HOLLYWOOD—It was sad to hear on Monday that Oscar-winning director William Friedkin died. This is the man behind some great films like the Best Picture Oscar-winner “The French Connection” starring Gene Hackman. Not many people know about “The French Connection” though, the director is known for what people coin the scariest movie to date that has haunted moviegoers for years, 1973’s “The Exorcist”. It was the first horror film, and yes, I will say that because it was that earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
No film to date has accomplished such a feat. Yes, there are people who are going to argue that “The Silence of the Lambs” is a horror flick, but it is not. It’s a thriller, more like a dramatic thriller and in no way true horror. The same applies to “Get Out” which people love to tout as a horror flick. It is not, “The Exorcist” is. First, I have to acknowledge this movie came out before I was even born, so I don’t know what all the hoopla was like where people noted the lines at the box office and theaters were wrapped around the corner to see the movie.
It apparently tapped into a psyche that had never been seen in the genre before, a demonic possession and the scenes that it captured that left audiences speechless. The vomiting, the 360 turning of Regan’s head, the staircase scene, the cross scene, the assaults, there is a ton of iconic and frightening moments in this movie. That might explain why it is such a classic because how do you top a movie that earned so many Oscar nominations during a time where the Academy would NEVER nominate such a movie, but the film’s success and word of mouth buzz was so gargantuan the AMPAS could not deny the film.
Did it win like it should have? Of course not, but that is a time for another argument, especially Ellen Burstyn who won the Oscar for Best Actress the following year for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Yeah, the AMPAS has a weird way of awarding the Oscar for your career versus the best performance; it is indeed a game of politics. The more I think about it, that is probably why director William Friedkin didn’t win Best Director for “The Exorcist” because he previously claimed that prize the year before for “The French Connection.” I think I can ONLY recall one director in my lifetime that won back-to-back Oscars for Directing.
There might be so much talk about “The Exorcist” because nearly 50 years after the original, a sequel/requel to the movie is slated to arrive in theaters on October 13th starring Burstyn who is reprising her role as Chris MacNeil alongside Leslie Odom Jr. and Ann Dowd. Do I think it is dangerous territory to venture into? Absolutely, as this is a classic and we hate when people try to outdo an original. There are just those movies out there that don’t deserve or need a sequel. “The Exorcist” is one of them. Do I think director David Gordon Green has the chops to possibly make it happen? Maybe, but that depends on what he tries to do with the genre.
If the flick is close to the 2018 reboot of John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween” than sign me up. However, if Green is giving us anything like “Halloween Kills” and that dreadful and I mean dreadful, “Halloween Ends” he can keep it. If he’s smart, Green will NOT even attempt to present manufactured moments of the 1973 classic. He needs to bring fresh material, fresh thrills and disturbing things we haven’t seen before. If I wanted to see “The Exorcist,” I would just go re-watch the original, which so many filmmakers fail to remember. The audience doesn’t want to see a modernized version of something they deem unique and one of a kind.
This constant rehashing by filmmakers to try to reinvent classics by delivering a modernized take on a classic is the problem with cinema. Bring originality to the table because that is what moviegoers want to see. I always tell people some of the greatest horror films that I have ever seen are from the 1960s and the 1970s in particular. These movies are just so simple, so iconic and just unforgettable because they deliver an unnerving feeling you rarely see in today’s cinema. The envelope is not pushed the way it needs to be.