A Component of Horror in the Movie the Exorcist
How it works
The movie was precedent-setting in the way it shocked the audience by changing how a child character looks, sounds, acts, and even physically changes the environment around them. The way she looks and her actions, such as hurting herself or others, fill the audience with not only horror but guilt. She is helpless and in danger, which makes the audience want to help, but they can’t. In the book, Little Horrors: How Cinema’s Evil Children Play On Our Guilt, the author goes into great depth and discussion of how children and their guardians in horror films have the ability to make us feel guilt and fear.
Each chapter uses two or more specific scenes from various horror movies, including The Exorcist, to convey the author’s point.
Chris, the doctors, and Regan guilt the audience into feeling pain and fear for them. The mother can’t personally help Regan, so she seeks treatment for her from the doctors, but they can’t figure out what is going on. The fact that the doctors are using modern medicine and can’t fix Regan’s behavior pushes the audience into a deeper state of fear and guilt. Chris has to turn to the church for help, and Priest Merrin is the only one “well versed” in the practice of exorcisms.
However, Karras is the only one who saves her from the demon by sacrificing himself. The use of religion and faith didn’t actually save her; Karras’ selfless act did. Regan’s blasphemous acts included defiling and insulting the cross, God, Jesus, and the two priests, yet altruism saves her soul, not religion. As the movie goes on, she slowly descends further and further into the control of the demon, and the more she violates the sanctity of Christianity. Everyone fears to lose control, a condition often seen with mental illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
How much more frightening is it, then, when we watch another person lose their awareness to another entity? While watching The Exorcist, the viewer can’t help but fear that they might fall victim to this unspeakable madness themselves, and that’s the genius of the film – it becomes personal for the viewer, especially if that viewer had a religious upbringing. If an innocent little girl could have her body stolen and her soul at risk of being taken away under the watchful eyes of her mother, doctors, and priests, then no one is safe. That’s why The Exorcist still has a powerful effect on the viewer. The viewer can’t escape the evil once they leave the theater or stop watching the film, because according to Catholicism, deep down we’re all sinners in need of redemption, making us all susceptible to demonic possession.