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Exorcist possesses scary powers

Normally, ponderings about scary movies end right after Halloween or Day of the Dead. Covid times merit further consideration of scary issues, along with the upcoming release of a documentary called Leap of Faith. The project features director William Friedkin’s thoughts about his huge hit, The Exorcist.

As a proper student of cinema, I re-watched The Exorcist before viewing the documentary. Memories fade, plus I wondered how time affected my reactions to the 1973 film. Refreshing those recollections definitely helped me appreciate the Leap of Faith documentary. The talky project mixes Friedkin’s observations with clips from the film. Friedkin, who earlier won an Oscar directing The French Connection, clearly explains his fascination with The Exorcist.

Sure, its status as a bestselling novel gave it advance box office cache, but Friedkin also wanted to explore his own belief system. Exorcist fans benefit by joining him for those insights. Guided by documentary director Alexandre O. Phillippe, Friedkin talks about technical details like what actress Mercedes McCambridge went through to provide a demonic voice. His descriptions ad power to a simple scene involving a walk through a Georgetown neighborhood accompanied by a haunting instrumental piece called “Tubular Bells.”

Still, re-watching the movie--rated by many as the best horror film ever made-- left me with questions unanswered in the documentary. Use your memory button or check out the film to follow my doubts. As an aside, the movie easily withstands repeated viewings and its story of a 12-year old girl possessed by a demon still manages to shock with rough language and cringe-inspiring actions. Among those actions, the possessed girl jolted original audiences when her head spun around 360 degrees. Oops—spoiler alert—those who never saw but plan to watch The Exorcist should stop listening (or reading) now.

So, the girl’s head goes round, with no harm to her body. Generally speaking, that kind of neck twisting should kill you. Fine—take a leap of faith. Lots of horror films require a similar putting aside of doubts. But after leaping, I want consistency.

Bigger Spoiler Alert: at the end, a priest invites the demon into himself and takes a leap of faith out the window. This kills him, and the demon too. But wait…why doesn’t the demon just make him stand up and walk around with a crushed skull? After all, the girl survived her ordeal. Apparently, we viewers so desperately want that demon gone that we take a leap of faith.

And another question: a priest unearths the demon in Iraq. Next shot: Georgetown, where the demon relocates, and the rest of the movie’s events take place. Moving from Iraq to Georgetown seems a long way to go and makes a strange location combo. Without any aid from the Leap of Faith documentary, I developed my own theory: the move happens because Georgetown’s status as a suburb of Washington, D.C. means lots of politicians live there, so a demon would feel at home. Sounds plausible to me.

In any case, the Leap of Faith documentary streams on the Shudder scary movie site. The Exorcist itself recently returned to the big screen in Reno theaters. Streaming services offer the film and its sequels for rent, plus the local library system maintains copies on DVD.

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