Posted by Alex Alexander • December 09, 2015
What is the scariest movie of all time? What movie is the standard for which all other horror / supernatural films are compared to? The scariest movie of all time is The Exorcist (1973).
Granted, 1973 was a very different time compared to 2015. Of course people weren’t used to seeing the type of movies that have desensitized us as a civilization today. They weren’t used to see the blood, guts and gore that is synonymous with today’s horror film. However, there really wasn’t a lot of gore in the film even for that time. Because, for the simple fact, it wasn’t ever needed to scare people worse than any other film has.
1973 was a much simpler time, a much more innocent time then the one we live in now.
Scary Without all the Blood
The Exorcist is a classic horror film, a classic movie period, and it didn’t even need to tear anyone apart to gain that prestigious title. Not just a movie, The Exorcist became a major cultural event when it was unleashed on the unsuspecting audiences on December 26, 1973.
Based on William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name and directed by William Friedkin, The Exorcist was inspired by the 1949 exorcism of Roland Doe and deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and a mother’s attempts to save her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests.
The Story Behind the Movie
Roland Doe, a pseudonym used to keep the boy’s identity hidden, was the alleged victim of demonic possession. The events of the exorcism were recorded by the attending priest, Raymond Bishop. According to one account, a total of forty-eight people witnessed the exorcism.
The Film was Cursed
Right from the start there were claims that the film was ‘cursed’ because incidents such as the toddler son of one of the main actor’s being hit by a motorcycle and needing to be hospitalized. There were also severe challenges posed by the complex special effects used as well as the nature of the film’s locations. On-site filmmaking in Iraq lead to chronic illnesses among the crew because they had to deal with 130 °F weather and other setbacks.
A Nation Frightened
When released, The Exorcist was a major commercial success that earned ten Academy Award nominations, winning two (Best Sound Mixing and Best Adapted Screenplay). There are tales of people being so frightened by Blatty’s book that they kept their copies of the book in separate parts of their homes, like a garage, a linen closet or even a freezer, just to keep it away from their families in an attempt to keep the evil it possessed at bay.
An unbelievable amount of people fainted, couldn’t watch the entire film and were reduced to uncontrollable, shaking and even crying as they exited the theater. The perceived reason for this reaction to was because the movie was so psychologically frightening that people just couldn’t handle it.
Subliminal Image Controversy
The movie was at the center of controversy for many reasons, one of which was due to its alleged use of subliminal imagery. Wilson Bryan Key wrote a whole chapter on the film in his book Media Sexploitation alleging multiple uses of subliminal and semi-subliminal imagery effects.
A detailed article in the July / August 1991 issue of Video Watchdog examined the phenomenon, providing still frames identifying several uses of subliminal “flashing” throughout the film.
In an interview from the same issue, Friedkin explained, “I saw subliminal cuts in a number of films before I ever put them in The Exorcist, and I thought it was a very effective device… The subliminal editing in The Exorcist was done for dramatic effect to create, achieve, and sustain a kind of dreamlike state.”
However, true subliminal imagery must be, by definition, below the threshold of awareness. In an interview in a 1999 book about the film, author William Peter Blatty addressed the controversy by explaining that, “There are no subliminal images. If you can see it, it’s not subliminal.”
The Exorcist set the bar so high for classic horror films that it’s been very difficult for any other horror films to compare, let alone surpass the level of true horror. And it did this without spilling hundreds of gallons of blood. I think, as many other horror film lovers do, The Exorcist is still the most frightening movie they’ve ever seen.
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