The Exorcist – Children’s week

Please accept my humble apologies for the long delay in blogging. My baby daughter gave birth to her own baby daughter earlier this week. We were blessed to have a week to go down and see friends and family (although we’ll have to tighten our belts this month as it was a week without pay).

In celebration of the birth of our littlest angel, I thought I’d feature movies about angelic tykes. What’s that you say? There aren’t any? Hrrrrm. I guess we’ll feature the opposite then.

The Exorcist

WATCH: The Exorcist (1973) – Rated R

“If this horror classic doesn’t terrify you, maybe you need a shrink. Movie actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) realizes an evil spirit may possess her daughter (Linda Blair). Against formidable odds, two priests (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) try to exorcise the demon. A superb meditation about the nature of evil, The Exorcist was created with adults in mind and isn’t appropriate for youngsters.”

“You’re going to die up there.”

William Peter Blatty wrote the screenplay from his own novel as well as producing. He won an Oscar for the screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Picture. The slow burn in the script and fairly logical progression while establishing the characters really works.

William Friedkin’s direction is superb. There is a wonderful tracking shot as Father Karras and Lt. Kinderman have their first discussion. A shot of the Pazuzu statue and Father Merrin is gorgeously framed. The first death is never even shown (something unheard of today) but is merely mentioned and slowly developed through dialogue.

Performances are all great here. Linda Blair’s breakthrough role as Regan is a tour de force. She goes from a sweet young child to a quite profane demon without missing a beat. Max von Sydow is marvelous as the wise Father Merrin as is Jason Miller as the tortured Father Karras. Ellen Burstyn (as the suffering mother), Jason Miller, and Linda Blair were all nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.

The Exorcist develops fairly slowly but is well worth the time investment. Much of what was shocking at the time has become trite now although it does still break some serious taboos. It’s the feeling that the characters are real people and the gradual ratcheting up of tension that make this an absolute classic.

People Watch: Author William Peter Blatty has a cameo as a producer.

Conan the Barbarian

In order to narrow down last week’s choices for Swashbuckler week, I eliminated those films dealing with magic. As that is enough to fill another week *surprise*, this week is Sword and Sorcery week. I’ll start with some quintessential Arnold. Conan the Barbarian is currently available on Netflix instant play.

Conan the Barbarian

WATCH: Conan the Barbarian (1982) – rated R

“Catch Arnold before he became a politician! A pure swords-and-sorcery flick, Conan the Barbarian is one of the best and sparked a wave of fantasy films in the early ’80s. When Conan’s parents are killed in a raid, he’s sent to a slave camp where his master trains him to be a warrior and use his skills in high-stakes fights. Once granted his freedom, the muscle-bound bruiser seeks to avenge his parents’ brutal murder and solve the riddle of steel.”

You know when a film opens with a quote from Nietzsche that it’s likely to be dripping with testosterone. Manly John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dillinger, Dirty Harry) both directed this and co-wrote it with Oliver Stone. This film overflows with machismo and is well done apart from a bizarre third-act twist. Basil Poledouris’ ponderous bass and drum heavy score is not only fitting and rousing but has been ripped off numerous times for other movies’ trailers. There are many wonderful action pieces throughout the film especially theĀ  big end battle.

While not Arnold’s best film, it is hard to hear the word Conan without picturing Arnold’s incredible physique. Arnold is of course Arnold but that is perfect for this film and without him this film would not have amounted to much. Arnold’s love interest Valeria holds her own and is played ably and very physically by dancer Sandahl Bergman who unfortunately did not receive anywhere near the post-movie boost that Arnold did. They did their own stunts but stuntwoman Corrie Jansen (as a priestess of Doom) took the cake when she set a record by taking a 182-foot free fall plunge.

James Earl Jones oddly plays villain Thulsa Doom. I say oddly because in the books, Thulsa Doom was actually an enemy of Robert E. Howard’s other hero, Kull the Conqueror. Thulsa’s thread runs through the film and he makes a fine villain but in the third act, he becomes the leader of a snake cult that believes in flower power (?!?). The Jim Jones massacre occurred in 1978 and was obviously fresh in the writers’ minds but I’m not sure whether the cult is supposed to reflect them or ‘flower power’ or a mixture of the two. At any rate it seems really jarring especially with the incredibly fake 2nd worst cannibal stew in one sequence – worst goes to the Richard Chamberlain stinker, King Solomon’s Mines. Other than those flaws, the film is very enjoyable.

People Watch: Max von Sydow has a brief but welcome role as King Osric