Still Haunted: The Exorcist Thirty-One Years Later
Recently, I saw a man dressed like Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. He had the white makeup, the frizzy orange hair and the oversized bow tie, and looked kind of creepy, but not nearly as creepy as a different image the costume jolted from my memory: that of Linda Blaire as the possessed girl in The Exorcist, a film regularly voted as the scariest movie of all-time. You’ll get no argument from me. I haven’t seen the film in over thirty-one years, but I’m still afraid of ouji boards, furniture that moves inexplicably and pea soup.
For reasons I can’t quite understand, CBS chose to air an edited version of the 1973 thriller on primetimeTV in February of 1980. I was eleven, and edited or not, the horrific images I witnessed on our 19-inch Sony scarred my little brain enough to haunt my dreams for the next three decades. I still can’t think about the movie without feeling like Satan is nipping at my heels. My sister, who had watched the movie two doors down at a friend’s house, was so terrified to come home that night, my mother had to stand on our front porch and shout out, “It’s okay, Ellyn. I’m right here. You’re almost home!”
I’d first been made aware of The Exorcist when I was six. My family lived in Menomonee Falls, and the nearby Victory Drive-in Theater on Lisbon Road was showing the film uncut, in all its devilish glory, which was fine for those who chose to pay their hard-earned money on a two-hour fright fest, but not so fine for the unfortunate residents of nearby Honeysuckle Lane and – get this – the eerily named Blair Lane (talk about omens!). These two roads bordered the back property of the drive-in theater, which meant that families who stepped outside to enjoy a warm summer evening were instead greeted with a giant possessed girl’s spinning head and projectile vomit – all from the comfort of their own backyards.
I imagine parents tucking in their children that summer saying, “Sleep tight. And whatever you do, don’t look out your window.” Had I lived in one of those homes, I’d probably be reading this essay to you from an asylum.
Why my mother allowed me to watch such a disturbing film is a topic probably best left for my therapist, but in my mother’s defense, I should come clean and admit that even though I was petrified after watching The Exorcist on that Tuesday back in 1980, that didn’t stop me the following night from watching the network debut of a different movie. You guessed it. The Exorcist II.