Halloween is a time quite custom designed for tricks, treats and terror. In the world of cinema, there is no film as notoriously terrifying as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. As a special treat to Orange Film Club members, the tree-lined depths of Tower Hamlets Cemetery came alive tonight with clergy, fog, spirits and curious lights – all leading the way to a cinema screen in a clearing. The eyes and ears of HeyUGuys were there in the dark, peering down the spooky paths, heart jumping in our dry throat waiting for something to go bump in the night. And what a night it was!
Before the screening we spoke with Empire Magazine’s horror expert, Mr Kim Newman*, who echoed our awe over the astonishing location. Kim had no hesitation in accepting Orange’s invite to come along and introduce the audience to their evening’s entertainment:
“I had many offers of something to do tonight” he told us, “this was by far the best – just look at it!”
We couldn’t help but look, it was utterly breathtaking. There is something extraordinary, in the truest sense of the word, in watching a film outdoors. To watch with your own personal headset, undisturbed by man, mobile or popcorn is sheer nirvana! I have always lamented the death of the drive-in, I cannot think of anything more cool than seeing a favourite film under the stars. Tonight though, aptly, the stars were smothered by a canopy of fog as we sat back to enjoy The Exorcist.
There is a reason The Exorcist still tops horror lists year on year, a reason over and above pea soup vomit and crucifix masturbation. It is a chilling film – chilling because it is such a human story. I thought I knew The Exorcist off by heart (indeed I had half considered the audio alternative of listening to the Director’s commentary despite my preference not to look behind the curtain of Oz) - I did not remember the film I watched tonight. As a teenager I was obsessed by the pitch black bound novels of Stephen King and James Herbert but my favourite by far was William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. Time had contrived to make me forget Blatty himself adapted his novel for the screen. Every heartbreaking human reaction and every regret, and moment of inaction, remains. The themes of male friendship, pride and defeat are there and, in spite of the demonic melodrama, they still pack an earthly punch.
This is not to say that pea soup puke doesn’t rock. It was fabulous to sit among a crowd who cheer when a little girl vomits in the face of a priest. The laughs of recognition when the-bad-man-who-lives-in-Regan declares: “the sow is mine”, alone were worth the journey! Halloween is supposed to be a time to celebrate the gross and the ghoulish, it was just nice to find a gem among the gore. The enthusiastic crowd seemed to agree, the closing credits were greeted with a huge cheer and excited whispers were heard stirring the cemetery long after the people began to disperse.
When we caught up with Silent Cinema creator Damian Barr he was delighted by the reaction and still buzzing from the film. It was amazing how much difference the wireless headphones made to the whole experience. Pesky noisy people factor aside, it gave such a sense of proximity to the characters to hear them speak directly to you. It made the film personal and I have fallen in love with the story all over again. As well as turning HUG into something of a diva (who may demand that all our future cinema-going experiences take place in such exotic environs) this evening has reminded us to take time to rediscover the movies we think we know so well. It seems they, like us, only improve with age!
*We gave the traditional HeyUGuys question a Halloween spin and discovered that Kim’s favourite ’80s ‘horror’ movie is Blue Velvet. As if we would forget to ask…