Exorcists, Serpents, and Rainbows

Tuesdays are release days for many new media products. I’m not sure why, but I accept it. This past Sunday’s paper ran a couple of stories by Stephen Whitty concerning the Blu-ray release of The Exorcist, counted by some critics as the scariest movie of all time. The press around the original release of the film in the early 1970s was enough to prevent me from seeing it until I was in my forties. I’m done using the word “release.” In an interview with Linda Blair, the iconic Regan MacNeil of the film, Whitty quotes her as noting that the rumors of “curses” on the filming of the movie were without basis. “But other people seemed to be trying to find something that didn’t exist,” she said. That sage statement could refer to considerable aspects of a society hungry for religious answers, but ill-educated on the religious facts-of-life.

Although sorely critiqued at the time by those whose religious sensibilities had been offended (Blatty is no theologian), Whitty nevertheless notes, “It may be a film full of gross obscenity. But in the end, ‘The Exorcist’ is a recruiting poster for that old-time religion.” He correctly observes that beliefs in possessing demons and that challenged social conventions will lead to evil permeate the movie. Traditional Catholicism wins out over that foreign Pazuzu every time. Even for those with more progressive beliefs, the film is difficult to watch. Religion, in addition to criticizing films, also provides some of the best plots.

Not to be counted among those best, but illustrative of the point, is Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. Ever since my days at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students have been after me to watch this film. Confused, dream-like, and at times difficult to follow, the movie opens with a claim to have been based on a true story. It isn’t the typical zombie movie either, although it features zombies. More of an attempted scientific thriller, the film explores the dangers of tetrodotoxin, “the zombie drug” when in the wrong hands. Understated in the movie, however, is the religious nature of Voodou. This is perhaps the most obvious failing point in the story. If the movie were to be really scary, the viewer has to believe that this is possible. The skepticism of science blocks the potential for unbridled religious expression. That is perhaps why The Exorcist has retained its power over all the years. Unlike more rational explorations of the world, it allows the audience to believe in personified evil that only old-time religion can cure.

4 thoughts on “Exorcists, Serpents, and Rainbows

  1. Steve,

    Tuesday was chosen as the release date back in about 1990 after extensive market research. It was discovered that the slowest rental day of the week was Tuesday. Prior to the standardization, new releases from the larger studios were Tuesday and Wednesday—with a tendency toward Wednesday, Thursday was wrestling videos, and Friday was soft porn such as Playboy titles.

    As someone whose Ph.D. work in extremely relevant (Ancient Mediterranean World), I ended up working in video distribution for 15 years as a warehouse manager, operations manager, and director of IT. My ancient languages were extremely handy 🙂



  2. Two movies or scraps there of that I would always like to catch up with revolves around unstoppable terror delivered by a demonic force.

    a) four? young people find a claymation monster demon trying to kill them and take over the world (reprised in torchwood. I should say brilliantly reprised in torch wood!).
    b) a woman gets a shrunken head or wooden head that chases her endlessly around the house and no matter what she does, it (shwartzenegger style)..just keeps on going on.

    I am sure someone with your illustrious retention may actually remember what happened in that blur i call the space in the 60’s, 70’s and eighties.

    A) I would love to show to my , and
    B) I would love to show to my daughter…what happens when you dont clean house!



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