Thursday, April 17, 2014

Academic horror: Remembering first viewings

I'm a couple weeks into my survey of American horror cinema and recently watched The Exorcist. Instead of getting all scholarly here, instead I shall tell you about the first time I watched this film. I was thinking about it because this is one of the few films on my list that I can remember the first time I watched it. Most of the these movies I saw for the first time either by myself in my late teens or early twenties, and I was well beyond my formative years by then. The Exorcist, however, was right in the wheelhouse of youthful influence for me.

The summer before my freshman year of high school, I was in a pageant/play that was part of The Festival of the American West in Logan, Utah (the festival is now held in Wellsville, Utah, instead of on the campus of Utah State University). There were no speaking roles but plenty of singing. I don't sing well but the pageant needed men. At fourteen, I looked older than I was but not older enough for any of the featured roles. Had I been able to grow a real beard at the time, I would have been more prominent. I also dyed my lovely red hair for this production, which just added to the surreality of the summer. In other words, I was ripe for The Exorcist. 

My older sister and her best friend were also in the pageant and one night the three of us went to another cast member's home to watch a movie. The movie was The Exorcist. Our host was an older boy, but he was not much older than my sister. I don't know why this film was chosen for our entertainment, but I was up for it.

And then we watched. I do not remember what anyone else in the room was doing, if they were even paying attention. As my sister, her friend, and I drove home along after-midnight rural Utah roads, I learned that the girls were paying attention. There was a weird vibe in the car and I definitely remember the girls being spooked. I know I was but at the same time, the experience didn't seem real. Washington, D.C., was not an entirely real place to me because it was so different from my own life experience up to that point. But I knew about the dark.

After watching The Exorcist for the now innumerable time a few days ago, I wanted to find a lonely stretch of road and take a midnight drive. Was I scared? No, but this was the first time I watched the director's cut with the spider-walk scene and that was pretty damn freaky.

These days, I see most of my movies, horror and otherwise, either during afternoon matinees or in my own home, so that feeling of being alone in the dark and needing to get home doesn't happen very often anymore. There are times I wish I could be that frightened again but I have new things that scare me. And guess what, The Exorcist -- forty-one years after its initial release -- plays right into some of my new fears.

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