Mel’s Pick: The Exorcist (1973)
Film Summary: When twelve year old Regan (Linda Blair) starts behaving oddly her mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), is determined to find out what is causing these change in her behaviour. As Regan’s demeanour becomes more and more destructive, Chris finally decided to reach out to the church for help and enlists the aid of a young priest named Father Karras (Jason Miller). After visiting Regan and seeing her disturbing behaviour firsthand, Father Karras tells Chris that he believes that Regan has been possessed by a demon and that they’ll have to perform and exorcism to get her back.
The Moment: Chris has been trying everything she can think of to help her daughter, Regan. She is incredibly stressed and has just come home to find that Regan was left alone when her personal assistant, Sharon (Kitty Winn), was supposed to be watching her. Sharon explains that she had left Burke Dennings (Jack MacGowran), who is Chris’ director, to watch over Regan as she ran some errands. A few moments later there’s a knock at the door and they find out the Burke just died from falling down the steps outside the building, breaking his neck. Wrought with grief, Chris hits the wall with her balled fists and cries. She turns around to say something to Sharon but stops short when she hears something at the top of the stairs. At that moment Regan come barreling down the stairs upside down and on all fours, looking more like a grotesque human spider than a twelve year old girl. When she reaches the bottom of the stairs she opens her mouth and lets out a guttural groan as blood flows from it. Chris can’t do anything but look on in horror.
Why it Matters: When it comes to demonic possession, The Exorcist is the go-to. It’s stood the test of time and was highly controversial when it was released. This movie pushed boundaries and was the catalyst for a new era of horror movies. It was also the first horror movie to be recognized by the Academy Awards, receiving ten nominations including Best Picture and winning two. Director William Friedkin went to extreme lengths to make this movie which resulted in numerous physical injuries for the cast and audiences that were so shocked that the theatres showing this movie had to be equipped with barf bags. This scene in particular is so iconic to this day and perfectly demonstrates the feeling of never knowing when something terrible is about to happen in the film. This movie is all about catching the viewer unexpectedly and we certainly weren’t ready when Regan came crawling down the stairs upside down. Every true lover of horror movies has to watch this movie as, even though it’s release was over forty years ago, this film is still tremendously scary.
David’s Pick: Prince of Darkness (1987)
Film Summary: A priest (Donald Pleasence) calls upon physics Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) and his graduate students to come to his church and investigate a large mysterious cylinder in the basement that is filled with a strange, swirling green liquid. They soon discover that the container houses the very soul of Satan himself, housed and kept secret in this church for ages. It’s not long before the powerful nector transforms some of the students and has plans to unleash an even more terrifying being called the “Anti-God”.
The Moment: As the cylinder oozes liquid, it defying gravity and gathers on the ceiling, collecting in a shimmering pool as the students study it. But, as is inevitable, one young woman grows too curious and a stream of the green goo splashes into her face, turning her into a kind of zombie where she then goes and infects more. Those who aren’t turned have shared dreams of a sort of distress beacon (that they soon learn originates from the future) where a cloaked figure slowly emerging from the church. They are being told they must stop it before it actually happens and life on Earth is destroyed. Meanwhile, Kelly (Susan Blanchard) is drawn to the cylinder as it opens and the liquid finally consumes her in a grotesque transformation that sees her become the embodiment of Satan.
Why it Matters: Directed by horror master John Carpenter, this often forgotten masterpiece is a visual feast of great practical effects and creepy gore. It’s also often very scary and though it’s aged a bit, is still one of the great films in the genre. Most particular are the dream sequences that are shown in bits and feature one of the early hand-held “amatuer filmed” techniques that give it a great sense of dread. But it’s Kelly’s fate that seals the deal as the green liquid eats away at her skin and leaves her looking like a shredded, living corpse. As she loses her voice, she cries out, “Father, come to freedom” and beckons the beast to take her. It’s really creepy and also a whole lot of fun. The make-up effects are fantastic and I love the contradictory feel of her ravaged face and her nearly perfectly coiffed hair. This is the best possession in film full of them, and leads to a truly terrifying moment when it’s time to summon the Anti-God, itself a terrific, horror moment. A classic.
John Carpenter (as Martin Quatermass)