Revisiting The Exorcist – The YEAH! Experience

A horror afficionado who was once traumatized by The Exorcist, revisits the demonic masterpiece through the vision of YEAH!

The Exorcist, now on the eve of its 40th anniversary, is the only movie that scares me. Despite it being edited for TNT, I still recall watching (without permission) that film at the tender age of roughly 8-years-old. The results were…intense. Hence, after rediscovering as an adult that the movie is actually a masterpiece, I cannot get enough of it. So, when I learned that YEAH! is offering a fresh, new experience for viewing it, of course I had to revisit. If you don’t know, YEAH! is a new movie streaming service that promotes a relatively unique way to watch movies. This is not to say that the software is necessarily the future of cinema, as I do not think that is the intention. Rather, it is an informative way for movie and genre fans to learn every factoid or piece of trivia likely available about the old favorites. Think Disney’s Second Screen feature on recent Blu-rays or even a little bit of the “Pop Up” videos from VH1’s glory days. The site will stream movie trivia, cultural history, behind-the-scenes information, pop quizzes, and, most gratifyingly, exclusive interviews during the course of each curated film’s running time.[related article: YEAH! A New Way to Experience Your Favorite Movies] Which brings me back to The Exorcist, a film that I specifically wanted to unpack after being unable to watch it with the lights out for years. An arguably perfect horror movie for this week, the most interesting element to revisit in that particularly lush townhouse on the corner of M Street in Georgetown remained the historical trivia, as well as the interview with actress Ellen Burstyn. YEAH! has clearly cultivated a number of film directors and creators to participate in other interviews—including Kevin Smith who provides a handy intro on the site’s “About” page, and Wes Craven who pops up during The Exorcist to talk about how that film affected him—unfortunately William Friedkin nor William Peter Blatty are amongst them. Luckily, Burstyn remains the lively and entertaining presence today that she was 40 years ago on the screen. One of her more entertaining recollections is of her experiencing The Exorcist for the first time with the cast and crew of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore at a local theater house when a random patron ran up the aisle and fainted…because of the scene where Regan (Linda Blair) was injected with a needle. Also, her reflections on the relationship she had with both Blair and actor Jason Miller were fascinating if all too brief. Primarily though, the interview is refreshing, like so many others on the site, because it is not cut for time or style. Extended answers are given their full breadth of time, even if they are split up into capsule-sized samples across the movie’s timeline (there is an option to watch only the interview features).
 The rotating text of YEAH! recounts the exhaustive making of the film (“curses” included), though for the movie’s true believing zealots, much of it may be somewhat familiar after The Fear of God: 25 Years of ‘The ExorcistBBC documentary from 1998. Still, there is also a plethora of new information that I was unaware of here too, particularly a few biting soundbytes from Billy Graham about the film being “pure evil” in every frame, and a rather curious quote by real-life priest Father Thomas Bermingham (who appears briefly in the movie) about his initial reluctance to participate in a film. He worried that it would be “another Rosemary’s Baby,” which apparently did not pass muster to the clergy as a movie dealing with true evils of Hell hidden within God’s Kingdom. As for the viewing experience itself, my main critique would be that while watching it on my laptop I could not switch to full screen while reading the trivia in some pop up format. Instead, the movie has to play in its viewing box as the information cleanly and smoothly cycles through below. However, this is only an issue due to my having seen the movie merely a few times (though one viewing was very recently). Once utilized on Evil Dead II, I could not get enough of the Bruce Campbell interview nuggets or trivia about a sequel so dear and near to my decomposing heart. And on The Exorcist, even those who have seen the film countless times, this film marked under “Director’s Cut,” which is also known as “The Version You’ve Never Seen” in some circles, provides extensive bits of hard-to-catch trivia about the differences between the two cuts, and why those specific cuts were made. Hell, it even helps some undiscerning viewers spot Satan when he pops up in subliminal imagery (keep an eye on the right side of the screen!). Mostly this reopens a new appreciation for a film that scared the Hell out of me once upon a time and is still undeniably the creepiest Hollywood flick made. Even the strictest atheist will feel their skin crawl when Regan “spider walks” down a staircase (previously unseen in the 1973 cut, thanks YEAH!). And I doubt many could argue that the most disturbing movie scene they’ve ever seen involved a 12-year-old girl and a crucifix. It makes the confidence of Friedkin and Blatty, exuded in the extras, that they did not make a horror movie, but a film about faith all the more interesting and challenging. Indeed, Friedkin’s insistence on a slow boil revelation with a “documentarian” aesthetic to the medical procedures makes the ensuing horrors of the third act all the more real and unavoidable. Yet, for a movie that is permeated in human suffering and despair long before the Devil makes himself strongly known, the movie’s attempt to show the uglier sides of nursing homes, illness and even Iraqi archeology all serves to build up what is a spiritual battle between good and evil that leaves the viewer to choose if the final sacrifices are worth it (but the answer is yes).