A few months ago my fellow columnist, Michael Hudson, asked whether comedies still retain the ability to make us laugh years after their release.
I was reminded of this when I finally sat down to watch two horror classics from the 1970s, Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Exorcist (1973).
Do horror movies still scare us years later?
Don’t Look Now stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland as parents mourning the loss of their drowned daughter. Set amongst the brooding canals of autumnal Venice, this British classic is famous for its shock ending and a sex scene dogged by rumours that it was unsimulated. Today it isn’t truly scary, but it certainly has a lot of atmosphere and is a masterclass in filmmaking. The opening scene, that foreshadows all that is to come, is a stunning example of great editing. And the sex scene that caused such a fuss? It seems fairly tame by today’s standards, although it is tender and intimate.
So what of The Exorcist, the granddaddy of all horror films – is it still terrifying?
Well in a word, no.
The story of a girl who becomes possessed was deemed so scary on its release that it was banned in certain areas. Today all the bed shaking, head spinning and pea-soup vomiting histrionics seem rather over-blown and almost silly.
But The Exorcist shouldn’t be dismissed. It is an impressive piece of storytelling and a well-crafted film. The central character of the film is not Regan, the possessed child, but Father Karras, the Catholic priest called upon to perform the exorcism. Karras is a man in crisis, struggling with his faith in God before his belief is put to the test. Actor Jason Miller puts in a subtle, soulful performance that is pleasure to watch.
Years later these films may have lost their bite, but are so well made that there’s still much to admire beyond the shivers down the spine.
By Tom Brookes
From our weekly column in the Oswestry Advertizer