Last night, between 9:30 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., I traveled back in time — without leaving my bedroom and without the use of a Time Machine. I went back approximately 41 years to the fall of ‘73, to my sophomore year in college at The University of Maryland. A group of us decided to go see one of the most talked about movies of the year: “The Exorcist.” Talked about because it was filmed locally here in Georgetown and because it was said to be scary as h—.
I believe we saw the movie at the old KB Cinema located on Wisconsin Ave., NW, adjacent to Rodmans. I could be wrong but there’s no one to ask, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I remember little else about the evening, other than my return back to my dorm room, #103, at Cumberland Hall in College Park. Though I had a roommate, he had gone home for the weekend so I was all alone. And that is what I remember most, closing the door, shutting off the lights, sitting on my bed and staring into the darkness and seeing Linda Blair’s face (from the movie) and being extremely uncomfortable being by myself so soon after having seen the movie. I had a difficult night. I don’t remember if I had any nightmares however, but, it was a miserable experience trying to fall asleep. I have not seen “The Exorcist” a second time, in its entirety or in any pieces until last night, despite it being a movie readily available on cable, especially around Halloween.
I would say I saw the last 45 minutes. I saw Linda Blair tied up in her bed. I saw Linda Blair turn her head completely around. I saw projectile vomiting from her mouth. I saw her fiery, yellow eyes and her face all torn up with scars and scabs. I saw her bed shake. I saw her bed levitate. I heard the demon inside her growl, screech, curse and speak backwards and verbally attack all the priests held sacred. I heard the bells chiming in the movie score. I saw plenty but not enough to justify the fear that engulfed me all those many years ago. Having watched the move again (and having slept peacefully through the evening), it almost feels as if I’ve survived a rite of passage somehow, faced off against my past and come out reasonably healthy — all things not considered.
Nevertheless, I have no interest in seeing “scary” movies. I guess I don’t see the point or rather the point pales in comparison to the fact that I’ve been diagnosed with cancer: now that’s scary. Moreover, having lived over 40 years since having seen “The Exorcist,” a few other scary things have happened in life which places a movie in context; it’s only celluloid (sort of), it’s not real. So I’ve learned a few things and probably unlearned a lot more. I wouldn’t say watching the movie tonight was an epiphany-type moment when the light came on and I realized what I had been missing or perhaps realized what I’ve been getting. Granted, it’s only a movie, and one that’s over 40 years old, but it’s a movie/experience/ affect that had stuck with me for a long time, and now I’m free of its tentacles.
It reminds of another movie I saw as a young boy, when I was under 10 years old, it scared the h— out of me and did give me nightmares: “Invaders From Mars,” released in 1953. The Martians landed in a field just within view from a little boy’s bedroom window in his family’s farmhouse. I remember his wide eyes at seeing the light off in the distance. I remember the music. I remember the Martians having a device that made the ground disappear and then reform. I remember the Martian leader’s head being carried around in a goldfish-type bowl of something. I don’t remember the plot. I just remember being frightened. It wasn’t until “The Exorcist” 15 or so years later that I had been similarly scared. And it wasn’t until 35 years after seeing “The Exorcist” when I was once again so scared that I had trouble sleeping, and had nightmares, and experienced everything else associated with fear that your life may actually be coming to an end: my non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis in late February 2009. Having survived more than a few years now past my original “13 month to two-year” prognosis, maybe I am ready to go see another scary movie? After all, I could probably use the diversion.