf. But otherwise The Exorcist is just a really solid thriller, with strong special effects and a well-paced story aaaand a creepy as hell (and at times funny) performance from Linda Blair, prosthetics, and the voice of Mercedes McCambridge.
The theme of tight spaces and evil possession continued with John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, though the gore increased tenfold. A group of American scientists and soldiers working at an Antarctic base are plagued by a shapeshifting alien being who is decidedly unfriendly. Helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) tries to keep it together while all the dudes at the compound react with varying levels of paranoia, suspicion, and desperation. A lot of people die. As do some dogs.
So I’ve already talked about how this movie rules, but here I go again! It’s dark and scary and mysterious, plus it’s got a super-beardy Kurt Russell! And, the point must be made, there’s a character of color who makes it to the end! Rare in American sci-fi and action films, that is. The real star of the movie is the remarkable creature effects and puppetry, seriously I want to hang out with whoever did the creature design because it just looks so good and must have been so fun to make! Good score too, of course, Morricone no less. The biggest drawback for me is that there are zero women in this entire movie, which is just too bad I think. But then there probably would’ve been some boring romantic subplot or whatever, which I DO NOT need. Anyway great job everybody, I love this movie.